Retiring aged only 33, Alastair Cook bids farewell to the game a looming giant of English cricket. The highest test run scorer that the birthplace of cricket has produced, Cook’s 12254 runs in the longest format of the game is nearly three thousand runs more than England’s second highest run getter, the legendary Graham Gooch, making him English cricket’s most prolific batsman by leagues.
His career stretched over just a decade, which for a cricketer of the modern age would normally mean that the career ended not in willing retirement, but because of being dropped or forced to bow out. At 33, Cook is young to be hanging up his boots in this era of uber-fitness that has taken over cricket, as has been proved by players like Misbah ul Haq and Younis Khan. And by all means, he is an athlete in prime condition.
But Cook has always been a different sort of batsman. His test runs put him in the ranks of players like Ricky Ponting and Brian Lara, but Cook was never a cricketing rockstar. He was a test cricketer from the get go.
From that first game he played back in 2006 against India in Nagpur, Cook proved that his boyish face and lanky figure showed nothing of the straight-backed, textbook test cricketer that he would prove to be. In his debut game, that too in hostile India conditions, he made a laborious 60 runs off 160 balls in his first innings, before scoring a fine 104 in his second innings.
There was no turning back after that. He would go on to keep opening for England, making mountains of runs along the way and even playing Skipper for some years. Yet the shorter formats always alluded this unsuspecting great, playing only 92 ODIs compared to his 162 tests and a paltry 4 T20Is. But in the longest format, his poise, grace and coolhead was breathtaking to watch.
Cook never played in Pakistan, the fields of Lahore and Karachi being forgiven the unforgiving wrath of his blade which worked in and out of England and in all corners of Asia. Against Pakistan, he played only 20 games, 14 of them in his home ground and just six in the UAE. In the six times he played in the UAE, he scored three fifties on pitches usually friendly for batsman. In the remaining 8 innings, he managed a hundred as well, but it was a hundred which was one for the books.
In a run-fest that ended in a draw, where Shoaib Malik scored a 245 in his final game, Cook answered back with a frustrating but equally amazing 263. Malik’s innings was played at a strike rate of nearly 60 with four sixes. Cook’s was played at a strike rate of less than 50 and with no sixes and 18 fours. Yet at the end of the game, Malik was hospitalised with fatigue and retired, while Cook was all set to play the next game.
In England too, he gave Pakistan great strife. Playing at an average of nearly 50 with four hundreds and five fifties. In recent years when England has struggled against seemingly weak Pakistani teams, he was often England’ only line of defence against Pakistan. His 105 and 76 in the second test of the 2016 series threw Pakistan off from their success at Lords and handed England a 330 run win. That was the magic of Alastair Cook, just how utterly unassuming yet brilliant he was.
The grounds of Pakistan are the poorer for never having hosted him.