Alastair Cook deservedly ends stellar England career on his terms

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Down and out: Alastair Cook has endured a poor series against India.

If there is one player who has earned the right to decide his own fate, it is Alastair Cook.

England‘s all-time record Test run-scorer, who will play in his 161st (record consecutive 158th outing) and final Test at The Oval this week before packing his international bat away for good, could not have given any more to his country’s cause over the course of a 12-year career which started with a debut ton all the way back in Nagpur in 2006.

It would be great if he could crown his final outing in England whites with a departing hundred against India in south London and somehow muster up 147 runs to overtake Kumar Sangakkara and become the fifth most-decorated Test batsman ever.

However, those stats, milestones and past achievements won’t be at the forefront of the 33-year-old’s mind. He just has never been that type of self-centered guy.

More comfortable with living the quiet life away on his farm in Essex with a young and growing family, Cook’s two loves have always been family and batting – not the limelight nor attention, and especially not dealing with the media.

He knew captaincy would bring all that extra spotlight, and it did tenfold, during a four-year period in Test cricket between 2012 and 2016 as well as in one-day internationals.

In fact, during those years, the scrutiny Cook had to endure not only over his batting but his decision making in the field was immense.

Luckily, behind that trademark smile was a stubbornness born most probably as a knock-on effect of his belligerent batting and ability to frustrate opponents with long innings.

That thick skin – along with Andrew Strauss’s say-so – was also enough to end the international career of Kevin Pietersen somewhat prematurely under his leadership.

While he may play on for Essex, his retirement is no great surprise after a lean run of form – with an average of just 15.57 in seven innings against India – following a barren 18 months, two double centuries against West Indies and Australia aside.

The opening to England’s batting will have a completely new complexion moving forward and it will be strange not seeing Cook there but he has made the right decision, and unselfishly given England’s selectors a good opportunity to build with next summer’s Ashes in mind.

A four-time Ashes winner himself, Cook’s 766-run haul during England’s historic first triumph Down Under in 24 years back in 2010-11 was vintage Cook – a player not gifted with great, easy-on-the-eye stroke-making ability or terrific natural talent but a player with immense mental toughness and the ability to maximise his strengths (the hook, pull-shot and work off the hips being three examples).

A first Test series victory in India for 27 years, under his captaincy, followed for England one year later while two Ashes series wins at home – in 2013 and 2015 – were registered. But they were also accompanied by the embarrassment of a whitewash on Aussie soil in 2013-14, as well as many dips in form with the bat.

There were calls for Cook to bow out then but he still had more to give. His assessment on Monday could not have been more honest as he stated “there is nothing left in the tank”. After all, he has had no natural break in his career, in spite of packing in limited-overs cricket in 2014.

While there were many critics, he earned plenty of plaudits and no one can question his record or status as an England legend.

The fact that greats of the game thought Cook was a shoe-in to chase down Sachin Tendulkar’s record 15,921 run haul in Test cricket tells you all you need to know about his calibre as a batsman.

Given the uncertain future of Test cricket in some parts of the world and how the format will progress going forward, we may indeed not see any other batsman – apart from perhaps Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and Joe Root – reach his number. The same could be said of James Anderson’s current haul of 559 wickets, when it comes to bowling.

The England dressing room will certainly be a poorer place for Cook’s absence and while he will downplay it, there will be a few tears in the house at The Oval.

Test careers often don’t get the fairytale endings they merit but with a series sealed, Cook deserves an innings of substance as he signs off.

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England batsman Alastair Cook announces international retirement

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Time to call it a day: Alastair Cook.

England‘s all-time record run-scorer Alastair Cook will retire from international cricket after this week’s Oval Test.

Cook, who has made 12,254 runs in a 160-Test career over the past 12 years, issued a statement on Monday lunchtime confirming the news.

He described it as a “sad day” but says he will retire “with a big smile on my face, knowing I have given everything”.

The former captain, a four-time Ashes winner, added that at the age of 33 “there is nothing left in the tank” to continue to serve beyond this summer as Test opener.

Cook said: “After much thought and deliberation over the last few months I have decided to announce my retirement from international cricket at the end of this Test series against India.

“Although it is a sad day, I can do so with a big smile on my face – knowing I have given everything, and there is nothing left in the tank.

“I have achieved more than I could have ever imagined and feel very privileged to have played for such a long time alongside some of the greats of the English game.”

Cook, who has indicated he will play on next summer for his county Essex, has endured a lean summer at the top of the order for England – averaging just 15.57 in seven innings against India which have mustered only 109.

He nonetheless stands sixth in the all-time global list of leading Test run-scorers, just above West Indies great Brian Lara.

There has been ongoing debate about his position of late, because of his moderate form. But he is statistically England’s best batsman, having surpassed his own mentor Graham Gooch’s previous high of 8,900 runs three years ago.

Cook added: “The thought of not sharing the dressing room, again, with some of my team-mates was the hardest part of my decision – but I know the timing is right.

“I have loved cricket my whole life from playing in the garden as a child and will never underestimate how special it is to pull on an England shirt.

“So I know it is the right time to give the next generation of young cricketers their turn to entertain us and feel the immense pride that comes with representing your country.”

Cook voiced his gratitude – among many others – to Gooch, his family and England’s travelling supporters in the ‘Barmy Army’.

“There are too many people to thank individually, but a special mention must go to the ‘Barmy Army’ and all supporters for their constant encouragement for the team – and also a special mention to Graham Gooch,” he said.

“As a seven-year-old, I queued for his autograph outside Essex County Cricket Club – and years later was so fortunate to have him mentoring me.

“Graham was my sounding board, especially in the early years of my career, spending hour after hour throwing balls at me with his dog stick.

“He made me realise you always need to keep improving, whatever you are trying to achieve.”
Cook’s wife Alice is about to have their third child – an event which may yet coincide with his final Test.

He will be hoping to go out on a high in a series Joe Root’s England wrapped up with a 60-run victory in Southampton on Sunday to establish an unassailable 3-1 lead.

“My family and I have had 12 wonderful years fulfilling my dreams, and this could not have been done without them,” he said.

“So I wish to thank my parents and brothers, my wife, Alice, and her family for their quiet, unwavering support behind the scenes.

“As cricketers, who travel frequently, we often don’t realise just how important our families are to our success.

“I would also like to thank Essex County Cricket Club for their help and support ever since I was 12, and I can’t wait to get fully involved with them in the 2019 season.

“I wish the England team every success in the future, and I will be watching with great excitement.”

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England win the Test series against India but no thanks to their top order

Alex Broun 2/09/2018
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Sam Curran shows off his flawless technique

England are celebrating a thrilling Test series victory but it is no thanks to their top order. Indeed, the hosts have clinched the Pataudi Trophy despite the woeful efforts of their “best batsman.”

Alastair Cook, Keaton Jennings, Ollie Pope (when he joined for two tests) and to a lesser extent Joe Root have contributed precious little to their team’s cause.

In total the four top England batsmen scored just 487 runs between in the four Tests at an average of just 20.29 per innings.

Compare that to tail-enders Chris Woakes and 20-year-old superstar Sam Curran who totaled 660 runs between them at an average of 44 each time they strode to the wicket.

And its not just England’s problem.

Thanks for nothing - Alastair Cook (r) and Keaton Jennings

Thanks for nothing – Alastair Cook (r) and Keaton Jennings

Take away the superb Virat Kohli from India’s stats and their remaining four top order batsman compiled just 645 runs at an average of 26.87.

Compare that to Kohli who on his own has scored 544 runs in the series at an average of 68.

And this isn’t an issue confined just to these two teams: South Africa’s top order disintegrated against Bangladesh averaging just 16.64 per wicket in their recent test series.

So why this shrinking lack of runs from Numbers 1 to 4.

The main reason is poor technique.

With so much white ball cricket being played, batsmen are being forced to improvise shots, trust their eyes and play across the line.

That’s easy to do on the astro-turf like pitches of T20 and One-Dayers where there is very little sideways or up and down movement.

Get out into the test arena, where the ball is talking, and the deficiencies in technique are cruelly exposed.

Indeed, the batsmen with the best technique in the series so far, apart from Kohli, is young Sam Curran – which is shown by his 251 runs at an average of over 50.

Hopefully he can preserve that technique through the mountain of white-ball cricket he will be playing over the next few years.

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