Alastair Cook has announced he will retire from international cricket after the Oval Test against India. Cook, the sixth highest run-scorer in the history of Test cricket, is only 33-years-old but, after a grim run of form which has seen him average just 18.62 in nine Tests this year, he has decided to end what has been an increasingly painful struggle.
The decision is not a huge surprise. While Cook looked a little better technically during the fourth Test, in Southampton, he suffered two lapses – a dab to the slips in the first innings and a loose drive in the second – that suggested his famed powers of concentration were not what they used to be. Underlining the sense that he has been a player in decline for some time, his Test average dropped below 45 for the first time since 2010 during the game.
His has been, however, a career that has embraced some of the greatest moments in the history of England cricket. Among the best moments were a century on Test debut in Nagpur as a 21-year-old in 2006, winning the player of the series award as England won the Ashes in Australia for the first time in more than 20 years in 2010-11 and leading England to victory in India in 2012; a series in which he made three centuries. No England players comes close to his total of 12,254 Test runs. No England player comes close to his record of 32 Test centuries. But Sachin Tendulkar’s overall Test run record is safe.
There were grim times, too. He was unceremoniously dropped as ODI captain at Christmas 2014, not long before England departed for their World Cup campaign, and he was caught up in the fallout of the decision to drop Kevin Pietersen at the end of the 2013-14 Ashes in which Cook’s England side were whitewashed. There were, no doubt, faults on all sides and the handling of the debacle left a great deal to be desired. But the toxicity of the debate left scars on what most would agree was a thoroughly decent man caught up in something you suspect, left to his own devices, he would have handled far more sensitively.
“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”Alastair Cook
Most of all, though, there have been remarkable peaks and troughs of form. Cook always seemed to be battling his technique and, with a limited array of scoring shots, would sometimes appear reliant on the nudge off the legs and sheer will power to survive and progress. Surely no man has scored so many runs behind square on the leg side in the history of Test cricket.
But, at his best, he had the determination and powers of concentration to endure and overcome in all conditions and against all attacks. His batting against spin on that 2012 India tour, in particular, was outstanding, while his opening partnership with Andrew Strauss was a foundation stone of England’s ascent to No. 1 in the Test rankings. Famously – infamously, perhaps – England tried 12 new partners for Cook once Strauss retired in an attempt to replicate that success. They never managed it.
Few will begrudge Cook a send-off at The Oval, either. While his distrust of the media grew in the wake of the Pietersen affair, he has remained hugely popular with team-mates and fellow pros who recognise the courage and commitment of a man who had to fight for every run. He will remain popular, too, with the England supporters who cherish those years when their side pulled off memorable victories and who came to rely on Cook’s stoic resistance. A rousing ovation is assured.
His departure does leave the selectors with a dilemma, though. With his opening partner, Keaton Jennings, also struggling for runs, the team management need to decide whether they blood a new opener now – perhaps to bat at No. 3 – or leave it until the winter tours. Cook, who has enjoyed the longest run of unbroken Test appearances in history (The Oval will be his 159th in succession), has been a pillar of the team for more than a decade. Replacing that may prove desperately tough.
Cook will not be entirely lost to the game. He intends to continue playing for Essex for the next year at least and may well, at some stage, have a future in coaching. With a farm and growing family to look after – his third child is due during the Oval Test – he will not struggle for interests outside the game.
“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,” Cook said in a statement.
“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. 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.
“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. 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.
“My family and I have had 12 wonderful years fulfilling my dreams and this could not have been done without them. 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.”
While his own declining form may render this a sad day for Cook, the fact he leaves after a series win against the No. 1 side in the world will please him. He has far more to celebrate than mourn.