Alastair Cook - The Interview
Many people would call Alastair Cook’s retirement from England duty as the end of an era. However, given his career spanned 12 years, 4 coaches, six captains and seven Ashes series, describing it as anything less than an epoch undersells it somewhat.
From 2006 to 2018, the man from Gloucester has led from the front for his country, both in the ranks and as captain. It is one of the reasons his retirement sent such seismic waves through the sport – it still feels odd not to have Cook playing for England.
He was the one constant of English cricket that you could always rely on. For a team so prone to wild oscillation between success and failure, Cook was the bastion of calmness, the sweat free accumulator of runs in an increasingly frenzied T20 world.
By the end it felt like a new record was being set every time Cook breathed. Most consecutive Tests for England, highest English Test run scorer, most cups of tea consumed by a left-hander. But the accolades and standards he set will be in place for years to come.
He scored a century on Test debut and became the youngest Englishman to 5,000, 6,000 and 10,000 runs. 33 Test centuries were scored in all, helping to generate 12,472 runs at 45. But did he ever set out for such success?
“I mean you don't set goals like that do you” said Cook in an interview with Gray-Nicolls at their Robertsbridge HQ.
“You know I can only go back to that first game, 2006, I remember being on the beach in Antigua a week before and actually one of the coaches out there for the Lions tour - being an A tour - he said “When do you want to play for England by, how old do you want be?” I said well to be brutally honest you don't think like that, you just think how am I going to break into the side. I just wanted the chance to play once. I just wanted to play for England, that was kind of always a goal and then you know, you fast forward a week you’ve flown to India, scored a hundred and yeah, it's amazing how quickly the game can change.”
The game certainly changed quickly for Cook and England. In his first year in the side, Cook averaged 44.23 with four centuries. 2007 saw a further three centuries, while 2008 - empty in terms of centuries - still saw him average 47.58 and pass 5,000 Test runs.
2010 was perhaps the defining year of Cook’s England career, not just in volume of runs, but the circumstances and opposition. The year started with a pair of half centuries in Cape Town against South Africa, before two centuries as stand-in skipper in Bangladesh. However, eight scores under 30 followed, with speculation rife that Cook was set to lose his place in the side for the first time.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Cook scored 110 against Pakistan at The Oval to secure his place on the forthcoming Ashes tour. The remainder of the year – and the entire Ashes series, would belong to Chef.
67 in the first innings at Brisbane was followed up with 235 not out in the second as England batted out a draw, but won the battle of minds with Australia. Next came 148 in Adelaide, before 82 at Melbourne helped finish off the Aussies. A final hundred – 189 in Sydney, capped Cook’s Ashes as England won an historic victory on Australian soil.
That series moved from Cook’s reputation to world class. After such an incredible start to his career, it’s natural that bigger goals would come into focus. The media discussed whether he could catch Sachin Tendulkar. Cook had his own goal in mind.
“About halfway through my career, I kind of wanted to score 10,000 Test runs and I thought that was kind of possible. You obviously don't know but I'm a long-term thinker. Mostly it's just see - can I get picked for the next game really.”
10,000 Test runs did arrive, in May 2016 against Sri Lanka, to become the fastest player to the landmark. Sachin’s run total was never to be chased down, but a glorious end to his Test career would be his.
Cook announced prior to the final Test of the 2018 Summer that it would be his last. India, a fitting foe given Cook’s success against them in his career, had managed to get the best of Cook and the rest of the top order all summer, but the feeling around the match was that Cook had one last hurrah in him.
He reached 70 in the first innings – all hard work and will – before he was out, bowled. It felt like that was the big chance gone. He was given a standing ovation as he left the field, one of around 30 in the course of five days.
In his second effort, he survived the toughest of examinations by Mohammed Shami on Sunday evening, to go into Monday morning 46 not out.
What followed was pure theatre. Suddenly, appeared the Cook of those illustrious triumphs in Australia and India. Pulls, drives, tucks off the hips. The Chef Specials took him into the 90s with relative ease. Finally, a cut shot, overthrown to the boundary, and Cook had a final century, sending the crowd – and the cricketing world – into a state of delirium.
YESSS THIS IS INSANE!!!! 💯👌🙌👏😭😍💯💯💯💯💯💯💯— Gray-Nicolls 🏏 (@graynics) September 10, 2018
“it was a great book end and it was a great way to finish. I'm never very good for words, words will never be able to sum up how that was. It was embarrassing at one the game just stopped for like five minutes. It is extraordinary and I wasn't emotional at all that week, but when I got that hundred there was a little lump in my throat. I couldn't have asked for a better way to go and it’s one I'll always look back at with great pride. For that glorious six hours it was very special.”
Time of course moves on. England were no sooner celebrating the triumphant career of Cook than they were out in Sri Lanka – a Test series they would win 2-0. Was it a case of out of sight, out of mind for the now former opener?
“I definitely watched bits when I was when I was at home with the early starts with the girls.
I'd put it on you but I didn't miss it at all. The only bit I found – the bit I miss - was when they won that second game, all the heartache they'd gone through, the hard work, the kind of stress and the pressure they’ve had to try and win that series - obviously even day three, day four when they're looking like they're going to win the series - they’ve still got to get over the line.”
“And then knowing how good a night they're going to have as a team because they're the memories I have from my career that when you won and when you’ve done something very special, when you're sitting there talking about it and having a few beers - that is very special. Then to make matters worse, Stokesy sent me a picture of him having a beer with Rooty on the back of the bus, on my seat.”
There has been much talk in Cook’s career about the farm he works on. It came into his life when he met Alice, his now wife, and it has been a grounding influence ever since, and has helped put retirement into perspective and given him a focus.
“I've been very lucky I've been busy at home, you know we have a joke about it but being on the farm, not sat there clock watching - I think that's definitely helped with the process (of retirement). It’s such a big thing - it's what's driven me and my life I suppose pretty much since I was probably about 12 or 13 years old. I wanted to play for England. So when that goal has been taken away it's going take a little bit of adjustment - but it's such a clean ending for me that it has made it a lot easier.”
It seems fanciful that a young cricketer coming through the ranks might find themselves drawn to farm life as a way to escape cricket, but Cook is adamant that an interest outside the game is a key ingredient to his success, longevity and clear head space.
“You know the farm kind of got introduced as I'd started turning pro. I was squeezing in gym sessions. I was doing batting sessions, and then going home to help out. I think it worked really well because it just gave me that sense of reality, the sense of perspective a lot of the time.
“You can't train all day, you can't bat all day - if I was giving advice to people I definitely would say my personal thing was that having something else outside cricket is very important, and if it's just cricket, cricket, cricket you can get buried in it and it can be quite hard to see the bigger picture.”
2019 will see Cook play for Essex, in a move that surprised some people. Was a full retirement ever on the cards?
“To walk off at The Oval like I did was very special, but obviously then to never play cricket again, I think would have left a really big hole in everything and actually - this is a bit deep -but the direction of your life - all that kind of stuff because it's taken so many hours up, just to suddenly one day go from everything to nothing would have felt I think quite hard for me. It’s great that Essex have decided they would like me around and for me it's given me this four or five months where I haven't done any cricket but knowing that come February I’m back in with Essex.”
It feels like England’s loss will be Essex and County Cricket’s gain. Cook will be a box office attraction wherever he plays this summer. The epoch of Alastair Cook in an England shirt is over, but let’s savour him a little longer while we have the chance.
Gray-Nicolls have created the AC Excalibur Limited Edition bat to celebrate the career of Alastair Cook. Just 33 bats are being made, so you can sign up to be the first to know when the bat is released by clicking here.