Cricket

What made 'super man' Cook an icon – and is he irreplaceable?

Alastair Cook celebrates his maiden Test century in 2006

England’s highest Test run-scorer Alastair Cook will retire from the international game as a “beacon for his sport”, says ex-captain Graham Gooch.

Cook, 33, announced on Monday that this week’s final Test against India will be his last appearance for his country.

The opening batsman has scored 12,254 runs and made 32 centuries in 160 Tests – all England records.

“We should laud Alastair Cook as a person as well as a player,” Gooch told BBC Radio 5 live’s Tuffers and Vaughan.

“Forget his achievements, he is a super man, an icon in our sport and a beacon for his sport.”

Gooch, one of Cook’s boyhood heroes and his former mentor, was one of many coaches, friends and former team-mates to pay tribute to the Essex batsman.

But what are the factors that have made Cook a “icon” who will receive an emotional send-off at The Oval this week – and where do England go from here?

Cook the role model

Gooch: “If you’re looking for a role model, if you’re looking for an icon in sport, let alone cricket, you couldn’t get a more upstanding person and lovely guy than Alastair Cook. He’s everything you want in a sportsperson.”

Ex-England captain Michael Vaughan: “I’m delighted he’s playing this week because if there is one England cricketer that deserves a whole week about him, it’s Cook. He is not the person to go searching for that, he’ll probably be a bit embarrassed, but he deserves it.”

Former England captain Alec Stewart: “He’s almost flown under the radar in breaking all these records and he is the heartbeat of that team in such a quiet, unassuming way.”

England assistant coach Paul Farbrace: “He’s just such a fantastic bloke to have in your team. When he’s had tough periods and when he was under pressure as captain, everyone was saying: ‘We want him, we need him, he’s our man.’ It was genuine. He’s a caring bloke, he’s not selfish in any way and he has just run out of steam.”

Ex-England spinner Graeme Swann: “He is one of the nicest men alive. He has lasted so long because he does have a sunny disposition and a way of thinking that cricket is not life and death. He always put in 100% but would appreciate the other side of life.”

Former England coach Peter Moores: “To be England’s most successful batsman ever but still be humble and have time for everybody is a great thing.”

All-time leading Test run-scorer Sachin Tendulkar: “Alastair Cook has been one of the finest batsmen to have represented England and his conduct on-field and off it has been impeccable.”

Cook the strong-minded grafter

Former England team-mate Paul Collingwood: “It was very evident straight away that he was an unflappable character. He looked cool, he was relaxed, and it was obvious he was going to take to international cricket like no-one else.”

Stewart: “There is a little bit of madness in opening the batting but he’s done it so well. He’s probably not the most naturally gifted cricketer but others have not his mental strength, and their natural talent hasn’t seen them through. The combination of talent and mental strength Cook has means he’s played such a long time and broken all the records he has.”

Moores: “A lot of his traits are the best of English people – he keeps his counsel, he gets stuck in, he’s tough, and he’s resolute under pressure.”

Gooch: “Often we see players who have physical talent – Alastair Cook is talented between the ears. He’s got a lot of skills with the bat and has enhanced those as his career has gone on but he’s very strong of mind. From the word go he had the ability to get the best out of himself, he knew exactly what he could and couldn’t do, and that’s a priceless skill. The mental side of his game never needed any coaching.”

Vaughan: “Cook has had to eke out every run through hard work and preparation. That’s why it’s remarkable he’s played for 12 years.”

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Cook the competitor

Former England coach and Essex team-mate Andy Flower: “From the start, he was great playing off his hips and had a brilliant pull shot to fast bowlers but it was his stubbornness, his determination, that really came through in his batting. You can’t coach that into someone, it comes from deep within, that hunger that great competitors have. He’ll want to beat you, whether it’s squash, table tennis or cricket.”

Collingwood: “Everyone doubts whether he’s got a good technique or not but never his steeliness, his resilience.”

Stewart: “He left nothing to chance, he worked hard and made sure he always topped the fitness tests.”

Cook the man for all conditions

Cook scored 18 of his 32 Test centuries abroad, including five in both Australia and India.

Gooch: “His performances in India in 2012-13, when he captained England to a 2-1 Test victory, stand out for me. It was an exhibition in how to play the turning ball. His runs in that series helped us beat India in their own conditions.”

Swann: “Without his runs, we wouldn’t have won that 2010-11 Ashes series quite as convincingly, if not at all.”

Cook the last of a dying breed

Ex-England spinner Phil Tufnell: “I’m not sure we will see his like again. He is one of the old-school openers. But there is still room in a Test team of mine for an Alastair Cook.”

Gooch: “Apart from him and Jimmy Anderson, most of the current players have been brought up in the Twenty20 era. So Cook is a dying breed, that Test player who can occupy the crease and graft for his runs – it’s a priceless commodity. I’d like to think there’ll be someone else but I don’t see anyone on the horizon.”

Vaughan: “I hope the send-off Cook will get this week is a real lesson to everyone in cricket that if you play for a long time in Test cricket, that’s the send-off you get. If you’re a real legend – and Alastair Cook is – you get a week like this that you absolutely deserve.”

Alastair Cook's Test batting stats

But is he irreplaceable?

Gooch: “It will be very strange to see someone else walking out to open the batting for England in Test cricket.”

Moores: “Maybe a completely new partnership will make it easier for somebody. It’s not always easy someone coming in with such a great record. It’s a fresh start and a chance for two new blokes to get in there and form a partnership that will hopefully be successful for the next few years.”

Collingwood: “They’re going to be difficult shoes to fill. Hopefully someone can put their hand up, come in and become a mainstay in the team.”

Farbrace: “There is a new selection group in place and it’ll be their job to make sure England have two good opening batsmen. When Cook finishes and we’re looking round at the experience you’re missing and the runs he scored, that is a massive hole for anybody to fill.”

Flower: “The game moves on and teams move on from great players. He will be missed, but there will be other hungry, strong, young Englishmen that will step in and step up. We all look forward to seeing that and Cook will look forward to seeing other young men developing themselves and challenging themselves in the international set-up.”

And is he England’s greatest Test batsman?

Stewart: “If someone breaks his record of Test runs then they’ll be a very, very good player and it will take a long, long time to get there.”

Gooch: “He’s right up there. You could say there are more exciting and entertaining players to watch, but he would have to be ranked in the top two or three.”

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