“It’s not how, it’s how many” – a tribute to Alastair Cook

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.

James Morgan



  • “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).”

    PLUS, OF COURSE the full backing of the ECB for two years whilst many others were deemed irrelevant ……………….

    Cook is an egotisticasl, borish, lying cheat and should have been sacked 2 years ago – this ‘landwark’ is unworthy of the spirit of cricket

    • That’s harsh Ron. He’s always tried his best for England. While he’s been untouchable in many ways, and this has irritated many people, he’s still given his all at the crease. We don’t know him personally, but maybe, just maybe, the media have given him an easy ride over the years because they think / know he’s a decent man, and they genuinely want to see him do well because of it.

    • All of those are moral terms so I’m presuming you have fairly considerable personal acquaintance with the man. If not, you’re clearly a rather sad, miserable, bitter, misguided soul who should know better. So go back to brown-nosing poor wee baby Kevin who never did anything untoward in his entire career.

      And it’s spelt boorish. You boorish half-wit.

    • I am afraid your comment says more about you than Cook. Any true cricket fan would recognise Cook’s achievement.

  • Very good piece James. Shows how absurd the accusation that you hate Cook actually is. Your objectivity does you credit. I only wish the mainstream media could be the same and keep their personal likes and dislikes out of their work.

  • An excellent piece of writing. Dispassionate and very fair. Thank you James.

    I would rank Cook’s achievements as being higher than those of both Trott and Bell because he is an opening bat. That requires a special and unique skill. Trott has often done his bit coming in very early on at number three, with a crisis brewing. while Bell at five has had an easier time of it. Cook’s mental strength under pressure leaves him standing in a place apart I think.

    Good luck in the Cup Final! Even though Arsenal are my local team I will be standing beside my Twitter companions and hoping for a Villa win. :)

  • Well said James. He has broken 10 records in tests so it’s hard not to give him credit for his successes. He had ups and downs, and at times his place has rightly been questioned. However, there hasn’t been many players demanding to replace him – indeed since Strauss’ retirement no one has make the slot their own relieving pressure on Cook. That isn’t his fault, nor is the selectors decision to stick with him (something they didn’t do in ODIs).

    As for Ron – it would appear that you believe someone’s personality is a basis for selection?

    • Oh and James, I won’t be as supportive as Jennyah46 for the next 90. I hope we beat you comfotably.

  • There’s no doubt the ECB laugh at the followers of English cricket because, no matter what they say and do, they know that they will all be out supporting the team anyway. This is the equivalent to saying that you all acknowledge there might be a degree of corruption within FIFA but you have to admire Sepp Blatter’s poetic use of the English language – it’s nonsense – like supporting Gooch despite his desire for the Rand – cricket is adorned with hypocrisy – which is presumably why it’s mainly a middle class, public schoolboy sort of game!!

    • Not quiet sure what that’s got to do with Cook’s achievements. He’s scored the runs no one else.
      I support the England team through thick and thin because that’s what fans do. What I think of the ECB is a separate matter.
      For a man who preaches pureness in the institutions, your language is full of hypocracy. Indeed given your views you should cease watching any sport and retreat to a monastery.

    • I am middle class. Why does that make me more hypocritical than someone who is not? I was lucky enough to be offered a place at a local grammar school. Does this mean I am less hypocritical than a public schoolboy?

  • Thank you for an excellent piece. Alistair Cook is not the greatest batsman to play for England but his record does stand well with his contemporaries. Pietersen played thrilling innings, Cook never has. Pietersen clearly won test matches. Cook’s contribution to doing so may not always be so obvious but his innings have often been significant. Pietersen played innings that no-one else could play. He also got out in ways no-one should. Cook is much more limited but test cricket values both approaches.

    Figures prove a bit but not everything. The records of the two are interesting given that their careers have so closely overlapped.

    Cook – 113 tests – 8900 runs – average 46.6 – 100s 27 – 50s 41
    Pietersen – 104 tests – 8200 runs – average 47.3 – 100s 23 – 50s 35

    When Cook bats well he is a man you can safely go to the bar and leave to do his work. Pietersen will drive you out of it as he walks to the crease.

    But why is it that their contemporary, Ian Bell, for all his pleasing touch and skill, doesn’t get close to either despite a not dissimilar record?

  • Generally this is a very fair piece that recognises what’s remarkable about Cook the batsman and rightly recognises his extraordinary tenacity and focus.

    However, I think you slipped up a bit, James – for me this paragraph exemplifies what annoys many people about the way Cook is discussed:

    Social media can be an unpleasant place for mere cricket bloggers. It must have been horrific for Cook and his family. I think we all know by now that despite his resilience on the cricket pitch, England’s captain is actually a sensitive soul.

    I don’t know that Cook is a sensitive soul. And even if I thought he was, heat and kitchens spring to mind. The criticism has almost entirely been of his captaincy. Captaining a national sport team is a tough job and anyone who takes it on must expect abuse if the public don’t like what they do. Cook was picked out early as the FEC and he had plenty of opportunities to say “D’you know, I don’t think it’s for me”. He wanted the job, he hung on to it, and he was extremely put out when part of it was taken away. So if he gets nasty comments made, I don’t think that’s ‘horrific’ – it goes with the territory. Other athletes have nasty things said about them – why should Cook be especially pitied?

    (Cricket bloggers on their own personal sites can, of course, delete unpleasant comments and should do so IMO:))

  • How do you judge a batsman?

    I say: not by the total runs scored during his career, but by his career average.

    40+ is excellent
    45+ is world-class
    50+ means you’re an all-time great.

    Alastair Cook is world-class, but not an all-time great. I don’t think anyone could disagree with that. (If anyone does, I’d be very interested to hear why.)

  • James, that was a wonderfully balanced and objective assessment. The thing is that we can’t always expect to have superheroes but if we get a batsman, who now and then scores a big innings, it ain’t bad.

    If I wanted a batsman to bat for my life, it would be Sir Geoffrey (another who has a bandwagon of critics) but certainly, over the past few years, England has not been blessed with above average openers.

    Can I just say, what a wonderful, if short, Test series this is.

  • Well done to Cook on the personal milestone, but jeez that was one dull day of test cricket by England. New Zealand play a far more attractive brand of cricket much like the All Blacks play a far more attractrive brand of rugby than their English counterparts. Is there a more dour top 3 in world cricket than Cook, Lyth and Ballance? I’ve played and watched cricket for nearly 20 years now but even I had to switch over as I was losing the will to live with Cook and Lyth plodding away.

    • I would like to see Ballance bat at 5. Bell 3, Root 4. That might make things a little more watchable.

      • Yes at least that way it shields Ballance from the new ball. However, should we be having to shield an international batsman from the new ball?

  • Congratulations to cook for getting the records, he did work hard for them but he worked a lot harder off the field to make sure KP couldn’t overtake him. Those records will always be tainted by his underhanded and sneaky tactics, he knows it and so do we, if he can be happy and content with that so be it. I know I couldn’t because the words “fair play” and “integrity” would prey on my mind. In cooks world I don’t think they are that important.

    • I’m not sure Cook deliberately sabotaged Pietersen’s England career so he could break all the records himself. Cook is younger for a start, so he would’ve had plenty of time to overtake him when KP retired.

      • James, you are quite right, that hadn’t crossed my mind. For me, that record will probably be tainted forever because KP wasn’t given the chance to see what he could do.

    • “he knows it and so do we” …Do we?!! I wasn’t impressed with him telling tales to Flower about who said what in a private, players’ only meeting, but to say he did so out of jealousy is a stretch at best, and a mad conspiracy theory at worst. What makes you assume that?

      • It could be my gut instinct that tells me, as I wasn’t there to know his motives and to say for sure. Neither was anyone else so how can you say that wasn’t the case, just as I can’t say your instinct/opinion is “a mad conspiracy theory at worst” because none of us know for sure. We reach our own conclusions in different ways, who’s to say which is right or wrong? I don’t know cook or KP, I can only go by what I have read the same as most people. My instinct came down on KP side and I haven’t heard or read anything that has changed my mind.

  • Great article, very fair and balanced. You wouldn’t necessarily want a top 6 of Cooks, but it’s good to have a couple who can dig in and accumulate. As someone else said above, test match cricket needs that kind of batting ability / approach too.

    When you look at his very obvious strengths and weaknesses, it’s clear why he couldn’t consistently reach that level in ODIs (save for a twelve months when he looked quite decent). Interesting that someone like his old team-mate Collingwood was able to do well in both formats, when he was also a batsman limited in attacking flair and technique, but similarly blessed with a dogged attitude. He immediately sprang to mind when I read this line… “Alastair has made the most of every ounce of his ability.” I think I relate more to these kinds of ‘mortal’ batsmen, growing up I loved Nasser for that reason!

  • I’m pretty ambivalent about Cook – he’s a good batsman who makes it count when the luck and the runs are going his way. He doesn’t give it away like some others. He had one great Ashes series – against some pretty second rate Aussie bowling – and like you say, tends to milk his runs against the lesser sides while being MIA when the top ranked bowlers hove into view.
    He’s done well to become the leading run scorer, and I suspect he might retain the record always as Test matches gradually suffer the decline which the ICC currently seem hell-bent on managing but not combatting.

    The less said about Gooch – Apartheid supporting, money grubbing, betraying-his-country, charisma free-zone (remind you of criticisms of anyone else recently?) – the better.

    Obviously, because one cannot judge a batsman in isolation from his revealed character, can one?


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