Alastair Cook: Choir boy, farmer, England's record Test run-scorer

By Justin GouldingBBC Sport
Alastair Cook
A young Alastair Cook during his time at St Paul's Cathedral School

From the moment he made a century on his England Test debut, it appeared Alastair Cook was destined for greatness.

During the second Test against New Zealand at Headingley on Saturday, England captain Cook, 30, overtook Graham Gooch's tally of 8,900 runs to become his country's most prolific batsman in Test cricket.

BBC Sport looks at the different sides of Cook and how they shaped his path to the top.

The choir boy who sang for the Queen

Alastair Cook
Alastair Cook, second from left, performed with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa at St Paul's Cathedral

Music, rather than cricket, was Cook's early calling.

He sang in the choir at the prestigious St Paul's Cathedral boarding school in London from the age of eight, performing in front of the Queen, alongside Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, and as a soloist on a St Paul's CD.

There were glimpses of his cricketing ability, most notably scoring 110 out of a total of 127 in a game against Westminster Abbey.

But it was his musical prowess - Cook also played the clarinet - which earned him a scholarship to Bedford School at 13, where he was president of the music society.

His years there are best remembered for the host of batting records he broke, based around a technique he says was borne out of fending off his brothers' back-garden bouncers.

What Cook said: "The musical training taught me to focus my mind, before playing in an orchestra taught me how to truly concentrate. If you miss your moment in an orchestra, there is no forgiving."

What they said: "I was a supervisor at the year 10 disco and Alastair's dancing was absolutely pathetic. I remember watching all the girls completely ignore him." Guy Fletcher, director of sports at Bedford School.

Did you know? Cook admitted to stealing some penny sweets from the corner shop when he was a youngster.

Alastair Cook
"He would get at least 50 nearly every time," said Tim Roslin, games master at St Paul's School

The golden boy - 'I had proved I belonged'

Cook's achievements during his teenage years did little to suggest that anything other than a career at the highest level beckoned.

He represented England at the Under-15 World Cup, played for Essex second XI at 15, scored 69 not out on his first-class debut at 18, and hit two centuries as he captained England to the semi-finals of the Under-19 World Cup.

An established member of the Essex first team by the age of 19, Cook was still largely unknown beyond the county borders until, in 2005, he made a double century against a touring Australia sideexternal-link whose bowling attack was led by Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie.

Despite that match not qualifying for first-class status, England's young cricketer of the year ended the season with an average of 48.

A place on the Academy's 2005-06 winter tour of the West Indies was assured, and it came as little surprise when Cook was flown out to the Test squad in India after captain Michael Vaughan withdrew through injury.

Thrown in to open the batting in the first Test at Nagpur after a three-day journey from the Caribbean via London, Cook made 60 in the first innings and 104 in the second, becoming only the fifth England player to score a century and a fifty on his Test debut.

What Cook said: "I couldn't help thinking that I had proved I belonged and was worthy of playing with all these great England players, these Ashes winners."

What they said: "He eased his way to a classy yet unhurried century, becoming the youngest Englishman [at 21] to reach a Test hundred in 67 years, and earning a marriage proposal - offered on a placard - from a pretty girl in the stands." Wisden Almanack report.

Did you know? A teenage Cook averaged 168 in his final season for club side Maldon CC in Essex.

England captain Alastair Cook
Alastair Cook celebrates his century on Test debut at the age of 21

Record breaker - 'a genius batsman'

Cook's debut century signalled the start of a glittering Test career in which he has broken more records than he has struck sixes - 10 sixes, since you ask.

As well as surpassing Gooch's run tally for England, Cook has scored more centuries, 27, than any other England player. Kevin Pietersen is next on 23.

Cook was the quickest Englishman to 1,000, 2,000, 3,000, 4,000 and 5,000 Test runs, and no batsman of any nationality has reached 8,000 Test runs in a shorter time.external-link

In perhaps the ultimate tribute to a player, England's 2010-11 tour of Australia will forever be known as 'Cook's Ashes' after the opener scored 766 runs at an average of 127.66, spending a record 36 hours and 11 minutes at the crease.

He was voted International Cricket Council Test player of the year and awarded an OBE in 2011, and was named among Wisden's five Cricketers of the Year in 2012.

Cook's career has endured noticeable slumps: he went 27 innings without a century from 2008-09; he saved his Ashes placeexternal-link in 2010 with a hundred at The Oval after scoring only 106 runs in eight innings; and his century in the West Indies in April was his first for almost two years.

After sitting out the Mumbai Test in 2006 through illness, Cook has never missed a match - only former Australia captain Allan Border has played more consecutive matchesexternal-link - and his 162 in the victory over New Zealand at Lord's in May meant he had scored more runs (8,869) than anyone else in the past 10 years of Test cricket.

What Cook said: "If I don't do something as special as that again I'd be disappointed, but I think I have enough time." On his form in the 2010-11 Ashes.

What they said: "He's obviously a genius batsman - his record is testament to that. Where he is at in his career at the moment, he's as good as anyone who has played the game - probably barring Bradman." New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum on Cook's form before the sides met in 2013.

Did you know? Cook, who was born on Christmas Day, never sweats.

Jonathan Trott, Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss
Cook (centre) began his record 2010-11 Ashes with an unbeaten 235, sharing huge stands with Jonathan Trott (135no) and Andrew Strauss (110) as England amassed 517-1 declared in their second innings

Under-fire captain - 'Cook is having a horror'

If Cook's place in the team has only come under occasional threat, his captaincy has been the subject of vociferous criticism since he took over from Andrew Strauss in August 2012.

The only player to score centuries in his first five Tests as skipper,external-link Cook led England to a first series win in India for 27 years on his first assignment. He still regards it as his finest achievement as captain.

An Ashes series triumph the following summer was swiftly followed by a 5-0 whitewash, statistically the worst in history.

Although he was named captain of the ICC Test team of the year in 2013, Cook had to withstand calls from former England skipper Michael Vaughan to be stripped of the national team role during a 2014 summer in which a series defeat by Sri Lanka was mentioned more loudly than victory over India.

One of Strauss's first jobs after being appointed England director of cricket was to publicly back his man at the helm.

But even in the midst of England's victory over New Zealand at Lord's, Cook's leadership was still being picked apart by Australia legend Shane Warne.external-link

What Cook said: "It's draining because you're using your brain constantly and all the permutations run through your mind. But it's what I dream about doing. I'm loving it every time I turn out for England."

What they said: "Alastair Cook is having a horror with his captaincy in the last two Test matches. He set the tone early, being very defensive and negative today. The England coach is now sending messages out to Cook. Is this the under-10s?" Former Australia leg-spinner Warne during the 2013 Ashes.

Did you know? The ECB arranged a meeting between Cook and former England captain Mike Brearley in 2007, before he led MCC against Sussex at Lord's.

Alastair Cook
Cook has won five, drawn two and lost two of his nine completed series as England captain

Farm hand and family man - 'I like perspective'

"I'm a country boy at heart," says Cook. "I love it when you've got your boots on and you're standing in three inches of cow muck."

Away from the pressures of captaining his country, Cook likes nothing more than to muck in on the farm belonging to his wife's family in Bedfordshire.

"Sheep are never going to talk to you about cricket," says Cook.

His passion for the rural life was evident when he married childhood sweetheart Alice Hunt in 2012: the couple left church driving a tractor.

Alice gave birth to Elsie in 2014 and Cook marked a hundred for Essex two weeks later with a 'rocking the baby' celebration.external-link

Polite, well-spoken and blessed with looks good enough to see him pose nude for charity,external-link Cook's personable nature is often referenced by his critics as a reason why he will never make a ruthless - and successful - captain.

Not that it seems to bother Cook, who says he wants to be remembered as "a nice family man who was half-decent at cricket".

What Cook said: "In the end, playing for England means very little if you don't see the rest of the world around you. It is why I hate prima donnas and arrogance. I like perspective, and the farm gives you that."

What they said: "When my daughter grows up, if she brought a bloke like Alastair Cook home, I'd high five the wife." Former England all-rounder and team-mate Andrew Flintoff.

Did you know? Cook is afraid of snakes and has a recurring nightmare about being eaten by them.

Alastair Cook and Alice Hunt
Cook, who met Alice Hunt when he was 16, celebrate their wedding country-style