Numbers stack up for Cook as Sachin looms in sights again

Chris Stocks looks back to the start of the Alastair Cook story and forward to where his career might now lead

The time is November 2010. The place Adelaide’s Intercontinental hotel bar. Days earlier Alastair Cook had scored his first Test double hundred, an unbeaten 235 in the Ashes opener at Brisbane, and is talking landmarks.

Conversation moves onto the feat of scoring 5,000 Test runs. I say he could be the youngest player ever to get there. Cook corrects my error. “I can’t beat Sachin.”

Not for the first time, Cook is right. However, he did go on to become the second youngest man behind Tendulkar to reach the landmark a few weeks later during his hundred in the final Ashes Test at Sydney. He was aged 26 and 10 days.

That was a series where Cook’s phenomenal return of 766 runs at an average of 127.66 helped England win an away Ashes series for the first time in 24 years.

It was a special achievement for Cook, who even back then had a keen eye for statistics and his place among the game’s greats.

So when he made his 10,000th Test run at Durham last Monday, it was indeed a very special moment, even more so given he had finally reeled in Tendulkar, beating the Indian legend by 69 days to become the youngest batsman to reach the landmark.

I was lucky enough to get to know Cook during the four years we worked together on his national newspaper column. The highlight of that time was undoubtedly the 2010-11 Ashes tour.

It’s hard to believe he had not even got to 5,000 Test runs at that stage. Fewer than six years later he has more than double that amount.

People will now ask how many he can get during the rest of his career. Knowing Cook, it would be no surprise if he uses Tendulkar’s ultimate record – his 15,921 Test runs – as a motivating factor for the remainder of his career.

Speaking at Durham, Cook admitted: “The 10,000 has been a milestone that has driven me over the last few years. I never thought I would get 10,000. Now I will have to have a rethink and set something else personally.

“You need something tucked away to drive you to get up, go running in the morning or bat in the nets with Goochy [Graham Gooch]. I am still hungry to achieve stuff.”

Given Cook has been averaging 1,000 runs a year for his entire Test career, Tendulkar’s record is certainly achievable. At 31 he is fit, in form and enjoying his cricket.

Ricky Ponting, No.2 on the all-time list with 13,378 Test runs, carried on playing until he was 37. And Tendulkar only retired when he was 40.

What may stop Cook from overtaking both of those icons of the game is his life outside cricket.

Such is the intensity Cook brings to the table as a professional that there is a danger he might decide to call time on his career much sooner than people think.

Given he started out as a 21-year-old when making his England debut at Nagpur in 2006, he has already been at the top of his sport for more than a decade.

Life on the farm with his wife Alice and young daughter Elsie might be a significant pull even for a man as ambitious as Cook.

However, his time away from the game with his family, spent lambing and taking his dog, Floss, for a walk in the Bedfordshire countryside, may keep him mentally refreshed enough to actually extend his career, especially now as those breaks are even longer given he no longer plays one-day international cricket.

Cook is a man who does totally switch off from cricket when he is not on duty. I once found this out when, trying to track him down for a column and with a looming deadline, he finally returned my numerous missed calls. He had spent the entire afternoon in his combine harvester working the fields.

That ability to switch off is a useful skill to have, such are the pressures of international sport. It’s one of the many reasons Cook has been so successful and why he might go on playing for longer than many of us would think.

The end of his Test captaincy, and the thought is he may step aside for Joe Root after the next Ashes tour in the winter of 2017-18, would not necessarily signal the end of his career, either.

Cook is a man without ego and one would think he would happily step back into the ranks to see out his playing days.

Who would have thought during the time of that chat in Adelaide all those years ago he would have broken so many records. The chances are there will be many more that fall to Cook in the years to come.

Cook knocks – five of the Best

104 not out, versus India, Nagpur, March 2006:
Arriving on the tour to replace the departing Marcus Trescothick, Cook already had a reputation as a compiler of runs in domestic cricket and had caught the eye of the Australians the previous summer after making a double hundred against the tourists. But in Nagpur he stated his intentions with a classy hundred on debut. England knew they had found a special talent.

118, versus South Africa, Durban, December 2009:
Cook held England’s innings together (right) valiantly and enabled Andrew Strauss’ side to build a dominating total before skittling out the Proteas cheaply with the match seemingly heading for a draw. It was a knock against arguably the finest pace attack in the world at the time.

235 not out, versus Australia, Brisbane, November 2010:
Despite making a century late in the summer against Pakistan at the Oval, which saved him his place, Cook was still under pressure from some quarters when Andy Flower’s men arrived in Australia for the Ashes. But his massive double hundred saved England’s blushes in the first Test, and it set the tone for the rest of the series, for both himself and the Australian bowlers.

190, versus India, Kolkata, December 2012:
After taking over the reins from Andrew Strauss as captain, England embarked on one of their toughest assignments, away to India where they had not won since 1984. But Cook, in the form of his life, scored centuries in the first and second Tests before his 190 here gave them the lead they would not relinquish in the four-test series.

162, versus New Zealand, Lord’s, May 2015:
Cook had broken his two-year Test century duck earlier in the year against West Indies, but his knock here at Lord’s was faultless and proved he was back to his best. His selfless play allowed Ben Stokes to attack, making the fastest Test ton at Lord’s as England set up victory.

This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, Friday June 3 2016

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