Alastair Cook could not have asked for a better fairytale ending to his international career, finishing just the way he had started, scoring a half-century and a ton in his first and last test against the same time, one away and the other at home.
As the umpire raised his finger on the Hanuma Vihari induced nick, the world knew that an era had ended. Cook’s score read 147, and he couldn’t have done more. As the entire Indian team gathered to congratulate the legend on his incredible career, Joe Root couldn’t control his tears in the dressing room and neither could we, as England’s most capped cricketer made his way out for the very last time.
And yet, Cook couldn’t have been happier with how his last test had panned out. He was struggling throughout the series, aggregating only 109 in the seven innings he had played so far. Come his last test and he returned to his best, looking no different than his 21-year-old self who had made his debut way back in 2006.
With scores of 71 and 147 in his last test, Cook became only the fifth batsman in the world to score centuries in his first and last test. He also overtook Kumar Sangakkara to become the fifth highest run-getter in test cricket and surpassed Steve Waugh’s 32 test centuries. Asked whether his current form would cause him to reverse his decision, he replied”It absolutely confirms it. This is not just the culmination of three or four low scores, bad games in a Test series. It’s been something that’s been coming for 12-18 months, not just a bit of bad form. That’s happened to me a number of times in my career.”
The prolific English opener had made his debut 12 years earlier, in India at Nagpur, as a replacement for opener Marcus Trescothick. Over the years he has amassed over 15000 runs across all formats for England, scoring more test hundreds than any other English batsman. Not only that, he has converted his hundreds into double centuries on 2 occasions, going above 150 five additional times. In a country where the new ball swings every other way, Cook’s technique and skills have been on full display over the last decade, giving England solid starts time and again, and thwarting the opposition’s efforts at making inroads into the top order.
His sage-like patience with the bat has always been well complemented by his skills at the slips; there is seldom an edge that has gone past his hands. Consistent performances for his team landed him his first job as the skipper of the national Test side in the Bangladesh away series, where he covered for the then captain Andrew Strauss who was rested. He achieved scintillating success, smashing tons in both the tests, and leading the team to a 2-0 whitewash. During this time he also became the youngest Englishman and second youngest overall after Sachin Tendulkar to amass 4000 test runs. However, it was a good two years after this short stint, on 29thAugust 2012, that he permanently took over charge of the England Test side after Strauss retired from all forms of cricket. Interestingly, his first series as the captain was also against India, when he lead the team to a 2-1 series victory in India, for the first time since 1984-85.
One of the toughest assessments that a skipper of an English test side has to endure is the Ashes, and Cook had his fair share of success and failure on the three occasions he has captained the side. The 2013 home Ashes was his first, which England won 3-0. Although he did not have major contributions in the series, his leadership was unanimously applauded. Yet, he couldn’t hold on to the urn for long, as England slumped to a humiliating 4-1 defeat as they toured Australia for the next edition of the high-intensity series. A 3-2 win in 2015 brought redemption, and the dynamic opener could once again pose with the Ashes urn proudly, for the second time in his career.
Immediately after, Alastair Cook underwent a drop in form and the 2016 India series where England suffered a 4-0 drubbing was his last as captain. He lead the English test side for a record 59 tests, turning out positive results on 24 of those occasions.
The 2017-18 Ashes series, did not see the vintage Cook much, until on the second day of the Boxing Day test where he scored a 244, the most by any opening batsman in Tests who had carried his bat.
A 4-1 victory in his last series, that too against a nation he had made his debut opposite to and played his first and last series as captain; the ending could not have been better. In his own words, “I don’t know how I’ve managed it to be brutally honest. But it is nice that it’s happened. I’ve seen a few people go outnot on their own terms and it’s obviously special. But to goout on your own terms when your last ever innings for England was a hundred.”
England cricket’s highest run scorer, world’s highest-scoring opening batsman, the highest scoring left-handed batsman in test cricket, Alastair Cook has created many a record in his long and illustrious career, but we won’t, ever again, see our favourite Cookie cook up a beautiful Test hundred opening the innings for England.