Alastair Cook 10,000 Test runs: Writer of epic novels in age of the tweet

By Tom FordyceChief sports writer
Archive: Alastair Cook - one of England's greats

As Alastair Cook closed in on his 10,000th Test run during the first Test against Sri Lanka, his partnership with Alex Hales produced 28 runs off the first 15 overs of the match.

The previous night in Bangalore, Chris Gayle and Virat Kohli had piled on 211 for Royal Challengers in exactly the same number of deliveries.

Because this is cricket, the contrast served only to underline Cook's particular charms as a batsman. In a fast-forward world he is a player from another time, a writer of epic novels in an age of the tweet, probably the last of the pure Test specialists his country will produce.

Were Cook to be judged in the same way as England's international cricket this summer - a 'Super Series' amalgam where success in each of the divergent formats directly affects the other - he would look one-dimensional and dated. Only 60 of those 10,000 runs have come from shots that have cleared the ropes.

But one-dimensional and dated is a rather wonderful recipe for an opener in Test cricket.

Cook may have just four main scoring shots - the straight push-drive, a cut, the clip off his legs, a rolling wristy pull. He may occasionally still look at the crease as he did to Nasser Hussain when the then Essex captain first saw him in the nets at Chelmsford: stiff-legged, heavy headed.

Of the 12 men to get past the 10,000 mark, only the cussedly idiosyncratic Shivnarine Chanderpaul has perhaps as restrained a repertoire. Cook also has the lowest average of that elite set.

He is also the only one who has spent his entire career at the top of the order (Sunil Gavaskar slowly migrated there), and has scored his runs at such a clip that he has reached the milestone faster and at a younger age than every one of them.

The comparison with Chanderpaul, who took 18 years and 37 days to get there, is an unfair one. Cook has more in common stylistically with Rahul Dravid, the next quickest to 10,000 runs in terms of time - and much more in temperament with Steve Waugh, who took 15 more innings.

Just like Waugh, who could score a critical half-century just when Australia needed it most, or score a ton on one leg when the occasion demanded it, Cook is a batsman defined as much by his mental toughness as his strokeplay.

India legend Sachin Tendulkar
Sachin Tendulkar reached 10,000 Test runs in 195 innings, joint quickest with West Indies' Brian Lara and Sri Lanka's Kumar Sangakkara

Do not be fooled by the choirboy past or his reported terror of snakes. Cook's 10,000 are about attrition where others have fallen, about treating the 100th ball of an innings just the same as the first, about being imperturbable when panic has gripped and turned elsewhere.

That toughness was there on his very first scoring shot in Test cricket, when he pulled a Zaheer Khan bouncer for four, and in the second innings century he compiled in that match in Nagpur despite being just 21 years old and fresh off a plane from an England A tour of the Caribbean.

It has been there in his captaincy, in the way his batting average as skipper (46.69) almost exactly matches his mark as a player (46.36), in the way he carried on as skipper through the Ashes horrors of 2013-14 and the unholy civil war that followed and emerged to bat on, and on, and on again.

Paul Collingwood also made his maiden Test ton in that same innings in Nagpur. His recollection of the occasion is of the intense nerves he felt as his own century approached, and of meeting Cook halfway down the pitch to discover that the kid eight years his younger felt nothing of the sort.

As it began so it has carried on. Cook has scored runs on the familiar pitches of home, as one would expect, but he has been more successful in the more challenging conditions overseas.

Sixteen of his 28 Test centuries have come away from home; his 766 runs to lay the foundations for England's first Ashes win in Australia for 24 years not only broke records but came after only one ton against that opposition in 19 innings. He adapted, he learned, he pushed on.

Alastair Cook: The redemption of the England captain

Cook does not carry the charisma of the man he will one day overtake as his country's leading run-scorer across all formats, Kevin Pietersen. He is admired rather than adored, functional rather than flamboyant.

He is all the better for it. As his mentor Graham Gooch once observed, Cook's demeanour at the crease and his shot selection are exactly the same if he is on 20 or 200.

Despite those sporadic sixes he is a physically strong man. He has the same outsized forearms of all elite batsmen and the athlete's physique that modern conditioning methods have created.

He may not use those to improvise wildly as so many elite batsmen of this era do, but Cook is a player for whom less is more.

Even that 10,000-run target will soon slip away in his slipstream, even as the achievement is lauded, because he has so many years and innings ahead of him.

Arguably too, it is no longer quite the magic mark it was, at least outside England where it had never been seen before.

While it took a century of Test cricket for Gavaskar to become the first there, 11 batsmen have done it in the last 11 years. When Sachin Tendulkar is almost 6,000 Test runs on, Cook's accumulator instincts will have already adjusted his sights.

Only injury is likely to hold him back. But there can never be the suggestion that Cook, unlike more naturally gifted players, has failed to fulfil the limits of his potential.

It might sound like a curiously mealy-mouthed compliment. It isn't. Cook has been the best he can be, across a decade of exhausting Test battles. And there is more, much more, to come.

The 10,000 club
Sachin Tendulkar (Ind)15,92153.782001989-2013
Ricky Ponting (Aus)13,37851.851681995-2012
Jacques Kallis (SA)13,28955.371661995-2013
Rahul Dravid (Ind)13,28852.311641996-2012
Kumar Sangakkara (SL)12,40057.401342000-2015
Brian Lara (WI)11,95352.881311990-2006
Shivnarine Chanderpaul (WI)11,87651.371641994-2015
Mahela Jayawardene (SL)11,81449.841491997-2014
Allan Border (Aus)11,17450.561561978-1994
Steve Waugh (Aus)10,92751.061681985-2004
Sunil Gavaskar10,12251.121251971-1987
Alastair Cook (Eng)10,04246.491282006-present
Source: Cricinfo


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