The game of Cricket has evolved a lot in the last two half decades. The contest between bat and ball has been reduced to the mere supremacy of bat over ball in the age of 20-20 cricket.
In the era of thicker bats, shorter boundaries and batting friendly pitches, the age old saying of “It is not just what you score, but how you do that matters” has gone reverse. Test cricket has taken the back seat in the new age where scoring 300 in an ODI is just routine, and the batsmen able to hit a couple of maximums or more, are the ones celebrated.
Very few batsmen in the world are left, whose playing aptly fits into the proper of definition of cricket as “The Gentleman’s Game”. Alastair Cook is one such shining example of a “rebel” who refused to adapt to the world of T20 and stood his own ground.
Born in 1985 in Gloucestershire England, Cook joined St. Paul’s Cathedral College as a choir at an early age. He started playing cricket at an early age for Maldon Cricket Club in Essex(his family stayed in Wickham Bishops in Essex). He excelled quickly and was already playing for the club’s first team while still only 11. His first big break came while studying at Bedford School when Marylebone Cricket Club visited and played him after being a man short. 14-year old Cook scored a century that day.
The boy of Anglo-Welsh descent, tasted his first International Cricket when he played for England in the U-15 World Cup in 2000. He played in the U-19 World Cup, 3 years later where he led his country before falling in the semis against the Windies.
In 2003, at the age of 18, Cook made his debut in County Cricket for Essex after being 2 years in their academy. Till date he is still playing for Essex.
Alastair Cook made his senior debut at the age of 21 when he was called to replace Opener Marcus Trescothick during England’s 2006 India tour. In his Test debut at Nagpur, he opened the batting with Andrew Strauss and scored a well crafted 60 off 160.
That was just the beginning for the technical master that the Englishman is. He then followed up his half century in the first innings, with his maiden test century in the second.
Alastair Cook soon became a regular in England’s first team and repaid the faith of the team management with classic Test innings, one after another.
In spite of consistent performances against Sri Lanka and Pakistan, including two centuries against the latter, he was overlooked from the ODI squad due to the lack of ability to score quickly.
Cook probably got the maximum praise after his valiant match (failed) saving effort against the Aussies in the 2006-07 Ashes, where he scored his maiden Ashes century while trying to chase down 577. He became the first ever English batsman to score 4 test tons before turning 22.
After being repeatedly overlooked in the limited format and scoring in the longer consistently, Cook was finally given the call in ODI cricket in 2007 during the home series against India. Much like Tests, he scored his maiden ODI century on debut when he scored 102 off 126 balls at Southampton.
But he was dropped after the series and did not make it to the squads for the ICC World T20 or the ICC cricket world cup. But the technical master he was, he kept on delivering with the bat in the longest format of the game.
After Andrew Strauss retired from ODI, the ECB handed over the role of leading England onto the 26-year old. He made his return to the ODI side as the captain after 2 years and led his side successfully. In the meantime, he continued with his exploits in his favourite format scoring a whole lot of runs.
After Strauss retired from all forms of the game, Cook was chosen to lead in a tough India tour in a 4-match test series. In the opening test match at Ahmedebad, England saved the innings loss, thanks to his brilliant century in the second innings. After the devastating opening loss, everyone was sure England was heading towards another whitewash in the turning Indian pitches. But the new England captain led from the front as England went onto win the series 2-1 after wins at Mumbai and Kolkata. He scored 3 centuries and was the highest scorer in the series with 562 runs earning him the man of the series award.
While leading his national side, Alastair Cook has scored 10 tons. He led his team to 2 Ashes series victories as a captain among notables. Although the 0-5 whitewash in the “Mitchell Johnson’s Ashes” will forever be a blot in his career.
Cook stepped down from England captaincy after the India tour in 2016-17 where England was humiliated by a young Indian side led by Virat Kohli. He achieved the milestone of being the youngest ever batsman to score 11000 test runs in the history of the game.
In 151 test matches, “Chef” has scored 11956 runs at an average of 46.52. During the boxing day Ashes test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 2017, he achieved the unique feat of Carrying the Bat as the first Englishman in 20 years since Michael Atherton did in Christchurch. His 244* was also the highest ever score in history for an opener achieving the feat.
The former England captain, who equalled Steve Waugh with 32 test tons at MCG, has the feat of being the youngest player ever to score 7,000, 8,000, 9,000, 10,000 and 11,000 runs in Test cricket respectively.
Alastair Cook has never appeared to be the most entertaining or attractive batsman in the modern era of slog hitting. He is often termed as strenuous and generating snooze-fest. Many people make fun of his tremendously slow batting (even in tough situations), labelling his cricket as the most monotonous in the present world of cricket.
But for an old school Test Cricket fan, he is everything that the Gentleman’s Game stands for. No matter how challenging and difficult the situation is, the 6 feet 2 inch 2011 ICC Test Player of the Year, is sure to never go down without a fight.
Sunil Gavaskar in 2012 commented that 15000 runs and 50 test centuries are not beyond the highest ever capped English test cricketer. The Little Master pointed out that, sometimes concentration is more effective than talent.
“Concentration is a God given ability. What I like about Cook is that he is looking at the ball every time, even when he is standing at the non-striker’s end. That’s one way to keep your concentration going,” he explained.
As an ardent fan of Test cricket, I can only hope that the Great Gentleman of the Modern Day will continue in his path of being a rebel with his copybook “boring” brand of batting, while “Cooking” more delights for the world for more years to come.