Alastair Cook: 'While the sun's shining and I'm enjoying it, I want to continue'

Former England captain in no rush to call time on successful spell in autumn of career

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
Alastair Cook is focussed on another season of success with Essex  •  Getty Images

Alastair Cook is focussed on another season of success with Essex  •  Getty Images

Sir Alastair Cook may have nothing left to prove on a cricket field after a record-breaking England career, but so long as the sun is shining and he's still able to score enough runs to justify his place in Essex's dominant County Championship line-up, he may yet be tempted keep playing first-class cricket after his current contract with the club expires at the end of the season.
Cook turned 36 on Christmas Day, and is now entering his third season as an ex-England player, after bowing out on a high in 2018, with his 33rd and final Test century against India at The Oval. Since then, however, he has played integral roles in back-to-back title-winning seasons at Essex - the County Championship in 2019, and the Bob Willis Trophy last summer, in which he scored a magnificent 172 in the final at Lord's - and he sees no immediate reason to walk away from such a successful period of his career.
"I think our success has been a long time coming," Cook said. "With the players we've had over the last ten years, I think we've underachieved, and it's only been the last three or four years that we've won some trophies. But then things take a while to build, don't they? You don't just suddenly get a good side, it doesn't just happen.
"For those ten years where we didn't win many trophies, we were in the second division, we were building that identity for this period of success. For us as players, we have to treasure it and try and keep it going as long as we can."
Having played an England record 161 Tests in the space of 12 years, including a world record 159 in a row, Cook is fairly sure he won't be quite as driven to carry on playing as his Essex team-mate and former captain, Ryan ten Doeschate, who signed a one-year extension in October that will take him past his 41st birthday this year.
Instead, he insists he will take an ad hoc approach to the remainder of his career, and savour the chance to re-connect with the club that nurtured him through the youth ranks and propelled him onto the international stage, but which - for obvious reasons - has not benefitted from his run-making for more than a handful of games a year since 2006.
"There were a couple of reasons I carried on playing," he said. "First, I didn't know what I wanted to do, it's a big hole to fill when all you've ever done is play cricket, to suddenly not to play a game would have been a big deal.
"But I also wanted to win a trophy for Essex. I was part of [the Championship win in] 2017, I played the first six or seven games, but I spoke to Chris Silverwood [Essex's then-coach] and said it was on my bucket list to win the County Championship, so to do it in in the first year back was brilliant.
"I've got no idea [if this is my final year]," he added. "It's the last in my contract, so until I hear anything else, who knows. But after my England days I was determined that, so long as I was enjoying driving into the ground, and doing the hard work to play, I'd continue.
"It's all unknown to me, and I quite like it. It's a bit of a limbo in one sense, in that in three months' time I might sit down and go, 'you know what, it's time for someone else to take my role'. But there's good people at this club who make it easier for me. I enjoy playing with people like Nick Browne and Tom Westley, who I hadn't played a huge amount with up to 2018.
"Obviously, last year was very different, but again, very enjoyable. Hopefully we can continue that and the motivation will be there, because you don't want to disgrace yourself do you? You don't want to look stupid, because there's no better feeling than scoring runs."
On that note, Cook admitted that the runs haven't quite been flowing so far in Essex's pre-season - in fact his most notable on-field moment has been a viral clip on social media, as he walked for a plumb lbw against Harry Podmore in last week's encounter with Kent.
"You have to walk for that one," he joked, "It hit me on my boot, and wasn't going over. But while I'm in this situation, with the sun shining, and so long as I find the middle of my bat rather than the middle of my pad, I'm happy to continue.
"I've enjoyed not having the real scrutiny and the pressure of playing international cricket. In county cricket, you are going back to basics in one sense. You just go back to batting, catching, having the odd drink here or there with the Essex team, and enjoying, I suppose, why you started playing sport before getting into a more professional way.
"So, while I've still got that, and the support of my family, I can continue. But I just don't know, I'm not going to sit here and give some massive statement. I'll just do my preparation, get myself in the right technical space, and then hope to spend a bit of time in the middle, I haven't done it yet, but hopefully I'll go alright."
One factor that may play a part in Cook's decision-making will be the return of crowds to county fixtures, following the lockout in the 2020 season due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
"We'll really notice it as players when the fans are back, and we'll really appreciate it," he said. "On one level, it was quite nice and peaceful, but you play for the experience. And I look back on certain games - walking out at the MCG to a full house, or The Oval when we won in 2009 - the atmosphere there, you can't buy that anywhere unless you're living it, and it's down to the fans."
As and when Cook does call time on his playing days, a career in the media beckons, with his regular work as a summariser for Test Match Special recently augmented by his first appearances in an England free-to-air Test, after Channel 4 were belatedly awarded the broadcast rights to last month's India series.
"It makes you really focus on your words," he said. "There's nothing worse than players like me doing interviews when they're stumbling over answers.
"But I have really enjoyed it and I hope I've come across well. I try and give a bit of experience of what I felt when I was batting or captaining, but ultimately it's a very subjective opinion.
"It's not like when you go out to bat. People say 'how's your day?', and you know very quickly, if you've scored a hundred you've done a good job for the team, if you haven't scored any runs, you ain't done a very good job.
"With punditry, there's no pass mark, there's no end column. It's down to what people think and, while there's obviously going to be people who don't like your style, you're certainly not going to take your feedback from social media, because you'd be mad to.
"You've just got to try and improve, and try and do as good a job as you can. But I've really enjoyed it, and it's given me some great viewing seats. The Ben Stokes hundred [against West Indies at Old Trafford], I wouldn't have been there unless I was commentating, so I was really lucky to see certain things, and hopefully long may it continue."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket