Alastair Nathan Cook
December 25, 1984, Gloucester
Also Known As
Sir Alastair Cook
Left hand bat
Right arm slow
If there was any doubt about the place Alastair Cook held in the affections of fans of England cricket, they were dispelled during his final Test. Cook was never an especially elegant batsman. He wasn't especially eloquent, either. And his career encompassed its fair share of downs as well as ups. There were moments - such as in the latter stages of his time captaining England's ODI side or during the interminable fall-out of the Kevin Pietersen saga - when it seemed his love affair with the supporters could sour.
In the end, though, his determination, his longevity, his decency and, yes, his sheer number of runs, shone through. And as The Oval crowd stood to give him ovation after ovation - the one that greeted his second-innings century lasted several minutes and held up play - the respect and popularity for him was abundantly clear. A knighthood - the first for an England cricketer since Ian Botham in 2007 - followed a few months later. He continued to represent Essex.
In truth, Cook had been in decline as a batsman for some time. While still young - he was 33 when he played his final Test - there were many miles on the clock. He had already become his nation's highest run-scorer and century-maker in Test cricket, he had also taken the most catches (as a non-keeper) and set a world record for the most Test caps in succession: an eye-watering 159.
Perhaps more pertinently, he appeared to never fully recover his spark after the Pietersen affair and the disappointment of losing the ODI captaincy on the eve of the 2015 World Cup. He had, he admitted, lost a "bit of edge" in the months before his retirement. While the occasional vast score - he made a double-century in his penultimate Ashes Test at Melbourne in 2017-18 - partially masked the decline, he reached 50 only twice in the 15 Tests before that Oval farewell.
His career had, by then, encompassed some outrageous highs. The Ashes of 2010-11, for example, saw him amass 766 runs in seven innings to anchor England's first series win in Australia for 24 years. In so doing, he went past 5000 Test runs, having turned 26 on Christmas Day - the second youngest batsman to reach the landmark after Sachin Tendulkar - and won the ICC's Test batsman of the year. Two years later and further records had been broken as he became England's leading Test century-maker - hitting No. 23 against India in Kolkata, his third in three matches - and the youngest player to pass 7000 runs.
His finest captaincy moment may well have come near the start of his reign. The series victory in India in 2012-13 - England's first for 28 years - was testament not just to his outstanding batting, but also his willingness, at that point, to reintegrate Pietersen to the team despite considerable opposition. Two home Ashes wins followed, in 2013 and 2015 - although victory did not always silence grumbles about England's safety-first, regimented approach - and in the winter of 2015-16, a triumphant tour of South Africa.
But there were significant disappointments, too. He led the side that was whitewashed in the 2013-14 Ashes and which subsequently descended into a power struggle over Pietersen. The coach, Andy Flower, resigned, Pietersen was banished, but Cook (who had been party to the decision over Pietersen) stayed on, only to be beaten by Sri Lanka in England the following summer when he almost resigned, such was the ferocity of the criticism on social media. Heartfelt applause at the Ageas Bowl for his painstaking 95 against India to end a desperately lean run was something he treasured.
His stubbornness was sometimes to his detriment. The apparently unquenchable self-belief, that helped turn a relatively limited player into England's record Test run-scorer, also convinced him that he was the man to revive England's ODI fortunes. As a result he lingered too long as captain of an outmoded side and was stung by the consequent criticism. While he led the team within an ace of that elusive global ODI title at the Champions Trophy of 2013, he was omitted from the 2015 World Cup squad, ending his limited-overs career around his 30th birthday. The change came too late to spare England a humiliating failure, but their improvement in the format thereafter was telling.
Cook's leadership was, in many ways, like his batting: unyielding, determined and deliberate, but lacking the spark of tactical genius. But his rock-like commitment to the cause, and high personal standards, were cause for considerable respect and gratitude. When he resigned as Test captain in the aftermath of a 4-0 trouncing by India in 2016, he was still only 32. His team, Pietersen apart, gave him great loyalty. Andrew Strauss generously said he "deserves to be looked upon as one of England's great captains".
Twelve of his hundreds came as England captain, although he made only five in his last 48 Tests in charge, more symptomatic perhaps of the burdens he had to withstand rather than worsening technical deficiencies. His 24 Test wins in 59 Tests made him the joint second-most successful captain for England, behind Michael Vaughan, who had 26. His 22 defeats were also a record.
Those in the know were saying that the young Cook was destined for great things from early on. Cook was thrown in at the deep end by Essex the year after he left Bedford School with a fistful of batting records. He captained England in the Under-19 World Cup early in 2004, scored his maiden first-class hundred later that year, and added a double-century for Essex against the Australian tourists in 2005.
The following spring he was called up by the full England side when injuries struck in India. He had been in the Caribbean with the A team when the SOS came but, unfazed, stroked 60 and a magnificent century to complete a memorable debut in Nagpur. His ability to play long, attritional innings without showing signs of fatigue - it became a cliché that he did not sweat - was evident from the outset.
Bowlers began to exploit that penchant for hanging on the front foot, but Cook still made his share of runs. By the time of his 25th birthday on Christmas Day 2009 he had scored far more runs (3536 to David Gower's 2548) and centuries (nine to Ian Botham's six) than any other Englishman of a comparable age. He hit three more Test hundreds in 2009 - but none of them were in the Ashes series, in which 95 at Lord's was his only score above 32 as the Aussies probed that front-pad problem.
The Pakistan attack of 2010 caused ever more problems and probably took him as close to being dropped as at any time. But a century at The Oval, a gritty, gutsy innings, ensured he would open in the Ashes series in which he proved so decisive. It's probably a fair microcosm of his career: he never claimed to be the most talented, but somehow he found a way. And in taking on the fast bowlers and the new ball for a decade and more, without shrinking or shirking, he earned the respect in which he came to be held.
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