"It is short and wide outside off, that is going to be bread and butter for Alastair Cook," goes one of the commentary lines. The term "bread and butter" is very well associated with the English opener's name Alastair Cook. Fondly called as 'The Chef', he entered the international circuit against India and is all set to hang his boots against the very same team, with whom he has very fond memories. It seems as though life has been a complete circle for Cook. From Nagpur to The Oval, he has seen it all, and when he plays for England for one final time, he would look back at his career with utmost satisfaction.
Having made his Test debut against India in Nagpur in 2006, Cook immediately showed the cricketing world what was about to come, as he scored a fine 60 and an unbeaten masterly 104 that enabled a draw for England. He never looked back from there as he was highly successful at the top of the order for England.
Success In the Sub-Continent:
One of the biggest tests for any non-Asian batsman is to play in the subcontinent, which aids spin to the maximum extent possible. Not many batsmen hold a good record in the subcontinent but Cook excelled as a fantastic batsman in Asian conditions. He has 5 hundreds in India, which is the most by any visiting batsman. It also includes the masterly 190 in Kolkata, 2012, where he enabled a come-from-behind series win for England.
His magnificent 176 in tough batting conditions in Ahmedabad in the same series is one of the best innings ever played by a visiting opener in India. He was highly successful both as a player and a captain in India, leading England to one of the rarest series wins in India in 2012. He averages 48+ in all the four Asian countries (all his away Tests against Pakistan have been in UAE) which is a humongous number for a visiting batsman.
Fantastic Times For 'The Chef':
In the period from December 2009 to May 2013, Cook scored 4,015 runs which include 16 hundreds (half of his Test hundreds were in this period) and he was in top nick more often than not. His beautiful 118 against South Africa in Durban, 2010, helped England to a series win.
An English or Australian batsman's ability is often judged by the number of runs he scores in the Ashes contests. Cook stood out in this aspect as well. He has featured in seven Ashes series (three home series and four of them away). In the 2010-11 Ashes, he aggregated a total of 766 runs in just seven innings at an astounding average of 127.66 with 3 hundreds in the series. In the post-war era, Only David Gower (1672 runs) has more runs than Cook's Ashes tally for England in Australia (1664 runs). It goes to show how dominant Cook was, in Tests at Australia.
However, in the home Ashes Tests, Cook does not possess the same dominance that he has in Tests in Australia. In 3 series at home, he has 829 runs in total at an average of 29.60 with the highest score of 96. The fact that England has only one Ashes victory in Australia in the last 3 decades, and that Cook was the leading run-scorer for them in that series, is a testimony of his greatness.
When England was in crisis, Cook stood out and rescued England from the jaws of defeat. He was a complete team player, a gifted diamond for England cricket and one of the most dependable openers the game has ever witnessed.
His 294 against India in the 2011 home series is one of the finest knocks that Cook has exhibited in his Test career. He was in fine touch for the most part of his career but the bad form did get to him, as is the case with many of the players.
Torrid Times With The Bat:
Cook had two periods where he was not his old self. His initial poor run occurred in late 2013, so much so that he went 27 consecutive innings without a 100 and his average in those 14 Tests dipped to 23.62. The Southampton Test against India in 2014 saw him break the jinx to a certain extent as he had scores of 95 and 70, which resulted in an English win. However, the 100 kept denying him till the next series against West Indies in 2015 where he scored 105.
His second bad patch with the bat started against South Africa last year, where he could score only 268 runs in eight innings with just a couple of fifties to his name. The same bad form has continued till date, where he averages 34.2 in 20 Tests with two double hundreds in addition to the 3 fifties in this period. An in-form Cook was what England expected, but the going has been tough for Chef who conquered all countries in his peak.
In the current series against India, his numbers tell a sorry tale barring the 71 in the first innings in his last Test. This 71 has come as a welcome relief as it now gives him an opportunity to retire on a high by scoring big in the second innings, for one final time.
Interesting Facts About The English Legend:
He has played 161 Tests for England, in which he has represented them for 159 consecutive Tests - the most ever by a player in succession and it is unlikely to be broken by anyone in the near future. He also holds the record for scoring the most number of runs (11627) as an opener - which in itself is a proud record to be an owner of. He has hundreds in each of his first 5 Tests as captain - again a world record for the English great.
Patience, determination, perseverance and the ability to grind it out in the middle are the qualities that we attach with Alastair Cook, and it was evident when he took 836 minutes for his 263 against Pakistan in 2015 - which is the third longest ever innings in terms of minutes batted in Test cricket history. He also holds the record for the highest score (244* at MCG last year) by a player carrying his bat in Test cricket, a record worth its weight in gold. To cap it all, He holds the English record for most Test caps (160), most Test wins (66), most Test 50s (57), most Test 100s (32) and most Tests as Captain (59).
Alastair Nathan Cook, The Legend:
England has now certainly lost a rock at the top of the order in the form of Alastair Cook. His hunger for runs and passion to play long innings will be some of the qualities that the other openers will find difficult to replicate. It has been one fantastic journey of one of the most cherished openers in the history of Test cricket and it is only fair on our part to respect the achievements by Alastair Nathan Cook.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going and Cook certainly proved it to the cricketing world with his sheer amount of runs and the quality with which he scored those. He is one of the greatest openers to have ever graced the game.
Irrespective of his score in the second innings in the Oval Test, he will continue to be cherished as a legend by the cricketing world and without any doubts, remain a role model for all the aspiring openers in Test cricket. It would be great if England win this Test match and take the series 4-1, thereby giving a fitting farewell to Alastair Cook. He well and truly deserves to win his last Test match and end on a high.
It is never going to be easy for England to fill in Alastair Cook's shoes, at least for the next few years to come. He has been a fantastic batsman, a great captain, and an outstanding slip fielder for England for a dozen years.
Alastair Nathan Cook, what a fantastic journey!Published 09 Sep 2018, 00:35 IST