Think back to 1 March 2006. Tony Blair was still Prime Minister, Madonna was top of the UK singles charts and Jose Mourinho was still being called ‘The Special One’ as he led Chelsea to a second successive Premier League title. Far away, in the depths of Nagpur, India, Alastair Cook walked to the crease for the first time as an England batsman.
In the twelve years that have followed, Blair has been succeeded by three other Prime Ministers. Madonna has divorced Guy Ritchie, adopted two more children and spoken out against Donald Trump. While Mourinho has gone from Chelsea, come again and gone again and is currently trying to recreate Alex Ferguson’s success at Manchester United. But, unmoved, Cook is still batting for England.
In the final Ashes Test, Cook participated in his 150th consecutive Test match, leaving only Alan Border’s record of 153 unbroken matches for him to surpass, which he will surely do against Pakistan this summer. This remarkable achievement is unlikely to be matched any time soon, with the next highest currently uninterrupted run being the 56 matches played by Steve Smith.
During that sequence, England have given debuts to over 50 other players, but Cook has remained a constant throughout.
Cook’s incredible run is testament to his professionalism, characterised by his exceptional fitness levels. He has also had to draw upon many of the same skills that have made him such a fixture of the England batting line up; resilience, stubbornness and endurance.
As is inevitable with such a long career, Cook’s time in an England shirt has been littered with peaks and troughs, barren runs followed by rich veins of form. He has had to draw on every ounce of self-confidence as critics have continuously questioned whether his latest dip in form represents a permanent loss of his talents. Each time he has responded emphatically with an innings, or run of scores, which underline his class.
In an age of swashbuckling stars and bulging biceps that are leading the T20 revolution, Cook is a throwback to the old-fashioned skills required to succeed in the Test match arena.
Always unassuming, he would be the first to admit that he is not the most talented batsman to have featured in the England team throughout his long career. Ian Bell was more graceful, Kevin Pietersen and Ben Stokes much more likely to intimidate bowling attacks and Joe Root the most complete batsman. Yet Cook, with his controlled cutting and pulling and classy clip off his legs has scored more runs than all of them.
In doing so, he has produced many gargantuan efforts which England fans will remember fondly, each holding a view of their favourite.
During his mammoth 244 not out in the Fourth Ashes Test in Melbourne, Cook rose to sixth in the all-time list of run scorers, overtaking greats such as Mahela Jayawardene, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Brian Lara along the way. In the following match, he became the youngest man to reach 12,000 Test runs, leaving him nearly 2000 runs ahead of Sunil Gavaskar, the next highest opener on the list.
To score such a vast quantity of runs at the top of the order is phenomenal as he has to tackle the opening bowlers at their freshest, with the new ball in their hands, having had no break between fielding and padding up.
The difficulty of this is highlighted by the struggle that England have had in replacing Cook’s long-time partner, Andrew Strauss, with Mark Stoneman looking likely to become the 12th man who has been tested and discarded.
It is likely that, like Strauss, Cook’s alents will only truly be appreciated once he is gone. It is difficult to imagine an England team without the sturdy left-hander opening, grinding the opposition bowlers down as he accumulates run upon run.
So, while the peaks may be further apart than they once were, England fans should enjoy the remaining time they have of watching him bat himself into the history books and treasure each tirelessly compiled century. They will miss him when he is gone.
Image courtesy of Naparazzi