Shahid Afridi and Sachin Tendulkar congratulate Alastair Cook on a successful career

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Pakistan legend Shahid Afridi and India great Sachin Tendulkar were among the star names who congratulated Alastair Cook after the England batsman announced his retirement from international cricket following the fifth Test against India.

Cook will retire with more than 12,000 Test runs under his belt and already has 32 Test centuries. He is a four-time Ashes winner and led rare Test series wins in India and Australia.

Afridi called Cook a “wonderful player who was a wonderful ambassador of the game” in his tweet while Tendulkar said “Alastair Cook has been one of the finest batsmen to have represented England, and his conduct on-field and off it, has been impeccable.”

In his Instagram post, former England batsman Paul Collingwood hailed the selfless batting of Cook. “It was a pleasure being out in the middle when you scored a lot of your hundreds for England. Thanks for fighting so hard,” Collingwood said in his post.

Gary Lineker also congratulated Cook, calling him “one of the greatest opening batsmen ever to have donned a pair of pads and gloves.”

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Bairstow's wicket-keeping future and No3 position still a concern for England

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England's Jonny Bairstow (l) with current keeper Jos Buttler.

England may know Alastair Cook is about to play his final Test at The Oval, but little else appears certain about their immediate or longer-term future.

Coach Trevor Bayliss admitted, in the aftermath of the series-sealing 60-run win over Test cricket’s number one team India in Southampton, that he did not know as yet whether captain Joe Root will again choose to drop down from number three to his favoured number four position.

The Yorkshireman did that, unannounced, to relatively successful effect in England’s second innings on day three at the Ageas Bowl – where Moeen Ali was chosen to move up from number seven in his place.

As England seek to close out a resounding 4-1 – rather than scratchy 3-2 – series win to finish their campaign, there are other pressing issues too.

They could do with identifying a successor to the retiring Cook as soon as possible with an autumn Test series in Sri Lanka already looming – and it would be handy too to know whether Jonny Bairstow will again be relieved of the wicketkeeping gloves by Jos Buttler, as he was because of his broken finger in Southampton.

Answers to some of those unknowns may be answered when England name their squad on Tuesday for the fifth and final Test. The Bairstow question is potentially vexing.

Relegated, in his own eyes, to the role of specialist batsman only, he could muster only six runs in two innings – including his second golden duck in three attempts, clean-bowled both times.

“He is very keen to keep,” said Bayliss, who clarified even Bairstow realised his finger injury would not allow him to do so on the south coast. “He tried it before the match started, but he admitted it was not right to keep.

“He is one of our better batters, so he was always going to play as a bat if he wasn’t keeping as well – but going forward he wants to keep.”

There were those who perceived an awkward reaction by Bairstow to losing the gloves – one which may yet be more of a concern if England make the arrangement permanent.

“How (he reacts) to that is for Jonny if it happens down the line,” added Bayliss. “That is the challenge for us, and challenge for anyone who gets one of those strings taken away.”

Moeen did not shirk his when asked to bat at number three, and the indications are that the all-rounder may well be asked to do so again soon enough.

“I hope we can find someone who can do a decent job at number three, and (Joe) can bat where he feels most comfortable,” added Bayliss, who believes the adaptable Moeen may fit the bill.

“In the right conditions, I would not put it past him. When Rooty asked him if he was keen to do it, he jumped at it.

“His challenge will be on the faster wickets … (but) we haven’t got any of those for a while.”

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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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