The end of an English cricketing era came, not with an Ashes century, but with an edge caught behind the wicket. Out for six, polite applause from a sparse County Ground, and that was that. Two weeks later, England’s highest scoring batsman, Sir Alastair Cook, announced his retirement from the game, 20 years on from his Essex debut.
Cook, who retired from test cricket in 2018, was the last of a dying breed of English batsmen, far removed from the fast-paced, aggressive ‘Bazball’ cricketers of recent years. In the place of positive yet risky shots reminiscent of ODI and T20 matches, Cook’s batting echoed a slower, more measured, yet equally captivating style of play that seems misplaced in a modern game that feeds on speed and spectacle. He was the last in a long line of England openers that ‘descended’ from the likes of Sutcliffe and Hobbs. Yet his legacy will arguably outlive them all. Cook was the pinnacle of a batting ethos that lies at the heart of cricket, the likes of which may never be seen again.
He came to the attention of the cricketing masses in 2005 during an Australian tour that saw the visitors take on Essex, in which the then 20-year-old Cook scored a double century and took the wicket of Justin Langer. A year later, he was on a plane from the Caribbean to Nagpur, India, having been called up to England’s test side on short notice. The century he went on to deliver in only his second ever test innings epitomised what was to come for the future England captain.
‘Cookie’s’ test career was one of immeasurable highs and devastating lows. Pragmatic at the crease, Alastair Cook “just kept on batting.” His technique was by no means pretty, but Cook’s understanding of where his three base shots could score him runs leant him a rarely seen efficacy. As such, his scorecard is peppered with numbers that beggar belief. 244 against Australia at the MCG. 263 against Pakistan over 14 long hours. His 294 runs against India sits at the sixth highest individual score in English history. Cook led his country the last time England held the Ashes in 2015 and captained India’s only home defeat in the last 20 years. Yet his spell as captain also saw England succumb to a 5-0 Ashes whitewash in 2013 and the dismantling of a team that was considered the best in the world.
Throughout, Cook’s boyish charm and self-effacing nature shone. Later interviews revealed a self-critical and determined character. He admitted to his leadership failings following the 2013 series, yet also his desire to return, rebuild, and be better, an approach evident in every ball he ever faced. His clarity of mind and ability to “play the ball, not the man” are the source of his 12,472 career runs. Five blissful years at his beloved Essex and his newfound role on Test Match Special capped off an unrivalled career for a player whose raised bat will live on in the minds of cricket fans worldwide.
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