PARTAB RAMCHAND | 13 SEPTEMBER, 2018
Alastair Cook: Nice Guys Do Finish First
Figures do not always convey a cricketer’s value to his side but in Cook’s case they certainly do.
A blood and guts cricketer from the old school of batting, Alastair Cook's wicket had really to be earned. Blessed with the age-old qualities of dedication, determination and concentration, Cook made bowlers and fielders sweat it out on the field of play even as desperate captains scratched their heads to try and find ways to get him out. For him ten-hour vigils at the crease were not uncommon, extending to almost 13 hours against India in 2011 as he compiled his best Test score of 294, and almost 14 hours when making 263 against Pakistan four years later.
Perhaps his best-known innings was the unbeaten 235 against Australia at Brisbane in 2010. England were behind by 221 runs in the first innings and there were more than two days to go. An innings defeat or a loss with a day to spare was freely being discussed. But what one saw unfold was a rearguard action straight out of the fiction books, its chief author Cook who batted for almost 10 and a half hours with such serene authority that England were able to declare at 517 for one. The tide had turned and England went on to retain the Ashes 3-1. Cook scored three hundreds on his way to amassing 766 runs in the five Tests.
Figures do not always convey a cricketer’s value to his side but in Cook’s case they certainly do. He valued every run for he knew it was of value to his side. For over 12 years he carried England’s hopes on his shoulders both as an obdurate left-handed opening batsman and as an immensely popular captain who led England in a record 59 Tests, winning 24 and losing 22. His memorable moments as captain were the Ashes victory in 2013, and the triumph in India the year before when his team came back from being 0-1 down to complete a memorable win. Here again it was Cook who took upon himself the role of sheet anchor, hitting three hundreds in the four Tests.
Cook’s enduring image will be that of a batsman who amassed runs and big scores. While his batting was built on an impregnable defence and sound technique he had all the strokes in the textbook. That five of his 32 hundreds were double centuries, with a highest of 294, speaks volumes of his mastery at the crease. In addition he surpassed the 150-run mark six times. The titles of England’s highest run maker and century maker sit lightly on him, besides of course the fact that his last Test at the Oval later this week will be his 161st, making his the seventh longest Test career even as he remains the sixth highest run getter in Test history.
The match at the Oval will also be his 159th consecutive Test appearance, a world record and a tribute to his skill, staying power and his indispensability to the team.
It is a pity that such a long and illustrious career should come to a rather melancholic end, for Cook has been woefully short of runs in his last year in Test cricket. He has clearly struggled averaging just 18.62 in nine Tests this year. In his 34th year his famed concentration has begun to wane. At the peak of his powers his career average was within touching distance of 50 but right now it is a little below 45.
But too much should not be made of Cook’s struggles for a man does not run up his kind of awesome record if he is not a consistently prolific run getter over an extended period of time. He has enjoyed a number of purple patches starting with his career in India which kicked off with a hundred on debut in 2006.
Overall, Cook, unflappable in temperament and phlegmatic by nature, will be remembered as a nice guy in times when player behaviour touched an all-time low. One of the few gentleman cricketers around, he proved that nice guys can finish first. His real worth will only be realised once he has left the scene.