Cookie’s eyes on the prize

Cook re­veals how he knew time was right to end his Test ca­reer

Daily Mail - - Ryder Cup Countdown - PAUL NEW­MAN Cricket Cor­re­spon­dent

ALASTAIR COOK re­mains fully fo­cused on help­ing Eng­land to a 4-1 se­ries win over In­dia when the fi­nal Test of the se­ries starts at the Oval to­mor­row. Af­ter all the at­ten­tion he has at­tracted since declar­ing he will quit in­ter­na­tional cricket af­ter this Test, the for­mer Eng­land skip­per said: ‘It re­ally would be lovely to go out with a big score. But more im­por­tantly I want Eng­land to win be­cause 4-1 sounds so much bet­ter than 3-2. Hope­fully I’ll score some runs and then go.’

There were tears, he ad­mit­ted, in the dress­ing room when he broke the news but Alastair Cook was to­tally at ease yes­ter­day over the de­ci­sion he has con­sid­ered for the last six months — to call time on one of the great­est of all eng­land ca­reers.

Only when he spoke of his re­grets over the Kevin Pi­etersen af­fair that so nearly brought him down did Cook look any­thing other than proud.

Mostly there were smiles from a re­laxed Cook at the Oval as he looked back on 12 years of Test toil that have brought him more than 12,000 runs and 32 cen­turies and, most im­por­tantly, four Ashes suc­cesses with two as cap­tain.

Cook, at only 33, knows the time is right to go af­ter his 161st and fi­nal Test, even though there is no clam­our for his de­par­ture within the eng­land set-up and cer­tainly no plethora of open­ers in county cricket queue­ing up to fill his con­sid­er­able boots.

Sim­ply, he has lost the men­tal edge that has been so cru­cial to the suc­cess of a bats­man with, even he would ad­mit, a lim­ited tech­nique. he has ven­tured to the well so many times that his re­serves of in­ner strength have fi­nally dried up.

All he wants now are big runs in his fi­nal Test against In­dia — just as there were on his de­but in Nag­pur — be­fore he shuf­fles off self-con­sciously to spend his last crick­et­ing years with his beloved es­sex and on the fam­ily farm in Bed­ford­shire he cher­ishes.

‘It’s all been a bit sur­real,’ said Cook as he looked back on the re­ac­tion to his move to bow out af­ter a se­ries vic­tory over the best Test team in the world. ‘One of my friends rang me to check I was still alive be­cause ev­ery­one was talk­ing as if I’d died.

‘I’ve been back at home the last cou­ple of days so I hadn’t seen what had been said or writ­ten but I al­lowed my­self a lit­tle look last night. And it is nice when you hear so many kind words said about you. It means a lot. For ex­am­ple, some­one stopped me when I was driv­ing in to­day, made me wind down the win­dow and said, “Thank you very much”. That was a nice mo­ment. hope­fully now I can score some runs and then go.’

Cook’s an­nounce­ment fol­lowed the emo­tional af­ter­math of eng­land’s vic­tory at the Ageas Bowl which gave them a se­ries win over In­dia, even though their top or­der, in­clud­ing Cook, have con­sis­tently strug­gled against In­dia’s po­tent seam at­tack.

‘I was a cou­ple of beers in, which I needed to be oth­er­wise I would have cried more than I ac­tu­ally did,’ said Cook. ‘I man­aged to hold it to­gether. At the end of the game I just said to the team, “This might be good news for some and sad for others, but it’s time. I’ve done my bit, and, if picked, the next game will be my last”. That’s kind of all I said. There was a bit of si­lence, Moeen Ali said some­thing, we all laughed and ev­ery­one got on with it. Then we had a nice evening in the chang­ing room.’

Not even a more pro­duc­tive se­ries against In­dia would have been enough to al­ter his opin­ion that the time is right. ‘It’s hard to put into words but there have been signs in my mind over the last six months,’ he said.

‘I’ve al­ways had that men­tal edge, I’ve al­ways been men­tally in­cred­i­bly tough and had that edge to ev­ery­thing I’ve done but that had kind of gone. The things I’d found easy weren’t quite there and to me that was the big­gest thing.’ he did con­sider, he ad­mit­ted, tak­ing six months off to see whether the hunger would re­turn. ‘It did cross my mind briefly as the de­ci­sion be­came clearer in my mind,’ said Cook. ‘But I still don’t think that edge would have been there. Once the de­ci­sion is in your mind you ask peo­ple about it along the way and they say, “When you know, you know”, and I hon­estly think that’s true of me.’

It has not all been sweet­ness and light, of course. The bitter reper­cus­sions of eng­land’s de­ci­sion to move on with­out Pi­etersen af­ter the low of an Ashes thrash­ing in 2013-14 would have con­sumed a lesser man. But Cook hung on in there to re­claim the urn amid more tears at Trent Bridge the fol­low­ing year.

There will be a cel­e­bra­tory feel to to­mor­row’s fi­nal Test, with guards of hon­our and stand­ing ova­tions a cer­tainty, and Sur­rey will mark the oc­ca­sion fit­tingly by pre­sent­ing Cook with a bot­tle of vin­tage Bordeaux from 2006, the year of his Test de­but.

Cook will not rel­ish the at­ten­tion but in­sists he went pub­lic with his de­ci­sion — one that was crit­i­cised in these pages by David Lloyd, who does not feel he should be play­ing here — sim­ply be­cause he did not want the news to leak out be­fore he had an­nounced it him­self. An old-fash­ioned, an­ti­so­cial-me­dia soul to the last.

One thing that could dis­rupt the farewell party is the ar­rival of his third child, which is due on Mon­day.

Cook will then take the win­ter off to put in some over­due fam­ily time be­fore at­tempt­ing to pile on the runs at Chelms­ford. Be­fore that comes one fi­nal Test.

‘I can look back and say I prob­a­bly be­came the best player I could,’ he added. ‘That ac­tu­ally means quite a lot to me. Yes, I’ve never been the most tal­ented crick­eter and I can’t pre­tend I was, but I def­i­nitely think I got ev­ery­thing out of my abil­ity.

‘It re­ally would be lovely to go out with a big score,’ he added. ‘But more im­por­tantly I want eng­land to win be­cause 4- 1 sounds so much bet­ter than 3-2.’ A team man to the last.

‘I cried when I told my team-mates it was over’

GETTY IM­AGES

Vi­sion on: Alastair Cook takes a catch in train­ing

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