<
>

'I cried when I told my team-mates' - Alastair Cook's retirement press conference

Alastair Cook addressed a variety of issues, from mental strength to Kevin Pietersen to his future with Essex, in the wake of his announcement that he will retire from Test cricket at the end of the Oval Test

What do you make of the reaction to your retirement news over the last couple of days?
It's been a bit surreal. One of my friends rang me to check I was still alive because everyone was talking as if I'd died. It is nice when you hear so many nice words said about you. The last couple of days I've been back at home so I hadn't seen what has been said or written until last night. I allowed myself a look last night. It means a lot. For example, someone stopped me when I was driving in and made me wind down the window and said 'thank you very much'. That was a nice moment. Hopefully this week will go well, I can score some runs and then go home.

When did you decide that this would be your last series?
It's hard to put into words but there have been signs in my mind over the last six months that this was going to happen. I told Rooty before the game and then Trevor during the game.

Why do it before the last Test?
In this day and age it's very hard to keep anything quiet. If it were 2-2 I'd have had to keep my mouth shut. When you do media you get asked questions so it's hard to constantly lie, though I've been pretty good at it! But there's certain questions you're asked and you know you're not being true to yourself. If it were 2-2 I'd have kept my mouth shut but, once you've made a decision like that, it's always in the back of your mind. As soon as I told Rooty I felt more of a release.

What have your personal highlights been?
You can't really look past those two away series where I was man of the series and we won, in Australia and India. That was the best I could play and probably, in my career as a whole, I can look back and say I probably became the best player I could become. That actually means quite a lot to me. Yes, I've never been the most talented cricketer, and I don't pretend I was, but I definitely think I got everything out of my ability.

Anything you'd do differently?
Of course there are decisions in hindsight that you question. Clearly the KP affair was a tough year, there's no doubt about that. The fall-out of that wasn't great for English cricket and wasn't great for me. I was involved in that decision without being the bloke who actually made the final decision.

What would it mean to you to finish on a high here?
That would be fantastic but it would be great for England to win, most importantly - 4-1 sounds better than 3-2. But if I could play a really good innings that would be fantastic.

Can you tell us about the moment you told your team-mates?
I was a couple of beers in, which I needed to be otherwise I would have cried more than I actually did. I managed to hold it together. At the end of the game I just said 'this might be good news for some and sad for others but it's time. I've done my bit and if picked the next game it will be my last one.' That's kind of all I said. There was a bit of silence, then Mo said something, we all laughed and everyone got on with it. We had a nice evening in the changing room.

You mentioned there had been signs in the last six months; what were those signs?
I've always had that mental edge. I've always been mentally incredibly tough and had that edge to everything I've done. But that edge had kind of gone. The stuff I'd found easy before wasn't quite there. That to me that was the biggest thing.

Did you consider asking for six months off and then taking another look at this decision?
It did cross my mind briefly as the decision became clearer in my mind but, if you're looking at the last two or three years, I haven't played huge amounts of games. I've never struggled with getting on another plane or ever thought 'here's another game of cricket'. I've never struggled with that. When I've been talking about that little mental edge I've lost, if you have six months off and then come back, I don't think it would have been there. Once the decision is in your mind, you ask people about it along the way and they say 'when you know, you know' and I honestly think that's so true. For me, anyway.

What do you think of the theory that, as an old-school batsman, you're the last of a dying breed?
Naturally kids are going to be attracted by the razzmatazz of Twenty20 cricket. I've seen it when youngsters have come into the Essex team. Their attacking game is better than their defensive game. That's fact, I believe. I'm not sure I'm the last of a dying breed, but there will certainly be less cricketers of my ilk who are naturally suited to red-ball cricket rather than white-ball cricket. The kids will have a diet of T20. We had it when I was younger but we still built any innings for the first five. We didn't think 'I'll whack it over the keeper's head third ball.' I don't think we should be scared of that. We have to embrace it and we are embracing it. If we play less Test cricket, which might happen, we might place more importance on it.

Was the fall-out from KP situation your lowest point?
It could have been handled differently. The moment Andrew Strauss came on board and said he was making the decision, personally for me that was the best thing that could have happened. I have a regret over it, it wasn't great for English cricket. The end of the Sri Lanka series and the second Test against India at Lord's - that period - that was the lowest point.

You're happy you had the stubbornness to carry on?
Absolutely. That was when it was real tough and I didn't throw the towel in. I still thought I was the best man for the job and the right man to be captain at that time. It wasn't easy. I could have taken the easy option but I didn't. And I got the - that sounds selfish - the team got the reward winning the 2015 Ashes, which was just brilliant.

Who was the toughest opponent you faced?
I think I must regret getting Ishant Sharma out as my wicket, because he's kind of got his revenge since getting me out constantly over the last couple of series. The ball going away from me from around the wicket I found the hardest to conquer. But in general, a bowler who maybe is not the quickest but constantly hits line and lengths - it goes back to when I played as an 11-year-old and a 60-year-old dropped it on a length. I never had the power or the shots to knock bowlers off their lengths. So a bowler who hangs it there and doesn't give me the pace to work with, that I found the hardest.

Have you had a chance to think about what comes next? Essex would like you to stay in the game.
It's nice of them to say that. I'm still going to play for Essex and I am really looking forward to that. It would be a big step going from all I have ever lived for is playing cricket and chasing my dreams to suddenly not having that, that would be a big thing, so it's great Essex still want me. I am determined after a break to score some runs for them and help them win some trophies. There's some great people. If mentally I don't have that buzz I won't hang around. I have never done media or coaching, just focussed on scoring runs for Essex and England. Whenever this day came I will cross that bridge. I imagine I will be changing nappies after what happened with Isobel - there will be some payback for that - but we'll see what happens in the new year. It's exciting.

Did you have to sacrifice a lot to pursue this career in cricket?
It wasn't hard sacrificing. I was stubborn enough and knew what I wanted to do. Missing a stag trip or a lad's party, it was because it was the right thing to do. It wasn't a sacrifice. But you rely on other people, with the family, farming ... that wouldn't be there to come back to if it wasn't for people like Alice's mum and dad, their family, the friends who help Alice. So they have probably put more of a sacrifice in than I have to make sure that, when I do go home, things are still running smoothly. It's not just my effort, yes I have put stuff in on my game but to have that to come back to is very special. They have sacrificed more than I have.

What made you fall in love with the game in the first place?
The battle between bat and ball. It's a one-on-one thing. I love that stuff, but you play it in a team. I love the individual sport stuff but the experiences I've had with some great people over 12 or 15 years ... if you're on your own in an individual sport I don't think you get that. That individual thing: me versus the bowler, but you get that team as well, and that's why it suits me so well.

How have you changed as a person since your debut and do you think people might appreciate more now how tough opening the batting is?
I'm sure I've changed as a person. I've become more confident in certain situations. The one thing about captaincy is that it gives you a chance to grow. It throws you into so many different situations that you can only grow as a person. I hope I'm still the same person as when I started. I think those who know me best would say that. They'll still same I'm stubborn; they'll still say I'm single-minded and hopefully still okay to be around. And I think everyone knows opening is the toughest job in the team. I'm still going to say that now I've finished.

What's your assessment of where the team is now and where it's going? Is this a chance for Joe to put his stamp on the team?
I think he is putting his stamp on the team. He's growing every day into the role. As I found, I was a very different captain in the first couple of years to the second couple. I see that with Rooty. I think the team is in a really good space in home series. I think we're an incredibly good side at home. So the challenge is, can we be more successful abroad? And be a bit more consistent. This team now is more talented than any I've played in. They can do special things on their day. It's just a question of whether they can be more consistent and more adept away from home.