The first ball Alastair Cook ever faced in Test cricket was short and wide, as were the second and third. Aged just 21, Cook refused to play any of these balls. Just minutes into his Test career, Cook sent a message out to the watching world, emphasising his shrewd and sound judgement and that he was stubborn. Cook set the benchmark, he would stubbornly refuse to be baited in to playing risky shots, highlighting his sensible head and simplicity, which was the mantra he followed for the rest of his Test career which span twelve years.
Being flown in just days before to replace the injured Michael Vaughan, Cook was thrown straight in at the deep end, so to speak. The young boy from Gloucester hit 60 in his very first innings, the second highest in the innings behind Paul Collingwood.
12,254 runs later from that surprising selection, Cook heads into his final Test match at the age of 33, as a legend of not just English cricket, but the sport in general.
Cook will retire after the final Test with India at the Oval this weekend as a record setter in English Test cricket for the most: caps, runs, hundreds, catches, wins.
Cook, nicknamed ‘Chef’ or ‘Cookie’ retires slightly earlier in his career than some may have thought, but the time is right. Like Cook showed at the wicket throughout his career, he knows the right time to leave.
The last few years of his illustrious career have been disappointing, with his innings averages being around the 30 mark for the past few years.
A decline may be evident from the outset, but only because the summit was so high. The views from the top are unforgettable for any cricket fan.
When at his peak, Cookie inspired young cricketers around the country, whilst doing the opposite and breaking hearts of a nation down under, as he racked up some relentless scores in the 2010/11 Ashes series in Australia.
To sum it up, Cook ruined Christmas for the Aussies.
If you were there, you were lucky to witness some of the best batting English cricket has seen in recent history. If you were watching on TV back home, you also felt humbled.
Back in England, fans would go to sleep with Cook batting and wake up before the sun to find that Cook is… still batting. ‘They must be showing highlights?!’ was the first thought of many round the country. But no, Alastair Cook was still batting.
That series will go down in history as the twilight of Cook’s career, as he made some unthinkable scores – scores that are unprecedented for English batsmen in Australia.
67 in the first innings at Brisbane was followed by a whopping 235 in the second. He scored 148 in Adelaide and an impressive 82 at the MCG, topping it all off with 189 in Sydney.
Those scores would’ve been higher if it was possible, but his 766 runs laid the ground for Australian defeats, meaning Cook just didn’t have chance to come back on.
That tour is unforgettable for many and a nightmare for Aussies, who will be haunted by Alastair Cook when he was at his peak. Grounds emptied and when Cook et al left the field, they often waved around the ground, but apart from the delirious Barmy Army, were gesturing at empty seats.
Cook was never the prettiest, but the beauty and grace was found in his simplicity.
One summer, he tried to address this and try and add new dynamics to his game, but failed. This, in fact, was the slump of his career. He struggled against Pakistan and Bangladesh and was often out for low scores.
But, this slump changed Cook’s mentality: he realised that his game wasn’t perfect, but admitting this meant he could master his limitations. He returned to his simplistic manner at the Oval that summer and hit 110. Cookie was back.
Some predicted that after he stepped down and handed the captaincy to Joe Root, Cook may excel with less pressure, but it hasn’t been the case.
On Friday, Chef enters his 161st and final Test cricket match at the Oval and is expected to receive a special presentation.
After all, he deserves it. When at his peak, Cook was one of the best we will ever see, and we may not see one like him again.
Cook will continue to play for Essex, but can now watch Test cricket with his feet up.
Happy retirement, captain Cook.