Alastair Cook signs off with brilliant century, finishing his historic career as he started it
One of England’s favourite sons, former Test captain Alastair Cook, has signed off from his International career in style. With England already boasting an unassailable 3-1 lead in their home series against India, Cook notched up a 71 in the first innings before concluding his career with a 147 in the second to lead England to victory. Fittingly, it was the man to whom he passed the captaincy, Joe Root, who he shared a large part of his final innings with, as the two added 259 runs for the fourth wicket partnership before being dismissed in successive balls.
Also fittingly, it was Cook who was named man of the match, and though one could be forgiven for wondering if there was some sentimentality in the decision, he was clearly the dominant player in the match. In sports around the globe, star players wrestle with the conflicting notions of wanting to squeeze every last drop out of their career, while simultaneously wanting to retire while they are still playing something resembling their best. Cook’s past couple of years have seen him regress into a batsman barely recognisable from the man at his peak, but two double-centuries last year and this final match performance demonstrate that he is still capable, if a little more rarely, of causing significant damage to the opposition.
Considering the extraordinary volume of cricket he managed to play, Cook’s career was relatively short. His debut came, as did his farewell game, against India, back in March of 2006. The 12 years that have since passed don’t rival the top echelon of players in terms of longevity - though having said that, current fast bowler Sam Curran was just seven years of age at the time - but the amount of cricket he played certainly did.
A reflection of both the density of cricket packed into the English test calendar, as well as Cook’s own durability, ‘Chef’ was able to fit 161 matches into these years. This number places him seventh of all time in terms of Test matches played, and to give some perspective, all the players above him had careers spanning at least 16 years - all except the anomalous Sachin Tendulkar, whose 200 matches in 14 years place him so far ahead of the pack that he will likely never be chased down.
Incredibly, since Cook debuted, England have participated in 162 Test matches. Even more remarkably, the solitary match which he missed was on his very first Tour against India, when he sat out the third Test with a stomach complaint. Since then, he has been present for 158 successive matches, earlier this year passing Allan Border’s longstanding record of 153 in a row.
It was in 2010 - four years into this unprecedented streak of matches - that Cook was made captain, a position he would hold for the next six years. In this time, he accumulated 59 games, making him the most capped English captain in history, surpassing Michael Atherton’s 54 matches as captain.
Longevity aside, however, Cook was also an exceptional player. Far from the flashiest batsman in the world game, his dour technique would at times draw criticism - predominantly, though, this was from opposition fans, always a sign that you’re doing something right. It’s effectiveness could never be doubted, something reflected in the numerous statistics which place him in the top handful of batsmen to ever grace the field.
In his 161 matches, Cook racked up 12,472 runs, the fifth most in history and more than 3,500 more than his nearest English rival, Graham Gooch. His average, 45.35, is not insignificantly lower than those around him - in fact, every other player in the top ten has an average of at least 50, barring Mahela Jayawardene who sits at 49.84 - but that can easily be justified when reflecting on the fact that he is the only opening batsmen in the top 11 Test run scorers of all time, with India’s Sunil Gavaskar, widely regarded as one of the greatest batsmen of all time, coming in at 12th with 10,122 runs.
He ends his career with 33 Test centuries, placing him tenth of all time, a solitary century behind Gavaskar for the most centuries as an opener, and ten above England’s next best, Kevin Pietersen. Among these were so many memorable knocks that it’s virtually impossible to go through them all. His unbeaten 104 on debut saw him kick off his career as he would eventually end it - with a century against India - while his second innings 118 against Sri Lanka in 2007 saw him put together 37 more runs than the entire English team in the first, and single-handedly earned England a draw after finding themselves 418 runs behind after each team had batted once.
Five times he would surpass 200 runs in an innings: 244* against Australia in last year’s Boxing Day test with his form, and the team’s, down the toilet; 243 earlier in the same year against the West Indies; 263 against Pakistan in 2015 in the third longest innings in history; 294 against India in 2011 in his largest ever Test score; and 235* against Australia in Brisbane in 2010 in an innings which would set the tone for the rest of the Ashes.
Cook’s style of batting was never going to be particularly well suited towards the shorter forms of the game, and while that was obvious in T20’s - in which he represented England just four times - he managed to form some semblance of a decent ODI career, accumulating 92 matches and 3,204 runs for an average of 36.4 and a strike rate of 77.13.
It was the Test arena, however, where he etched his name into history as one of the greatest batsmen of all time. As he reached further into his 30’s though, it became clear that Father Time was beginning to catch up. Excluding his two double-centuries in the 2017 calendar year, Cook scored just 412 runs at an average of 21.68. With those two monster scores included, that average jumped to 47.31, and while the fact is that he did indeed make those scores, it’s certainly far from ideal to score well over half of your runs in a calendar year in two innings. They did, of course, demonstrate that he was still capable of huge scores, something which has been a notable part of his game throughout his career - he notched up 11 innings of more than 150 runs - but the year in its entirety showed a man unable to produce the kind of consistency and reliability for which he has always been renowned.
This year, things didn’t get much better. In nine matches and 16 innings prior to this final Test match, he surpassed 50 on just a solitary occasion, averaging just 18.63 in this time. Clearly, his time was up. This extended run of poor form, however, makes his final match performance even more anomalous. A career as decorated as Cook’s deserved a fairytale finish, and while it didn’t appear likely given how he has been batting for well over a year, he nonetheless managed to achieve it.
Fittingly, in Cook’s final match, the man who he recently dubbed as England’s best ever cricketer, Jimmy Anderson, surpassed Glenn McGrath as the most prolific wicket-taking fast bowler in Test match history, securing his 564th Test wicket on the final day of the career of a man with whom he has shared virtually his entire career. The latter stages of Cook’s career may not have gone exactly as planned, but the final moments couldn’t have been better scripted.