He could have stayed a bit longer. He could have been a bit selfish. And you know what, when you have featured in 161 Tests, piled up 12,472 runs, scored 33 centuries, 57 half centuries and smashed 1442 fours, you are allowed to be a bit selfish.
England are struggling with their top three. So much so that Keaton Jennings with a career average of 22.09 is being persisted with. Even if Cook had scored at 35.00, he could have easily played on for two years. But he knew that his time was over and the gentleman that he is, he diced to walk away gracefully.
In the same match that would be remembered for a true great of the game calling it a day, there was another great – England’s greatest with the ball. The king of swing has toiled day in and day out, landing the ball on a penny and providing his team with match-defining, nay series-defining breakthroughs.
It was only fitting that Jimmy Anderson was given the new cherry as he cleaned up Mohammad Shami to take his side across the line. With this, he went past Glen McGrath’s tally of 563, becoming the highest wicket-taking pacer to have ever played Tests.
Alastair Cook: "It’s been a privilege to play with England’s greatest cricketer."— ICC (@ICC) September 11, 2018
James Anderson: "He’s gone above and beyond, he's my best mate."#FriendshipGoals#ENGvIND READ ??https://t.co/9Q6JmeeTb9 pic.twitter.com/bU4SOQDtKA
The two greats embraced each other tightly, knowing this moment would never ever return. As they looked around with grins spreading one ear to other, they wanted to soak up all that they could feel. Something they must have dreamt as kids- representing the country and contributing to the team’s success.
Instead, there they were, not only doing their bit but shouldering the responsibility of the entire nation and reaching the pinnacle of the game. And then the best part, both wanting each other to lead the team out of the field. Ah! who said this was a clash between bat and ball, emotions were aplenty too.
When called upon to do a short interview, Anderson was hardly able to speak. "Happy that Cooky was on the field to see that wicket, it's been a tough week. When they were building the partnership it was looking like they would get close, my job was just to hold an end. Thankfully we took the new ball and gave me a chance to get the wicket. He's my best mate. He's been brilliant, just to be there for me all the time," Anderson tried to speak, hiding his swelling tears.
He was happy that Cook was on the field to see him reach glory. But, at the same time, he was overwhelmed that this was the last time he was seeing his ‘best mate’ in the England shirt.
Cook too was as expressive in returning the favour. And how could he not! The two had shared the highs and the lows, been together for years, seen each other grow and literally grown with each other.
“To see Jimmy pass Glenn McGrath's record was brilliant. That was the hardest bit, him and Broady are the ones I've played the most with, to know I'll never stand at slip and drop another catch off them is sad. We've lived in each other's pockets for 12 years. Been a privilege to play with England's greatest cricketer, no disrespect to any other guys, his skills to do it time and time again, you almost take it for granted, that's he's going to hit a length. The game was a little bit tight, but he didn't miss his length once.”
Talking about the slew of emotions that gripped him over the weak, the former England Captain said, “Most amazing week, one you couldn't have scripted. Just been amazing, great to contribute to an England win, and win the series 4-1, and also a great game of cricket, to go into the last session of the last day with all four results possible, great advert for Test cricket.
“Been great moment, sad moments, when it's been tough, test cricket shows how hard it is, turn up needing seven wickets but it goes right to the end. I leave with great memories…. But you miss the highs and the rewards, playing with this team, be great to see how they develop. This week can't be beaten, I can walk away with my head held high."
When Cook notched up his fairytale 33rd ton, he had who else but captain Joe Root for company. Root, whom he had seen from close corners blossoming from a young jittery lad, making it to the team to gradually climbing the ladder and carrying the mantle forward from his hands. He had seen a boy growing into a man.
As Cook and Root patted each other’s back, The Oval crowd witnessed two generations of England cricket amid thundering applause. In the presentation ceremony, the current captain paid a tribute to the former captain, saying a few words for Anderson too when prompted by Michael Atherton.
“Alastair has been an exceptional player for such a long period of time, a huge part of our dressing room, he sets the standard and his reception in this game has been fitting. To achieve what Jimmy has achieved to date has been unbelievable, and the scary thing is he believes he's got a couple of years left, in my opinion he's bowling the best he's ever been.”
Even India’s captain Virat Kohli could not hold back but appreciate the legend. “Just one word for Alastair, you've had a great career, for everything you've done, we wish you all the best for the future," he wished.
But, one had a feeling that he wanted to say more. And yes, he did. When the constraint of time was less, Kohli opened his heart for Cook, partly relieved that he won’t see the master tucking the ball to the leg side all day long.
“He’s a great example for everyone to love Test cricket so much, and has so much determination and passion to play for the country. He’s been a great ambassador for the game. I certainly have a lot of respect for him because he’s one guy who has not gone out of line ever. Doesn’t say a word to anyone in a negative manner, just carries on with his work and he’s very sure about his work as well. I wish him well.
“I asked him on the field are you having second thoughts that now you got 140 and he said ‘Not at all’. He felt relieved more than anything else. You could see he was enjoying his batting all over again.
“We understand how difficult batting can be, even if you play regularly (here), it still can be tough. But the fact that he scored so many runs all over the world shows the determination he’s always had to be able to play 160 Test matches and have the longest run of not missing a Test,” Kohli said in the post-match press conference.
But like all good things have to come to end, so the prolific career of Cook had to, and it did. But instead of lamenting on the fact that he called it quits, we must cherish all good that he did throughout his 12-year long career.
As for Anderson, who would probably continue for another two years, he now has his eyes set on Anil Kumble’s record of 619 Test wickets. That’s the nature of the game, that’s the nature of life…the show must go on.
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