Graham Gooch, the former England and Essex captain who was without question the single greatest influence on Alastair Cook’s legendary career, has paid tribute to his protégé’s “attitude, sacrifices and example” in the wake of the announcement that Cook will retire at the end of next week’s Oval Test against India.
Gooch was Cook’s coach and mentor, with Essex and latterly England, until their split at the end of the 2013-14 Ashes, and his longstanding England record of 8900 Test runs was one of a raft of landmarks that Cook surpassed in the course of what will have been a 161-run Test career.
“Alastair has been the rock of England’s batting for the last 12 years since he made his debut and while we are all sad to see him retire, we must rejoice in what he has done for our country,” said Gooch in a statement issued through the PCA, the player’s body for which he is currently serving as president.
“He is a genuine legend of English cricket.”
Cook himself had paid an emotional tribute to Gooch in his own retirement statement, recalling how as a young Essex fan in the 1980s he had queued up for his autograph at Chelmsford.
“Graham was my sounding board, especially in the early years of my career,” said Cook, “spending hour after hour throwing balls at me with his dog stick. He made me realise you always need to keep improving whatever you are trying to achieve.”
With that in mind, Gooch’s words earlier this week may have been significant, when he suggested in a interview with BBC Radio 4 that Cook’s career was “flat-lining”, and that he needed to find new ways to improve his game.
However, with Cook admitting that he had “nothing left in the tank” at the end of a 12-year international career, which has included a world-record 158 consecutive Test appearances, Gooch turned his attention to the huge raft of attributes that he brought to his game.
“He is a legend not only because of his performances, but, because of his attitude, his sacrifices, the way he has carried himself and the example he has set,” Gooch said. “Alastair is a perfect role model and is the image of the game we want to project.
“He is a great ambassador for his sport, he is a great person as well as a great cricketer. His record is unsurpassed in terms of runs and the commitment he has showed for every team he has played for and has been a beacon for our sport as a person and as a cricketer.
“He has been his own man all the way through. He has his own views and he knows what he wants to achieve and what he wants to get and he has pursued that all the way through his career. It was evident from the very first time I met him when he came to Essex that he was a smart lad and he knew how he could play, he knew how he could manage his game, even at a young age.”
That understanding of his own strengths and limitations was evident in Cook’s very first England appearance, when he flew halfway round the world from the Caribbean to Nagpur as a last-minute replacement for Marcus Trescothick, and responded with a century on debut.
“Throughout his career he has developed his game to improve and the results are there for all to see,” Gooch said. “To achieve what he has in playing 160 Test matches, scoring over 12,000 runs and 32 centuries is an incredibly special achievement from a special person.
“It all stems from being strong of mind, being committed to hard work on his game and focusing on what’s in front of him. He has accepted every challenge and has achieved everything he wanted to achieve so we have to be sad that he will no longer be representing our country but we must rejoice in the fact he has been a rock for us for 12 years.”
“To be a successful sportsman it is not just about the skills or talent, it is about hard work, commitment and desire. All of those parts complete the make-up of you as a person and helps you be successful and he has been determined, he has been stubborn sometimes but he is always somebody you can depend on and always the first name on the team sheet.”
At the age of 33, Cook’s England career may be over, but it seems that his hunger for runs has not been entirely diminished, and he will continue playing county cricket next season.
“For Essex it is a dream come true,” said Gooch. “I understand he wants to play for Essex next year and knowing Alastair like I do, he will give the same commitment as he did for England.
“He has decided he has run his race at international level and I can understand that as he has done it for 12 years.
“We are all sad he will no longer be wearing the three lions but he is going to move on so we must look back and rejoice in what he has done for our country.”