Alastair Cook is statistically England’s best cricketer ever. He has played the most matches, scored the most runs, the most hundreds, most fifties, most catches and he has played in the most victories.
Ever since Cook made his Test debut in Nagpur 10 years ago he has found Test cricket fairly straightforward. He scored a century on debut and has added 28 more since. There have been a couple of times where people have called for Cook to be dropped, but he has missed one Test match since his debut, and that was back in that first series in 2006 due to a stomach bug. For more than 10 years Cook has played when England have played.
It is that physical and mental toughness that sets Cook apart. He is supremely fit, and famously doesn’t sweat, and that record of 133 consecutive Test matches is testament to his longevity. Only Allan Border has played more consecutive Tests, 153 in total, but with the amount of Test cricket that England play, there is a chance that Cook goes past that in the next two years.
Cook will never be exciting to watch, so much of his batting is about self-denial. He has scored 10,688 Test match runs, a record 10,061 of those as an opener, and he has done that with three or four shots. Five, if you include the leave-alone-outside-off-stump. That mental restraint to know what will make him successful, and stubbornly sticking to it, is perhaps his most remarkable quality.
During that run of 133 Test matches without missing a game, the only point where he came close to being left out of the team was in the summer of 2010. Pakistan’s tour ended in shame and controversy with the spot-fixing scandal at Lord’s, but the bowling of Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif was tormenting Cook throughout.
He had changed his technique in an attempt to account for a weakness he had developed outside the off stump. He made a century in Bangladesh as stand-in captain in March 2010, but over the English summer he managed 106 runs in eight innings going into the second dig of the third Test at the Oval. There was serious doubts over whether he would get to play in the final Test at Lord’s, and whether he would tour Australia that winter.
Cook saved his place in the side with an absolutely filthy hundred at the Oval. He did not seem set for the whole time he was at the crease, regularly playing and missing and edging the ball almost as often. He abandoned the new parts of his technique in hope of finding some success. It was ugly, but he battled, as he has done so often throughout his career. He reached his hundred when Asif threw the ball back to the keeper and it flew over his head to the boundary for four overthrows.
Cook failed again at Lord’s, but he had made sure he was still in the squad when England left for the Ashes tour of 2010/11. And what an Ashes he had. He scored 766 runs in five Tests — including 235 not out in the second innings at The ‘Gabba. There were many heroes in England’s 3-1 win in Australia, but the foundation on which that first series win in Australia for 24 years was built was Cook and his runs.
When Andrew Strauss retired in 2012 Cook was the obvious choice for captain, having been the ODI skipper since Strauss stood down after the 2011 World Cup. His trials and tribulations as the leader of the one-day team have been much discussed, but despite some prosaic tactics, no one has ever seriously questioning his position as Test captain. He will lead England for the 55th time in the first Test against India in Rajkot, and that will see him go past Mike Atherton’s record for the most matches as England skipper.
One of the things that is rarely noted about Cook is his fantastic record in Asia. He has more runs than any non-Asian batsman in Test cricket in Asia. His runs against India the last time England toured was a massive part in that amazing 2-1 series win, a victory that was a huge feather in Cook’s captaincy cap. If England are to win a single match, let alone come close to challenging for the series, Cook will need to have a series like the one he put together in the 2010/11 Ashes. Even then England will be up against it.
His batting style, and the fact that he is England’s captain, will mean that Cook will never be loved around the world, but he is one of the greatest batsmen to ever play the game. And he isn’t done yet. Cook turns 32 on Christmas Day, if he plays another five years who knows how many runs he could get. He could even go past Sachin Tendulkar’s wold record total of 15,921 runs.
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