When Alastair Cook faced the first ball of his side's first Test against Bangladesh at Chittagong, the England captain became the most capped English cricketer of all time. It is a fine achievement from a man considered one of the best opening batsmen of his generation, and one who has also amassed over 10,600 runs in Test cricket.
This is particularly impressive when you consider Cook only made his debut around 10 years ago; it's a prolific run of cricket played by the English captain. The fact that England have a packed cricketing calendar has been well documented in the past, but perhaps nothing makes this point clear as well as this statistic: Alastair Cook has played 133 Tests in 10 years, an average rate of over 13 Tests in a calendar year.
To put this in perspective, Mahendra Singh Dhoni made his Test debut just a couple of months before Cook, and was part of the Indian side in 2006 for the Nagpur Test in which 21-year-old Cook debuted. But after a nine-year-long career, Dhoni called it quits in 2014. At the time of retirement, Dhoni had appeared in 90 Tests, an average of 10 Tests a year. Cook already has 133, and shows no signs of letting up. And given the focus on Test matches by the England Cricket Board (ECB), he will have plenty of opportunity to add to this list.
When Cook took the field on Thursday, he became the 11th most capped international player of all time, tying with VVS Laxman and Kumar Sangakkara. And the top 10 only feature players from five countries: India, Australia, South Africa, West Indies and Sri Lanka. This means, he has already played more Tests than every Pakistan, New Zealand, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe cricketer. All this, in just 10 years of cricket.
Here's a graph showing the most capped cricketers from all 10 Test-playing nations in the world:
As the graph shows, Sachin Tendulkar is head and shoulders above the rest of the pack, with 200 Tests for India, while two former Australian captains Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting, and South African all-rounder Jacques Kallis, are all tied in second place with 168 each. Shivnarine Chanderpaul was on course to play more than 166 Tests, but his career came to an unceremonious end last year when he was dropped from the team. He still remains the most capped West Indian cricketer. Sri Lankan batsman Mahela Jayawardene, with 149 Tests, is the most capped Sri Lankan.
Javed Miandad, the first man to feature in six World Cups, is, unsurprisingly enough, the most capped Pakistani cricketer with 124 appearances, while Daniel Vettori is in for New Zealand with 112.
Considering Zimbabwe and Bangladesh don't play as much cricket as their illustrious counterparts, it's perhaps no surprise that Grant Flower and Mohammad Ashraful — the most capped players for either team — have only 67 and 61 Tests respectively.
But even Flower and Ashraful have had longer careers than Cook. Cook's international Test career is just in its 10th year now, which is easily the shortest among the 10 names on our list. Flower and Ashraful played for 12 years each, and the fact that neither played beyond 67 and 61 Tests proves the paucity of international Test cricket for Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.
The reason for the disparity between Tests played by different players is perhaps best explained by the fact that teams like England and Australia routinely feature in five-Test tournaments like the Ashes, while the most other Test teams play just three-Test series. Until Pakistan's tour of England earlier this year, the team had last played a four-Test series in 2010, but that too was against England. In fact, the last time Pakistan played a series of over three Tests that did not involve England was way back in 1990, a four-Test tour of India.
Even Sri Lanka and New Zealand never get to play in Test series involving more than three Tests. The last time New Zealand played in a four-Test series was 17 years ago, against — no points for guessing — England, while Sri Lanka have never played in a Test series involving more than three Tests. As for Bangladesh, even that is a tall order; the Tigers have only ever played three three-Test series, one of them against fellow bottom rung dwellers Zimbabwe.
The victims of this scheduling unfairness are the players. Javed Miandad, for instance, had a long and fruitful career, playing for over 17 years, but still ended up with just 124 Tests. If Cook continues his career for that long, and if he continues playing cricket at the current rate, he would end up with a whopping 221 Tests, easily the most capped international cricketer of all time.
It's a fact that hasn't escaped Cook's attention either. The England captain admitted as much. "We play Tests so quickly nowadays so I could do (break Tendulkar's appearances record)," he had said recently.
Considering the 12-15 Tests a year England normally play every year, the fact that he is still only 31, isn't hampered by any injuries or fitness issues, is batting like a man in form, and faces no real competition for his place from anybody in the England cricket set-up, Alastair Cook is ready for a long and bountiful Test career.
Tendulkar may yet hold on to most of his cricketing records, but he may soon be upstaged by Cook on the most capped Test player of all time record.