As England’s captain nears the 10,000-run mark in Tests, Chris Stocks finds a man always able to handle the pressure
When Alastair Cook walks out for his first international innings of the summer against Sri Lanka at Headingley the week after next he’ll be within touching distance of yet another piece of cricketing history.
The man who is already his country’s leading Test run-scorer and century-maker needs just 36 more to become the first Englishman to reach 10,000 runs in the oldest form of the game.
Whenever the landmark is passed – and his early-season form for Essex suggests it should come in his first innings in Leeds – it will be a fitting testament to a player who, statistically at least, must surely be regarded as England’s greatest ever batsman.
Cook, who marked his England debut against India in Nagpur ten years ago with a second-innings century, will become only the 12th player in the history of Test cricket to score 10,000 runs.
Standing on 9,964 runs, he will join Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis, Rahul Dravid, Kumar Sangakkara, Brian Lara, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Mahela Jayawardene, Allan Border, Steve Waugh and Sunil Gavaskar in that elite group.
The Essex opener, 31 at Christmas, will also become the youngest to reach the mark, beating the record of Tendulkar, 31 and 10 months in 2005.
And Cook is aware of the significance of his impending achievement.
“It would mean a lot,” he says. “Milestones are a weird thing because when you’re on 4,000 runs you’re desperate to get 5,000 and then you want 6,000. Then you realise when you’re there it’s not quite as important as you thought before. But 10,000 is a massive milestone for any batsman because you could say you can’t really argue with a bloke who’s scored 10,000 runs.
“No matter which way you’ve gone about it that’s a lot of runs, in a lot of different conditions and being tested for a long time. So it’ll be a nice milestone but I’ve got to get the 36 runs first.”
He may not always be pretty but even if you concede Cook is not the most technically assured or flamboyant of batsmen, you cannot deny his sheer bloody-mindedness and strength of character. Twice he has been put under almost intolerable pressure during his England career, only to battle through and come out the other side triumphant.
Firstly in 2010 a barren run and questions over his technique saw him possibly come within one innings of being dropped.
However, he managed a century against Pakistan at The Oval to ease the pressure and the following winter enjoyed perhaps his greatest moment as an England player – 766 runs against Australia to inspire England to a first Ashes series win in Australia for 24 years.
Then last year he was on a run of almost two years without a Test century, a period in which he lost the England one-day captaincy and was pilloried for his leadership from all sides.
Lesser men may have quit the captaincy. Lesser men may have walked away. But a century against West Indies in Barbados last May and a change of coach, Trevor Bayliss in for Peter Moores, revived Cook as batsman and leader.
A second Ashes win as captain followed in the months ahead as did a series win against the world’s No.1 team in South Africa last winter.
“I wouldn’t want to go back and start on nought and have to prove again I can do it,” he said. “So if you do have a little bad run you know you will turn the corner and you will score runs again because you’ve done it so many times before and because you’ve also had some real moments in your career where you didn’t know where your next run was coming from. It will probably happen again.
“Even Ricky Ponting at the end of his career went such a long time before that last hundred. But it is all about appreciating what you have done having been around for a while and appreciating you don’t have to do it all again.
“But that doesn’t stop you training your ass off, doing all the hard stuff and putting yourself through the wringer to give yourself the best chance to score runs.”
Ever since Andrew Strauss, England’s previous Test captain, retired four years ago, Cook has been forced to carry a burden that would have crushed less gifted players.
Since Strauss, Cook has had eight opening partners in Test cricket – a turnover that no doubt unsettled him but nevertheless a situation that has not stopped him scoring eight centuries in that period.
Cook’s tally of Test hundreds now stands at 28 – only 13 men have scored more in the history of the game.
If England had not had an all-time great holding it together at the top of their order since Strauss’ retirement in 2012 then the team would be a lot further back in its development than it is now.
As it is, Cook has been a rock and the one thing that should give England hope for the years ahead is that when he does reach 10,000 runs, their captain, who yesterday signed a new two-year deal with Essex, will still be just as hungry for runs and success as he was at the start of his career in Nagpur.
lChance to Shine ambassador Alastair Cook was launching the search for the Yorkshire Tea Young Cricket Commentator of the Year. Find out more and enter at bit.ly/youngcommentator
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, Friday May 6 2016