We were scared to give Cooky a send-off: Alastair Cook's friends on getting him out, Barmy Army and more

Covering cricket from the stands at the Wankhede stadium can be tough at times with no laptop, sometimes no internet, and with temperature absolutely soaring. But it can be a lot of fun as you will never find yourself short of stories. It was the morning session on Day 2 of the fourth Test between India and England in Mumbai and I was sitting on level two of the famous North Stand when I witnessed two men deep in conversation. Clad in Barmy Army T-shirts, Tim Chapman and Peter Sowerby were immersed in intense conversations on cricket before I interrupted to request for an interview on my research topic – the Barmy Army.

"Yes, yes sure," said the two polite men. Their enthusiasm for the game was palpable and soon Chapman informed that he had played school cricket with England captain Alastair Cook and even scalped his wicket twice.

The fun began from there and the entire day was spent listening to hitherto untold stories about the England captain. It continued for the next three days. There was banter, humour, analysis and predictions as we revelled in the atmosphere at the Wankhede, while watching some brilliant cricket.

I had requested them to save some stories for the camera, and at the end of Day 4, I caught up with the duo at the Trident hotel on the iconic Nariman Point to discuss their love affair with 'Cooky'. Chapman and Sowerby kept me enthralled with stories about Cook the cricketer and the person, their experience of getting him out in school cricket, and the players' relationship with the Barmy Army. Here is the full text of the interview:

Tim (Chapman), how did the 'love affair' with Cook start off?

Chapman: Cooky went to our school. He was a few years younger than Pete (Peter) and I. He first started playing against us in a pretty unique fixture - the Old Bedfordians against the School First XI. Each year, the last game of the season that the School XI play is against some of their old friends and some of the older boys who went to the school, years ago. And Cooky had his first game in 1999 against the old boys. And Pete and I were playing the game, and because Cooky was so good, as he is now, he actually played. He was only 13 years old, but he played for the U-18 in the school's first XI. Pete and I played against Alastair for five years on the trot.

 We were scared to give Cooky a send-off: Alastair Cooks friends on getting him out, Barmy Army and more

Alastair Cook with Tim Chapman (left) and Peter Sowerby at the Trident hotel in Mumbai. Image courtesy: Peter Sowerby

Peter, what are your first memories of Cooky?

Sowerby: My first memories of Cooky... (thinks deep). As Tim said, we both were at Bedford school and played for the Old Bedfordian cricket club. I am even a few years older than Tim; I am probably in my late 30s, early 40s. So my memory isn't perfect. But what I do remember is a young lad, quite short, very short in fact, probably not more than five feet at the time. A very slight 13-year old boy who could clearly time the ball superbly. He had three or four shots he played exceptionally well. And you could tell. I played for the old boys' cricket side for four decades – the 1980s, 1990s, noughties and twenty-tens.

Therefore, there is some feedback that I can give on players who are good. And he (Cook) undoubtedly has been the best player I've ever seen on the Bedford school square. He was absolutely superb. But often the ball wouldn't go off the square. And on one particular occasion, when he was 16 or 17 (years old), he had scored 27 before lunch. After lunch, he accelerated rapidly and the ball was just going everywhere. And we were chasing leather, a little bit like England were today (Day 4 of the ongoing Test against India).

Tim, you scalped Cook's wicket not once, but twice. We will come back to how you scalped those wickets. But was Cooky a prolific scorer during his school days also?

Chapman: Yes, absolutely. Cooky scored more runs at the time than anybody else in school history. He broke the record of a person called Peck before him which had stood for maybe 40 years. So yes, it stood for a long time. He was prolific and was part of some famous stands with his long-term opening partner, a person called Will Notley, who's a terrific individual, whom we know very well. And in the Bedford school pavilion there is a placard (with the record) of when he and Notley put on over 300 runs for the first wicket. In fact, they had declared on 300 or something for no wicket. Alastair scored 200 of those runs and Will had scored 100.

Sowerby: The story is that Cooky hogged the strike. Now, I have honestly never gone back and looked at ball-by-ball analysis to know whether that's true, but there's one man - Will Notley - who dines out on that story everytime. And the last time I met him was about three weeks ago in Hong Kong for an old boys' dinner. I flew there for the weekend. There's always some great banter.

We have seen that he can grind an innings out at the centre. But how frustrating was it when he used to bat against you?

Sowerby: He never made a fifty. But what he was so, so able to do was just score run after run. He also had a mental focus that reflected pure grit and determination; even for a 13, 14, 15-year-old lad. And he was very difficult to get out; you needed a little bit of luck sometimes. Now from memory, I think Tim took Cooky's wicket on a couple of occasions. But sometimes we did encourage a little bit of hard hitting and we put fielders out on the boundaries. (Tells Chapman in jest) I can't recall whether that was one of the ways of how you got Cooky out. (Chapman vehemently denies.)

Okay, let's have Tim describe the two wickets.

Chapman: Actually, they were almost identical. I used to bowl right-arm medium pace, away-swing. Obviously, it was in-swing to Cook as he's a left-hander. And I used to come down the hill at Bedford school. The first time, I came down the hill and just bowled it outside off stump, swung it back in and struck him on his pads below the knee roll, in front of all three (stumps). Absolutely plumb! OUT! The umpire had given it. No problem at all, and off he trotted.

Sowerby: The 'keeper's appeal was spectacular.

Chapman: Pete always says when he appeals it's out. That's what he tells the umpires. He would say to the umpires, "Umpire, if I appeal, it's out. That's all you need to know." None of those were false appealing, not like the Indians today, going up every time it hit the pad.

Was there a send off that you gave to Cooky?

Chapman: I was always scared of giving Cooky a send off, in case he came back with an even more determined face next time. We never wanted him to score runs. Well, I might've pointed at the direction of the pavilion. So that was the first time.

Peter Sowerby with Cook and young England opener Haseeb Hameed. Image courtesy: Peter Sowerby

Peter Sowerby with Cook and young England opener Haseeb Hameed. Image courtesy: Peter Sowerby

The second time, as I said, was almost identical. I came down the hill, bowled the same delivery and hit him in front of all three. Straight. Out LBW! Pete and I went up again. It was clearly out. And Cooky just stood there and waved his bat in the air towards the umpire and apparently there was a massive inside edge. If it had gone to DRS, it wouldn't have been out. (Laughs) I know he hit the cover of it. But you know what it says in the book – (Cook) LBW Chapman. That's all I care about.

Did Cooky have a word with you after that dismissal?

Chapman: He has told me numerous times that it definitely wasn't out. He was a little grumpy about it. But you know, that's cricket.

Sowerby: But takes things in tremendous humour. He's the most genuine man you'll ever meet. And to be honest, you know, as the England captain and the most capped player he has got a lot on his plate. But actually, where he actually likes to be, apart from right at the middle (of the ground) scoring runs is probably, and Cooky would himself say this, at home with his family on the farm back in Bedfordshire. It's his favourite place. He's just a very nice man.

We spoke to Tim about the two wickets of Cooky he scalped. You had an interesting story where you had stumped Cooky.

Sowerby: Well, my memories... they are always embellished. But as Tim said earlier, when I go for an appeal it's out. I think Cook had gone forward and lifted his back foot a little and there I was down the leg side whipping the bails off and of course, as Tim says, in those days there was no DRS, and it still isn't in many schools. (Laughs) Maybe, 2020... that's when it'll come in, who knows? But you know, the bails were taken off; it was a quick, sharp bit of stumping, even if I say so myself. And the square leg umpire steadfastly refused to give it out. Now I recall specifically, the foot was up.

Did you have a word with Cooky after that?

Sowerby: I always had a chat with Cooky and actually I won't even continue on that piece of story. But what I will do is bring that into (the context of) today or the last five days. I flew out on Tuesday. I decided to fly here at half past three. I boarded the flight at nine in the evening. I sent a text to Cooky or rather WhatsApped him saying, "Could you get me three sets of tickets for the Test series or the five-day match (fourth Test at Mumbai)?" He obliged and there was some banter backwards and forwards. Whether it was on Day 1 or Day 2 or Day 3 (I don't remember). But what I haven't done today is that I haven't sledged him.

You have this history of jinxing Cooky, don't you?

Sowerby: Don't, don't, don't! That was a recent one actually. He was on 49 and I was chatting with Tim. Tim and I have known each other for the best part of about 20 years. And there was Cooky on 49. He batted quite nicely and was looking very fluent. He was with Keaton (Jennings), who was into his 60s, 70s or maybe 80s at the time. And Cooky was on 49 and I said to Chap, "How many 50s has Cooky scored? Is it 37 or 38 now, I honestly can't remember all the stats. The very next ball (after a long pause) someone was given out. Tim and I looked at each other and I just buried my head in my hands. Yes, me and my sledging, or my comments...

And did you inform Cooky about it?

Sowerby: I did, I sent him a text and he said, "Well, sometimes (it's) the cricketing gods. You can't always be on the right side of them."

Chapman: Or something like that... (Laughs)

You've known Cook for a very long time. Tell us something about Cook, the person.

Chapman: As I said earlier on, Alastair broke the run-scoring record for Bedford school and most people thought that was going to last for a rather long time like the last record did. But it wasn't necessarily to be. There was another really good cricketer who came through Bedford school - a guy called James Kettleborough. And he played five years against us I think and scored a lot of runs. And in his very last game, against the Old Boys, in his final year at school, he needed to score 136 across the two innings that he had available to him to break Cook's record.

We batted first and they bowled us out. And then they went into bat. Kettleborough's overnight score was 105 not out. So he needed 31 to break Cooky's record. And we let Cooky know about the situation.

Thankfully, he had a free day, and was able to come down to the ground and he brought his dog along. And they came and spoke to the current boys and old boys. He's a good guy, happy to have a chat with people. But he also clearly spoke to JK as well and wished him luck and said, "Come on, I want you to do this. It'll be great if you did this. Records are there to be broken."

Peter Sowerby chatting at the Bedford school pavilion with Cook and Budge Rogers, an ex-British and Irish Lion player and England Rugby Captain eight years ago. Image courtesy: Peter Sowerby

Peter Sowerby chatting at the Bedford school pavilion with Cook and Budge Rogers, an ex-British and Irish Lion player and England Rugby Captain eight years ago. Image courtesy: Peter Sowerby

And sure enough, JK managed to get to 137 off my bowling, which was slightly frustrating. And then it (the situation) got the better of him and the very next ball, after he broke Cooky's record, I got him out. But it was great because actually he walked off the pitch, and of course, the first person to congratulate him as he walked off was Cooky. And we had asked the press to be there, and shook his hands, took some pictures, did some interviews with the press. It was really, really good.

To have a record like that would be close to your heart. You don't really want people to break it, do you? But the fact that he (Cook) turned up and said "No, come on, I want you to do this, it'll be great," and that he was the first person there to congratulate Kettleborough just go to show what a good guy he is. And he stayed, and he watched the rest of the day as well before he had to go home and watched the school beat the Old Boys, which isn't very pleasurable (laughs).

So you had two record-holders out in your school career. And how was the feeling after getting Cook out? Did you sleep at night?

Chapman: (Laughs) Slept better than any other night in my life.

Sowerby: But in those days, we knew Cooky was good but (not a lot of others necessarily). Obviously, people within Essex knew of his ability because he was being coached by Graham Gooch at Essex, and then he went into the England set-up and the performance programme. And then he just surpassed every single record in English cricketing history for a batsman, I think... well, almost every single one of them. He has just gone on and flourished, but when Tim took his wicket on a couple of occasions, he wasn't known. So yes, Tim would've slept well.

Tell us about the time he called you over to see his new home.

Sowerby: Oh yes. This was back in March or April. I hadn't been very well, and I am now doing a lot of stuff or raising awareness and funds for prostate cancer, which I was diagnosed with on New Year's eve. And the registrar who diagnosed me is actually the best friend of Alice, Cooky's wife. And I sent a message to Cooky, and anyway, long story short, I popped over to his house when he had been back home from tour. I can't think where he had been touring. And the house was just amazing. The pièce de résistance was the use of the stumps. The stumps could be won or trophies that he had picked up at the end of Test matches, and they were the spindles of the banister rail. So you got stumps from Mumbai, from Adelaide, from Sydney, from Lord's. It was just superb.

And those are stumps for every centuries he has hit...

Sowerby: Every century. But then he's hit a few more subsequently, so maybe he'll put on a second storey to the house. (Laughs)

Now that you have seen Cook has gone on to break record after record, how do you feel?

Chapman: Delighted. My first passion is Test cricket. T20, 50-over cricket is okay, but I personally love watching Test cricket. So, to watch someone whom you were fortunate enough to play against and go to the same school with do so well is just a pleasure. And I have been to Australia. I was there in 2010-'11 when England won 3-1 and Cook had a fantastic series. He was the Man of the Series over there, scored 700 plus runs, I think, with three centuries. And I watched (the matches at) Perth, Melbourne and Sydney.

I was over in South Africa, and (England had) another series victory. I don't think we are going to win here (against India in the Mumbai Test), but it's just great watching him (Cook) play, and not just play, captain the side as well. I remember, when he first took over as captain there was a bit of criticism about how he captained the side, but I think now he has put that to bed and he's a great captain. He's clearly fantastic with the players, and he's just a good man. So it's nice seeing not only someone I knew from school, but also someone who is such a great person do so well in life.

And the fact that he remembers all of you from his school days, even after becoming such a big star and going on to break record after record speaks volumes about his personality.

Chapman: Yes, absolutely. He makes time for people and is very grounded. He wants the banter, he wants to throw a bit to and fro between Pete and himself.

Sowerby: In fact, I was chatting to Tim this afternoon and said, "Oh, let's get hold of Christian", who is another old Bedfordian, went through the England set-up and was with Northants as well, where the captain is another old Bedfordian. So there's a massive heritage of decent cricketers.

I sent Cooky a message saying, "I'll tell you what, you're even getting some sledging from Melbourne." I didn't dare forward on what was being said from Melbourne, but needless to say, Christian and I had some banter. But yes, he (Cook) is just such a genuinely nice man. It's the humility of the man, the genuineness of the man and what you see is what you get. He is a really fantastic chap.

And one of your tweets got retweeted by the Test Match Special when he broke the record of most number of matches.

Sowerby: Yes, that's right, and in fact, I tweeted onto BBC Test Match Special the fact that it had been an absolute privilege to have known Cooky and wathced him play from the age of 12 or 13 from behind the stumps. And, in fact, in that same message I referred to James Kettleborough, the chap that Tim spoke about earlier, who broke Cook's record. Yes, it was nice to see that piece go onto Test Match Special.

Let's move on now to the Barmy Army. Why is the Barmy army so special worldwide?

Chapman: I just think it's the coming together of people from all walks of life who just love cricket. It's as simple as that. They go all around the world, follow cricket, follow the England team all over (the world). Wherever they (England) go, (the Barmy Army follows); it doesn't matter, and even when we're told not to go (we do go). Some of my friends were out there in Bangladesh. The advice from everybody was, "Don't go", but some of the Barmy Army still made it there.

But yes, it's special because it doesn't matter how much money you've got, where you're from, what your background is, it's a coming together of people from all different backgrounds who just want to watch cricket and watch England play cricket. The interaction that we have between ourselves is fantastic. We don't organise it all together. It's a lot of different people doing what Pete and I have done - coming at the last minute or deciding to take a couple of weeks off in India cause "I'm not doing anything else, I'm just gonna go to India!" And as soon as you arrive, as soon as you put these (points towards the shirt he is wearing) on, or as soon as you put on an old England shirt, you're part of the Barmy Army. That's it.

And tell us about the relationship between the England players and the Barmy Army supporters.

Sowerby: To be honest, it's difficult for me to comment on that because quite simply, this is my first international Test match. So this is now my fourth night, but the camaraderie amongst the Barmy Army has been absolutely amazing. I bumped into some guys through Tim and we've had some fantastic evenings. But in terms of the relationship between the players and the Barmy Army, I think Tim may be able to add a few words on that.

Chapman: An example from South Africa last year – when (Ben) Stokes and (Jonny) Bairstow were batting on Day 2 of the Cape Town Test and they set and broke pretty much every session record that there was in the history of Test cricket. In terms of number of runs scored, number of sixes hit and number of fours hit. I mean, it was carnage. And it was just the best morning of cricket I will probably ever see. It was a once in a lifetime moment. Now, the Barmy Army do a lot of charity work, a huge amount of charity work. They raise a lot of money for a lot of different charities, and so at the end of that Day 2, Stokes and Bairstow signed a bat. I don't think it was either of the bats that they had been using, but nonetheless, they signed the bat and gave it to the Barmy Army and the Barmy Army auctioned it off that night. I think it made about 2,000 pounds, it might have been more than that, I can't remember. But, all that money went straight back into whatever the charity was at the time and that happens a lot.

There's a lot of friendly banter and if there is ever an opportunity to interact with the players I think it's taken. But yes, they're very, very good. I think they (the players) value the Barmy Army massively because they do genuinely believe that they are England's 12th man. If you look at the impact they have had in Australia, in 2010, the Barmy Army frankly just destroyed Mitchell Johnson at Melbourne and took him out of the game. He couldn't concentrate on what he was trying to do, and we won that Test match, and regained the Ashes. So it's very much a symbiotic relationship (between the Barmy Army and the England players) and it's a pleasure to be part of it.

You had also played against Charlotte Edwards, the former captain of the England women's team. What were your experiences and memories of that?

Chapman: Why are you finishing on that one for? (Laughs heartily). You said you weren't going to do this one! Charlotte won't remember me, I'm sure. But I used to play for Bedfordshire when I was very young - 13-14-15. Charlotte played for Hartfordshire - I hope that's right, it might have been Hunts - anyway, Hartfordshire I think it was. At the time she was a leg-spinner and she batted as well. Good batter.

Sowerby: One of the few of Tim's stories I haven't heard!

Chapman: There's a reason you haven't heard this, Pete, because I don't actually share this one too often. Charlotte used to bowl leg-spin, and well, she got me out three times. Alright. Is that okay? Can we move on? (bursts in laughter)

Just on a finishing note, when England lose the match tomorrow...

Chapman: No, no, no, no! (laughs again)

Sowerby: Hold on, hold on! How many runs was the eighth wicket partnership for India worth?

It was over 200...

Sowerby: We are six wickets down. So please don't write us off yet!

Chapman: Just watch, you are going to see tomorrow the best finish to a Test match in the history of Test cricket. We're going to get 200 in front, you're going to go for it off about 35 overs, and we're going bowl you out.

So what would be your message for Cooky now?

Sowerby: Sleep well! (Laughs)

The interview has been edited for clarity.

Updated Date: Dec 23, 2016 11:32:15 IST