At 34, Sir Alastair Cook is essentially a man stitched together with ridiculous statistics: 161 Tests, producing 12,472 runs, including 33 centuries. He also hit an incredible 294 runs in just one innings and is the fifth-highest Test run scorer of all time. You can see why the Gloucestershire lad, a member of four Ashes series wins, has a ‘Sir’ bolted to the front of his name.
Now retired from international cricket, Cook nevertheless keeps his hand in the game through county cricket, guiding Essex to a second County Championship in three seasons this year. That said, he’s very quick to quash any notion that county cricket must be insanely easy compared to an international Test match…
"No. It couldn’t be further away from that. It has been a tough year really. To win the league now you have to win eight or nine games. There are a lot more result wickets, and 250, 260 can be a really good score. So there are not as many runs flying around, and it makes it hard work as a batter."
But surely there must be the odd occasion where you still hanker for those big international games?
Not at all. I was ready to go. Unfortunately, and it is a sad thing to say, I don’t miss playing for England anymore. It’s something I was very lucky to be able to do and it was a great thing, but life moves on and people move on. So, that idea of a rest… someone did say, ‘take the winter off and you’ll want to go again’, but I didn’t and that’s how I know that the decision was right.
And now of course you’re an author – has a couple of weeks on the book festival circuit made violent, short-pitched bowling seem more appealing?
Luckily, it’s not as much as a couple of weeks, so it is not been too bad, but it shows my ignorance; the Henley Book Festival, the Cheltenham Book Festival, they are things I’d never heard of.
You devote a number of pages in your book to explore why the England selectors are having such difficulty in filling your opening bat slot.
It’s a tough gig, opening the batting. That’s why it’s such a challenge and it is not easy to go in there and expect to score runs. I had loads of times in my career when I was struggling to put scores together, but I was given a little bit of the benefit of the doubt and the selectors stuck by me.
One of the points you make in your book is the inability of certain players to escape the pressure. You say of one, Nick Compton, that you could see the game “eating him alive.”
Well, I think the game eats you alive whether you are successful or not. It is a really tough game to be a part of, because it is over such a long period of time. Any game which is five days long will always – always – cause issues and that is part of the challenge. That’s why it’s called Test cricket: it’s testing how good you are, how you are mentally and how you handle this kind of stuff. Some of those players are still mentally tough, but it is just a hard thing to constantly do.
And of course, there have been some great players who had a bit of rocky introduction to international cricket, such as Graham Gooch or Andrew Flintoff.
Deep down they are always very good players, but Test cricket is very different to county cricket and it does take time for people to get used to the scrutiny of the TV and big crowds. Every player is different in how they adjust: Some find it easier, some never do it and some adapt very well.
Who handled the pressure the best?
Anyone who has longevity at Test match level, you have to have respect for. Anyone who plays more than 50 or 60 times in a Test match environment, they can handle it and that is impressive.
Is there an opposition bowler who has given you a miserable time on the pitch, but you always find good company off it?
Peter Siddle is an aggressive Australian bowler with a tough image, but now he plays for Essex you see this very different side to him. And it is strange. You spend 10 years playing against each other for your country in the Ashes, the biggest series, and suddenly you are sharing the same dressing room and you see him as a totally different bloke. I suppose that is part of the beauty of the sport.
Is there a bowler who still haunts your dreams?
I’ve never really had bowler nightmares. I do have the cricketing dream, although I haven’t had it for a while; the good old running-for-ever-between-the-wickets or batting indoors when everyone else bats outdoors, so you’ve got the wall and the fielders and you never score a run.
And finally, you describe being embraced by Kevin Pietersen as like being hit by “a tightly packed hay bale.” Please explain.
KP is a big boy! He could have played outside centre in a different life.
Alastair Cook, the Autobiography, with Michael Calvin. Michael Joseph, £20
This article first appeared in The Sportsman on 17/10/2019