Alastair Cook has announced he will retire from international cricket after the Oval Test against India. Cook, the sixth highest run-scorer in the history of Test cricket, is only 33-years-old but, after a grim run of form which has seen him average just 18.62 in nine Tests this year, he has decided to end what has been an increasingly painful struggle.
The decision is not a huge surprise. While Cook looked a little better technically during the fourth Test, in Southampton, he suffered two lapses – a dab to the slips in the first innings and a loose drive in the second – that suggested his famed powers of concentration were not what they used to be. Underlining the sense that he has been a player in decline for some time, his Test average dropped below 45 for the first time since 2010 during the game.
His has been, however, a career that has embraced some of the greatest moments in the history of England cricket. Among the best moments were a century on Test debut in Nagpur as a 21-year-old in 2006, winning the player of the series award as England won the Ashes in Australia for the first time in more than 20 years in 2010-11 and leading England to victory in India in 2012; a series in which he made three centuries. No England players comes close to his total of 12,254 Test runs. No England player comes close to his record of 32 Test centuries. But Sachin Tendulkar’s overall Test run record is safe.
There were grim times, too. He was unceremoniously dropped as ODI captain at Christmas 2014, not long before England departed for their World Cup campaign, and he was caught up in the fallout of the decision to drop Kevin Pietersen at the end of the 2013-14 Ashes in which Cook’s England side were whitewashed. There were, no doubt, faults on all sides and the handling of the debacle left a great deal to be desired. But the toxicity of the debate left scars on what most would agree was a thoroughly decent man caught up in something you suspect, left to his own devices, he would have handled far more sensitively.