A couple of days before the Test series against India, the England players were put through the gruelling yo-yo test. At the end of the 15-20 minute examination, Alastair Cook dropped to his knees, bent over gasping for air. At the age of 33, he is oldest in the squad, but when the yo-yo test results came, he emerged with the most flattering results. According to England players, Cook has never been beaten — a facet which rubs off in his batting, accordingly to Strength and Condition Coach Phil Scott in an ECB video. In the video he says, “Cook is tough mentally and just like on the pitch, he is a stubborn individual who doesn’t like losing even if it means collapsing at the end.”
But on Sunday night as England players enjoyed the series victory against India, Cook had been beaten. Not in a yo-yo test, but in his mind. He had lost the drive and like all the great sportsmen realised his time was up. Importantly, he had picked the moment himself, he was neither nudged nor shoved, but walked out on his own terms. Perhaps, another epic score might have prompted him to go on until the Ashes next year, but the score never came and Cook knew it was time.
England’s Alastair Cook acknowledges the fans after scoring a century. AFPEngland’s Alastair Cook acknowledges the fans after scoring a century. AFP
Cook’s record speaks for itself: most Test runs for England, most Test centuries for England, most Tests as a captain for England and sixth on the list of all-time runs scorers in Test cricket. All this from a batsman who has often been regarded as a player with limited abilities. But what he lacked in flair, he made up for with his concentration, simplicity and his pure hunger to score runs.
At his peak, once Cook had dropped anchor, he would be immovable. He made a habit of making ‘daddy hundreds’, 11 out of his 32 Test centuries were in excess of 150. One of the reasons he could concentrate for such long periods was the fact that he had specific game plans and the ability to repeat the same routine ball after ball, over after over, hour after hour.
On his Test debut, he defied all the odds by scoring a hundred on a turning track in Nagpur in the 3rd innings of the match. But it would be his heroics in the 2012 series in India that could never be forgotten. Before the series, Cook had spent over a couple of weeks in Mumbai, at the Cricket Club of India, practising on the slow, dusty pitches of India. There he practiced the sweep shot and the forward defence until the cows came home. All the practice proved to be fruitful, as Cook plundered three hundreds and lead his team to a series win in India for the first time in 28 years.
Perhaps nothing sums up Cook’s dedication for England than a hundred he scored against Pakistan in UAE. It might have been an ODI game, but Cook had suffered a broken bone in his shin the day before at a water park. Afraid that Andy Flower, the coach at the time, might blast him for his activities on the day before the match, Cook did not tell anyone about the injury. He swallowed four-five painkillers, walked out to bat and scored a hundred.
Along with his phenomenal feats in India, his scoring spree during the 2010-11 Ashes series Down Under is one that he will savour for a long time. Before the tour, a series of tests had concluded that Cook was the person that sweated the least and was given the job of keeping the ball dry for reverse swing. As a joke, a player had told him you can’t use ‘sweating or dehydration’ as an excuse. Cook surely didn’t as he amassed over 700 runs in the series. Even until now, he ranks his performance in Australia and India as the highest point of his career.
Of course, in between there were bad patches. Going through a lean patch, Cook was once asked if it was because of technical deficiency or the mental aspect of the game. “Mental things turned into technical things and technical things turned into mental things. It became a bit of a vicious circle going round and round.”
According to Cook, there was only one way to escape it and that was to return to his farm and property near Leighton Buzzard, around 50km North West of London. This was Cook’s gateway from the game and he believed that doing all the farm activities took his mind off the game or technique or the mental side of the batting.
“I think farming does help my cricket in the way that I’m not lying on my sofa thinking ‘what’s my technique doing here?'” Cook told The Telegraph.
Coincidentally, before the start of the India series he had spent nearly two weeks at home on his beloved farm. Perhaps it was then that he had realised that it was time to give up on his primary profession and enjoy his other passion in life. With over 12,000 Test runs, he will walk away as one of the true legends of Test cricket.