A week has passed since the Head Chef departed his kitchen for the very last time. Serving up a risen soufflé starter, melt in the mouth main and a gooey, indulgent dessert, he departs with his head held high. Many a standing ovation. Punters craning their necks for one final glimpse. Yet another Michelin star added to his previous thirty two. Alastair Cook; a genuine legend of cricket. One we feel honoured to have witnessed the career of, over the past twelve years. Thus I cry, with tear stained cheeks, ‘Thank you Chef!’
Cook The Record Breaker
Often in sport, statistics do not tell the true story. They present an augmented reality, which may deviate from the truth. In Alastair Cook’s case however, the statistics lend gravitas to an illustrious career. Yes his average of 45.35 might be a shade less than Geoff Boycott; 16 runs short of Herbert Sutcliffe whose 60.73 will never be beaten. Whilst on the world stage, he finishes 85th of all time. But aside from that his stats are monumental.
Breaking records is just the way Cookie crumbled. For his nation; the most England centuries with 33. Highest English test run scorer on 12,472; a whole 3,000 ahead of his mentor Gooch. Captaining the helm more than any other, 59 voyages. Held onto more catches than any fellow countryman. Tasted the champagne of success most often.
Widen the sphere to include the entire history of cricket and it gets even more impressive. Cook’s 159 consecutive matches will never be broken. In an era of shorter formats, his dedication to test cricket was startling. As an opener, he lies 2,000 clear of any other; the nearest challenger, legendary Indian opener, Sunil Gavaskar. Remarkable, considering the difficulties of opening against fresh bowlers, shiny balls and mouthy fielders. Cook claims the third longest test innings of all time, 836 minutes against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi. With a magnificent 147 at The Oval, he becomes just the fifth player to strike a century on his first and final innings. That knock, exemplified his strengths which have seen him become the fifth highest leading run scorer of all time.
Alastair Cook is behind just Rahul Dravid, Jacques Kallis, Ricky Ponting and Sachin Tendulkar. His stats truly do not lie.
Cook The Run Scorer
In our world of fast food, social media and globalisation, immediacy is vital. News does not wait until the morning papers; it breaks on Twitter. We face a daily toil of Humble Brags, Show Offs and constant reminders that anything, even remotely unhealthy, will shave ten days of our life expectancy. A world in which cricket too has been swept along, in a furore of fluorescent kits, cheerleaders and outrageous slogs. As England frequently demonstrate, test match batting is being eroded through this impatience for scoring. The immediacy of entertaining.
Alastair Cook is a bastion of test batting. Over twelve years he has withstood the haphazard techniques and rushed slogging of his fellow batsmen. He knows his strengths and sticks to them. Simple as. Pulling and cutting were his weapons of choice, playing square of the wicket without comparison. At his best nobody knew better where the off stump lay. Cook’s judgement might have plateaued over the past two years, but even then he still scored two double centuries. His last at Sydney in the winter; a final remainder of his brilliance.
Technically not the best looking player to watch, Alastair Cook was the glue in the England side. If Chef kept his buns in the oven, England generally emerged victorious. He embodied the core values of test cricket. Patience, resilience, concentration, guts. Playing every ball on merit. If he wafted once, he’d knuckle down and ensure it didn’t occur again. It’s the reason why he managed five double centuries. Possibly the one which set him on the path to greatness his 235* at Brisbane in 2010/11.
Batting for over ten hours, Cook and Jonathan Trott made 329 as England declared at 517-1 in the first test. That series saw Alastair at his resilient best. 766 runs made, as the urn was carried home for the first time since 1987. Even more startling considering had he not made a century in the summer against Pakistan, he could’ve been dropped.
It wasn’t the last time Cookie relied on his mental fortitude. Again in 2014, a gritty 95 against India saved his career. Having not scaled the mountain in 429 days his spell as skipper was all but over. Putting the doubts out of his mind, Cook dug in. He wouldn’t hand over the armband until 2017. The warmth of the crowd reaction, convinced him to carry on. A warmth which burnt brightly for another four years.
WHAT. A. MOMENT.
Here’s the scene in the TMS commentary box as Alastair Cook signs off in style.
— Test Match Special (@bbctms) September 10, 2018
Cook The Captain
Cookie’s record as a batsman is even more impressive, considering that for five years he was under the added burden of being captain. Resigning after a 4-0 drubbing in India, Alastair Cook may not be acclaimed as one of England’s greatest skippers, but he achieved many remarkable victories.
Like his batting, Alastair’s leadership was unyielding, unwavering and often unimaginative. On several occasions he would be labelled as cautious and defensive in mind-set. But his rock like commitment to the leadership and high personal standards should be cause for considerable respect. After all, his 24 wins in 59 tests, see him behind only Michael Vaughan. And some of those victories were outstanding. In particular the series triumph in India, England’s first in 28 years. Not only did Cookie contribute brilliantly with bat in hand, making 190 at Kolkata in the levelling victory, but he led from the front.
Coach Andy Flower believes Cook’s 176 rear guard action in the first test, inspired his team mates. And few would argue. England went on to win and Chef exploited beautifully the flavours in his side. Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann combined like cayenne and paprika. KP too was trusted, despite growing pressure from the ECB to undermine him.
Twice Alastair gave the Ashes a snog as skipper. He also overcame South Africa. Of course there were the disappointments. Whitewashed in 2013/14, a tour which saw the side dissipate in factions. And led to Pietersen’s banishment, something he would later admit his failure in handling. Drawing away to West Indies, losing at home to Sri Lanka were low points.
Through it all though Alastair Cook held himself with dignity, despite horrific abuse on social media. He may not go down as England’s greatest captain but he steered the ship valiantly through shark infested waters.
Cook The Man
Off the field, Alastair Cook is possibly the nicest cricketer ever to have played the game. Always respectful, he treats opposition players with kindness and literally nobody has a negative word about him. Having met him in a rare appearance for Essex back in 2010, I can testify he has time for anyone. Caring and considerate, Cookie never seeks the limelight and is just as happy feeding the pigs on his father in laws farm, as he is acknowledging a standing ovation. In fact the only dodgy story we can find, goes back to 2005 when he broke into the Essex first eleven.
Playing away and thus staying in a hotel, Alastair came down to breakfast to find a stern looking man in a white coat hovering near the buffet table. Upon asking where he could find some tea, Cookie was told in no uncertain terms to bugger off. The man he had presumed to be a waiter? One of the umpires for the match that day! Who I’ve heard never truly forgave Alastair for his insubordination.
That’s it though. And how is that even a story? No tales of sexual misdemeanours, drunken fights or rude language. Alastair Cook is simply a genuine guy. The fact that KP (who can hold a grudge or fifty) forgave Cookie for how he was treated, demonstrates that simply nobody holds any animosity against him. Oh and he married his childhood sweetheart. Could he BE any more perfect?!
We will miss, not just his batting, but his character too.
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) September 6, 2018
Cook The Last Of His Kind
There will never be another Alastair Cook. His career has spanned too much change in cricket, for anyone to play 159 consecutive tests, nor reach his figures as an opener. The fitness levels, strong will and quality he embodied were remarkable. England have a significant task on their hands to find his replacement. As for Essex, they’ll be rubbing hands with glee! Another Division 1 title is heading to Chelmsford in 2019.
As a choirboy at St Paul’s all he ever wanted was to play cricket for England. After twelve years at the pinnacle of sport, Alastair Cook can retire happy, safe in the knowledge he achieved his childhood dream.
England will miss him.
As a hero of mine, I shall miss him enormously.
Thank you Chef.