What a wonderful end to a phenomenal career. Alastair Cook treated the watching public to one last exhibition of his skills as he bowed out in style with 71 and 147 in his final Test at The Oval.
Before the match, his captain Joe Root told The Guardian ‘it might be written in the stars’ that the opener would score one last century, and so it proved. Cook knuckled down and batted in exactly the way he has done throughout his career: with determination, laser-like focus and excellent judgment of which balls to leave and which shots to play at which time.
Cook’s knock of 71 in the first innings was not fluent. It was one of those efforts where he dug in and ground out as many runs as he could.
“I was so determined,” the opener told The Independent at the close. “There is nothing worse than going out and not contributing. All the fuss about the week and you don’t deliver the goods. Because of the emotion, I just didn’t want to not get a score.”
In the second innings, Cook seemed far more relaxed. He opened his shoulders and played some lovely shots: trademark cuts and pulls, delicate leg glances and a few aesthetically pleasing drives. It was such a great finale for a true English great.
And to top it all off, Cook’s close friend James Anderson took the final wicket of the match. The fast bowler ripped out Mohammed Shami’s middle stump to overtake Glenn McGrath as the most successful seamer in Test history.
“All I could see was a tall, lanky kid struggling to hit it off the square.” This is how Nasser Hussain described the first time he saw Cook bat in his column for the Daily Mail.
Little did he know that lanky kid would go on to play 161 Tests for his country and become arguably England’s greatest-ever batsman.
And he achieved it all without a brilliant technique or the kind of natural flair batsmen like Kevin Pietersen and Michael Vaughan possessed.
Cook succeeded because he was tough and because he had virtually the strongest will to succeed anyone could possibly have. He trained harder than anyone and battled his way to greatness. In an interview with Sky Sports which was aired on day one of the Fifth Test, the opener said he was satisfied because he became the best player he could be.
When Marcus Trescothick left the tour with illness, Cook was summoned. He then embarked on a three-day journey from the England A tour in the Caribbean to Nagpur to take his place in the team for the first time. He scored 60 in the first innings and then bettered it with an unbeaten 104 in difficult conditions against the likes of Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. It was a superb debut performance.
110 v Pakistan at The Oval, 2010
Four years after he started his England career, Cook almost lost his place. He averaged just 13 in his first eight innings of the summer and he knew his time was running out. So threw caution to the wind and went for his shots during one of his most attacking innings. It worked: he scored a century, kept his spot and the rest is history.
235 not out v Australia in Brisbane, 2010
After he saved his career at The Oval, Cook looked reborn as he feasted on Australian bowling to the tune of 766 runs in five Tests during the best series of his life. His first big score came at The Gabba in the first Test, as he, Andrew Strauss and Jonathan Trott racked up 517 for 1 to demoralise their opponents and ensure the match ended as a draw.
190 v India in Kolkata, 2012
If the 2010/11 Ashes was Cook’s best series as a batsman, then the 2012 series in India was his best as a captain. He led by example with three brilliant centuries in the first three Tests. There are several reasons why the third one was the pinnacle: it was his highest score of the tour, it propelled his team beyond 500 in their first innings and it set up what was ultimately the series-clinching victory. It was also his 23rd Test hundred, which made him England’s most prolific centurion.
263 v Pakistan in Abu Dhabi, 2016
If you wanted to watch one innings that summed up Cook, this is it. After Pakistan amassed 523 for 8 declared in their first innings, the best England could hope for was a draw. Step forward the touring skipper. He batted for 836 minutes in one of the most extraordinary shows of endurance and concentration you could ever hope to witness. In that time he faced 528 balls, scored 263 runs and shared in three hundred-plus partnerships. It was an awe-inspiring feat.
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