Cookie’s eyes on the prize
Cook reveals how he knew time was right to end his Test career
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’
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