Do you recognise the words above? The quote, an old cliché I suppose, was made by Graham Gooch a few years ago. He was talking about Alastair Cook, and the inevitability that his apprentice would one day surpass his record tally of runs for England.
Gooch summed up Cook’s abilities perfectly. In fact, the rest of this article is probably irrelevant, as wise old Goochie (as he so often does) hit the nail on the head beautifully:
“My early memories of (Alastair) as a person were that he was very mature for his age and very balanced and considered. He went about his cricket in a methodical sort of way and you can still see that now.
The priceless ability he had when he was young, and again you can see this now, is that he knows exactly what he can do and what he can’t do. He puts that in place and into practice and doesn’t step outside that.
I think he’s got his best years in front of him. He’s got to stay fit and motivated but nothing at the moment would suggest to me that that won’t happen. It’s difficult to predict but let’s just say the opportunity is there for him to do all those things you’d like to write about.
He’s not the most eye-catching player, I’ve said that many times, but he gets the job done. You know the old saying? It’s not how, it’s how many.
Alastair knows the way to play. Often young players coming up have talent and ability to strike the ball but they don’t quite know how to manage their ability. Sometimes it dawns on them later in life and sometimes it doesn’t dawn on them at all, but this lad had it from the beginning. He knew how he could operate.”
So there you go. I might as well sign off now. What more can I, a simple cricket blogger, add to the above? When it comes to batting, Gooch is a wise old sage. He was also the best England opener, in my opinion, of the last thirty years.
Alastair himself obviously agrees. Just this week he modestly claimed – and one assumes it was not false modesty – that even when he breaks Gooch’s record, his mentor was the better player.
“I would put myself anywhere near in his class. Certainly I wouldn’t be here without Goochie’s help. It will be strange if I do go past it because without his hard work and his dedication to me and my game I wouldn’t have scored half the runs that I have.
It’s a bit of a strange one. It will be a great moment if it happens but there will only ever be one Graham Gooch and he is England’s greatest batsman.”
Personally I don’t see any need to compare Gooch and Cook. Alastair himself has put the argument to bed. Gooch played in 118 tests and scored his runs against the likes of Marshall, Ambrose, Walsh, Waqar, Wasim, Hadlee and Warne. He also feasted on some average Indian attacks.
Cook has scored the same amount of runs in 114 tests and although he’s struggled occasionally when he’s come up against top class bowling – the likes of McGrath, Warne, Harris, Amir and Asif all exposed his technique somewhat – I can’t imagine where England would be without him.
The last ten years have been a golden age for batting: pitches have generally been flatter, slower, balls like to Kookaburra have less pronounced seams, and career batting averages have soared above fifty. Twelve current players average above this benchmark. But nobody has been better at cashing in and ‘going big’ than England’s linchpin.
Although his record in England is a tad unremarkable, and he hasn’t been particularly prolific against Australia or South Africa, his performances in Asia have been nothing shot of brilliant. Indeed, to pick holes in Cook’s achievements, on a day like today, does him a disservice. He has been a good test player for a long time, and I rate him alongside Bell and Trott (who have similar averages) as excellent cricketers who have served their country with great distinction.
The fact Cook is seen by many as an establishment champion – remember, it wasn’t his fault that Giles Clarke made those ‘right sort of family’ comments – should not detract from his achievements as one of the best dogged, bloody-minded, opening batsmen England have produced.
It is impossible not to admire Cook’s batting. He’s shouldered a huge burden of expectations – his climb to the top of England’s all time run scorers list was an irresponsible prophecy others made, not him – and weathered some very turbulent political conditions in recent times.
Although Marcus Trescothick’s premature retirement gave Cook the opportunity to reach his brilliant milestone at a relatively young age, one cannot forget that Cook had much on his plate at the start of his career. Cook was thrown in at the deep end at a very tender age, at short notice, and responded by making a century in India. He also had to face a rampant McGrath and Warne the following winter. Although he struggled mightily, as many would, he did score a hugely uplifting century at Perth.
Alastair has been a fixture in the England side ever since. He has endured wildly fluctuating fortunes – incredible purples patches and long dips in form – but he has always survived. One might point out that he’s had few competitors for his place, and that he might have been dropped last year had it not been for ECB politics, but he has always come back fighting. Lesser men would have simply given up.
It is hard to see Cook walking away from any challenge, or any tour, no matter how tough.
Alastair has also endured one hell of a wake up call this year. For the majority of his career, the fans and the media have been incredibly friendly to him. His unassuming nature, and nervousness in front of the cameras, gave him a likable pin-up boy image.
He has also had staunch backing from the ECB and several friendly journalists that know him personally. Therefore, when he became indignant at Shane Warne’s comments about his captaincy, and criticised the selectors for dropping him before the World Cup, he must have been disturbed at the reaction. For the first time ever, Cook was being portrayed as ‘up his own arse’.
Yet despite the ups and down, Cook is still here. He’s still plugging away. He’s still concentrating hard. He’s still trying to improve his captaincy. What’s more, he’s started to score big runs again. Whisper it quietly, but he’s also starting to look comfortable with his technique. It all bodes extremely well for what could be the defining year of his career.
At the end of the day, cricket is a game of opinions. We all have our favourite players and those who we dislike (or don’t rate as highly). I can’t say that Cook is one of my personal favourite players – I find some writers’ inability to keep his achievements in perspective exasperating – but what I will say is this: there are few players that I admire more.
Alastair has made the most of every ounce of his ability. He works hard at his game. He’s probably one of the toughest, if not the toughest, batsmen England have produced for a long time. His determination at the crease is almost superhuman at times. Indeed, if I had to pick an England batsman to bat for my life, I might very well choose Cook.
Records like the one he has broken today are not necessarily about ability; they are not about batting averages, or quality of runs, or all the others things cricket fans like to debate. Cook’s superb achievement is about one thing: longevity. And to have longevity, you must have oodles mental and physical strength (as well as a good level of ability).
Alastair Cook, the batsman, has been a brilliant servant of English cricket. He has never, not once, left anything behind in the dressing room. He has given his all. Congratulations.