Rebirth: The Next Part Of Alastair Cook’s Career
After the Oval, Alastair Cook will have a new experience: playing professional cricket without any care for how it fits within his own playing aspirations at Test level. A rebirth, of sorts. Had he stayed – and if the selectors allowed him to stay – it would have been much a case of the same old, same old for the next year. A sojourn in Sri Lanka. A trip of the West Indies. An Ashes series at home. Only Ireland would have represented a new challenge, and only then for one Test.
That it is hard to think of any many experiences that Cook could have had at Test level is not an original observation. During the last Ashes, Gideon Haigh noted that he was
“hardly doing anything in his career now for the first time.”
Such are the realities of longevity as an England Test player. Apart from the aforementioned Irish, Afghanistan and Zimbabwe are the other two Test teams he will never face. It is probable that his successors will face the Afghans at some point, rather more improbable that they will face the Zimbabweans.
Indeed, in one sense, retiring from international cricket will make Cook’s day-to-day experience of cricket more diverse. England’s selectors made Cook a mono-format player at the top level when they – rightfully – sacked him from England’s ODI team in 2014. Yet he never actually retired from one-day cricket. The T20 version might be beyond him, as he has not played such a match for more than three years at domestic level, and he may have no wish to be part of the Hundred, but the longest white-ball format is a different story. He has played for Essex in the County Championship and the One-Day Cup, when he has been available. Now his availability will no longer be threatened by international cricket.
This sense of ongoing involvement seems to belie the sentiment of farewell that Cook’s announcement has generated, and yet belies is the wrong word. After all, such a word implies that the feeling is untrue. It is not. Even those who pay close attention to England’s domestic competitions feel like it is a farewell, at least in some part. James Morgan at The Full Toss, for instance, fears that we may be seeing the death of a noble breed – the defensive English opener.
Time will tell on that one. Such a statement felt true about Australia when Chris Rogers retired, yet Matt Renshaw soon emerged. While Renshaw might be more accurately compared to Stephen Fleming, it is not completely invalid – he was not the bespectacled opener’s immediate successor, and there had been changes made to the structure of Australian cricket that made his ascension less likely than in the past. Of course, that such a fear has not come true in the past does not mean it is automatically false on this occasion. Certainly, the England and Wales Cricket Board should feel shamed by a recent George Dobell comment that:
It’s not surprising there are few old-fashioned openers available to England right now: their qualities simply aren’t valued in the modern game.
But Cook need not worry about the effect his decision to retire from international cricket has on that situation. For as long as he made himself available for England, he ensured that his country could at least choose one. Not the best of his kind that has ever played the game, but a pretty bloody good one who lasted a long time without a break. And so, he shall be for Essex until the day he gives it up for them as well. Before that day, however, there will be a rebirth to enjoy.