“I may be miles away, But here is where my heart will stay…
With you, my friends with you.”
Some walk away into the oblivion whilst some linger on before walking down the highway. Some are hardly noticed as they vanish into thin air while others hope for the universe to sound a final hurrah in their honour before they too submerge into the horizon. Some hardly bothered to raise eyebrows while others tried their level best to stamp even a minute mark of their presence. Yet, the harsh cruel world walks on nonchalantly from the beings who had failed to ruffle adequate feathers. In the fast-paced monotony where a stoppage is seen as blasphemy, taking time out to ponder over sportsmen who barely impacted is often unheard of.
And so, when an air of gloom descends over the realm and when tributes pour in by the dozens the calamity that is about to befall can truly be judged. As Alastair Nathan Cook, who had tried and tried to go past the shackles in the last 18 months, announced that it would the end of the road after the fifth Test against India – the same team that had heralded his beginning – heads hung down in grief, with each fan recounting his best innings, the best captaincy moves, the very best strokes or just the influence that ‘Chef’ had created across continents.
Was it the very first hundred at the hallowed Lord’s against Pakistan just a few months after his tremendous outing in his debut match, which proved that the then 21-year-old was anything but a one-game man? Or was it his knock of 235 four years later in the 2010 Ashes Down Under that set him on the path to greatness, which enabled England to get to an astonishing score of 517 for 1, eventually helping them snatch the Urn in Australia for the first time since 1987? Clearly, it has to be his highest first-class score of 294 that forced the Indians to drop their shoulders in frustration at Edgbaston in 2011 or maybe the innings of 190 in an energy-sapping environment in humid Kolkata a year later as England bagged a historical series win in India. Nope?
His knock of endurance in a searing Abu Dhabi in 2015 that was the longest Test innings as he batted for 836 minutes for his 263 has to top the list. Or maybe it was his 162 against the White Ferns in 2015 that was scored after a two-year drought when the clamour for his place was at its loudest. But unmoved and unnerved, Cook always managed to silence his detractors with a shovel off his hips that would hardly be called elegant or with a scything cut that could have very well been a pull or a sweep. And that is why, when he was in possibly one of his worst phases as a batsman very few could actually have predicted his final call.
He rose up admirably against Pakistan in 2010 after struggling to get runs in the summer with a career-saving 110 at The Oval. He showed his hunger against New Zealand and then again displayed why he is indispensable with a mammoth 243 against West Indies last year after 16 Tests without a hundred. He was under the pump in Australia as well, but his 244 overshadowed his struggles and just when it was thought that Cook could wade through the tide yet again, a full stop was drawn. He couldn’t take it anymore.
Yes, aged just 33 Cook should possibly have taken a few months off from the game and emerged rejuvenated to occupy the opening slot again – the Achilles Heel for England over the last few years. For many, he was leaving England in the lurch because now they have not one but two openers to scout for. With an iffy number three as well, England’s woes at the top do not seem to end and the former skipper who had risen up the ranks after years of resilience and hard work could be chastised for leaving the team poorer.
But Cook had always found a way through the animosities and the mental upheavals. He refused to give up when he was unceremoniously dumped by the ECB from the ODI team both as a player and leader just two months before the World Cup in 2015 was to get underway. But instead of brooding publicly he translated all his angst towards bettering himself in the Test format so that a day would not arise when the selectors could replay the same deed towards him again. He fought on, even as his partner at the other end meekly surrendered; he knew that the results were hardly in his favour but what segregated Cook and his dozen partners at the top was his intent and his eagerness to reverse the declining fate.
The determined will to play a handsome knock each time he stepped out to bat was unmistakable. The flinching of the eyes as the bowler got ready to hurl the cherry towards him so he could understand the psychology of the rival was visible. But what was not was Cook’s mindset when an uncoordinated shot fell into the hungry hands of the slip fielder. Again. As he would take the long lunge back into the pavilion, Cook in a parallel universe had just smashed a fiery bowler towards the cover-drive with a magnificent swoosh as the bat and foot remained in perfect tandem with the ball. As the crowd erupted to cheer him on, the wry smile off his face could not be wiped away; the warmth of his heydays could not be stolen away.
Yet there he stands now. A pale, frail figure who could have achieved more, much much more. Yet every moment an English opener fails, the atmosphere will resound with Cook’s name and in that, his presence will forever remain.
It was a pleasure.