The matches that made a record-breaker
Alastair Cook has announced that he will retire at the end of the Oval Test against India, after making more than 12,000 runs in an England-record 161 Test appearances. ESPNcricinfo looks back at the landmarks of a legendary Test career
Test No. 1 - Debut century at Nagpur
One hundred and two cricketers have made a century on Test debut, including ten Englishmen since the Second World War. But few have given such definitive proof of their poise and purpose as Cook, England's emergency replacement on the tour of India in 2005-06. After Marcus Trescothick's breakdown on the eve of the first Test, and at the age of 21 and with no acclimatisation whatsoever, Cook brushed off the effects of a 24-hour, multi-transfer, journey from Antigua to Nagpur to make 60 and 104 not out. All told, he batted for nine and a half hours in the match against an India attack boasting two of their greatest spinners in Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh.
Test No. 6 - Maiden home Test hundred
Trescothick's return in the summer of 2006 forced Cook to bed in at No. 3 in the short term, but he scarcely missed a beat in his first full season as an England batsman. At Lord's in May, he missed out on his second Test century when he fell for 89 against Sri Lanka. But two months later, he made no mistake at the same venue, etching his name on the honours board for the first of what would end up being four occasions. For good measure, he followed up with his third century, 127, in the next match at Old Trafford.
Test No. 12 - First Ashes hundred
If India had been a steep learning curve, then it was nothing compared to the winter of 2006-07, when Cook was thrust into the front line to withstand Australia's Ashes vengeance mission. Restored to the top of the order, he encountered Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne still smarting from the events of 2005, and hell-bent on setting the record straight before waltzing into retirement. Unsurprisingly, he struggled, particularly outside off stump where his judgment was challenged mercilessly by the metronomic brutality of McGrath and Stuart Clark. But, with the Ashes all but surrendered as England chased 557 in the second innings at Perth, Cook knuckled down on the eve of his 22nd birthday to make 116 from 290 balls. It couldn't save the day in the short term, but it laid a notable marker for events further down the line...
Test No. 24 - Face-saving hundred in Galle
Things would get worse before they got much better for England's chastened cricketers. A home series loss against India was swiftly followed by a capitulation in Sri Lanka where, with the series level going into the third Test at Galle, they collapsed to 81 all out in reply to the home side's 499, and inevitable defeat. Nevertheless, Cook's bloodymindedness came bubbling to the fore in the follow-on, as he dug in against Muttiah Muralitharan to make a six-and-a-half hour 118. It wasn't enough to impress certain members of England's travelling support, who draped a banner over the walls of the historic Galle Fort to declare "England: Hang Your Heads in Shame". But Cook, at least, was able to fly home to celebrate his 23rd birthday with his own held high.
Test Nos. 25-36 - The summer of sixties
By the end of 2008, it was clear that Cook was a prodigy with purpose. In New Zealand in March he had become the youngest England batsman to reach 2000 Test runs (at the age of 23 years and two months) but for the rest of that year he seemed to hit something of a plateau - in the entire calendar year, he made eight fifties in 21 innings (an impressive effort), but had been unable to convert any of them to three figures. With scores of 60, 61, 60, 60, 76, 67, 52 and 50, it was time to turn to his mentor Graham Gooch, with whom he began working on the technical changes that he believed he needed to take his game to the next level.
Test No. 43 - Wisden Trophy regained
Cook broke his centuries drought with an eighth Test hundred against West Indies in Bridgetown, but given that the match had featured 1349 runs across its first two innings, including 291 for Ramnaresh Sarwan, his second-innings game-killer wasn't much to write home about. Of greater significance, however, was his career-best 160 at Chester-le-Street two months later. After England's shock surrendering of the Wisden Trophy in the Caribbean, courtesy of their 51 all out in the first Test at Sabina Park, Cook's innings set up a pummelling innings win, and a 2-0 series victory, against a dispirited opposition.
Test No. 50 - Innings win in Durban
Cook played a low-key role in England's home Ashes win - his most significant contribution was a first-day 95 in the second Test when, in harness with Andrew Strauss, he took full toll of Mitchell Johnson's stage fright to set up England's first win against Australia at Lord's for 75 years. But in Durban later that year, he was back to his obdurate best. Fresh from celebrating his 25th birthday, Cook dropped anchor with 118 from 263 balls, setting the stage for the coming of age of his team-mate, Ian Bell. England declared on 574 for 9, before routing South Africa for 133 in their second innings.
Test No. 53 - Captain's best 173
If there was any doubt that Cook was England's anointed man, then the tour of Bangladesh in 2010 dispelled it once and for all. With Strauss taking a sabbatical ahead of England's Ashes defence in Australia, Cook was tasked with leading England in his absence, on a potentially awkward campaign against an ever-improving opposition. He set the tone with a brace of 60s in the three-match ODI series (he was recalled as captain for that leg as well...) then laid down his marker by milking Bangladesh's spin-dominant attack for 173 in the first Test in Chittagong. A week later, he had wrapped up a clean sweep in all five internationals by anchoring England's run-chase in Dhaka with 109 not out.
Test No. 59 - Last-chance saloon at The Oval
Cook, famously, has missed just one Test match in his entire career, and none for more than a decade since a stomach bug denied him a third cap on his maiden tour of India in 2006. But that record would surely have been interrupted but for this show of defiance against Pakistan at The Oval in 2010. All summer long, Cook had been hounded by the relentless pace, movement and accuracy of Mohammads Amir and Asif, and was braced for the drop after making 6 in the first innings of the third Test. But then he decided to throw caution to the wind, and cast aside the tinkerings that had left him so vulnerable outside off stump. "I wasn't going to die wondering," he said afterwards.
Tests No. 61, 62 and 65 - 517 for 1 and all that
In the build-up to a seismic Ashes tussle in the winter of 2010-11, Australia's focus had been entirely on one man. Kevin Pietersen was front and centre of their strategies as they sought to avenge England's victory in the 2009 campaign; but hardly a breath of interest had been wasted on an opening batsman who, up to that point, had scored fewer than 500 runs in ten Ashes Tests, at a distinctly mediocre average of 26.21. But Cook made it his business to punish Australia's oversight, racking up 766 runs in a 3-1 series triumph, including three vast hundreds. The biggest of the lot also doubles as his defining performance - an invincible innings of 235 not out in the cavernous hostility of the Gabba that turned the momentum of the series on its head. By the time he fell for 148 in the second Test at Adelaide, Cook had batted for 1053 minutes and 383 runs between dismissals, and an entire nation was sick to the teeth of his implacable leave outside off stump.
Test No. 71 - The Edgbaston grand-daddy
Notwithstanding his heroics Down Under, Cook was soon back to the grind of an English pre-season, out on dawn runs in the woods in Chelmsford, carrying a rucksack of bricks and being pursued by Gooch on a bicycle. The message from his mentor was simple but effective: when you are in the form of your life, there's even more reason to put in the extra groundwork. And his efforts would bear fruit in the third Test of England's crushing home series win over India. Cook's returns for the rest of the summer were relatively modest, but he made his indelible mark with a 12-and-a-half hour 294 at Edgbaston, his highest Test score. He faltered, finally, in sight of what would have been England's first triple-century since Gooch in 1990, but in making his innings a "grand-daddy", he had lived another of the great man's mantras to the max. "There's a tinge of disappointment," Cook admitted, "but if I'm being realistic, I'm absolutely thrilled."
Tests No. 84, 85 and 86 - The jewel in the crown
Cook may never receive more acclaim than for his performance in the 2010-11 Ashes, but his efforts in India two years later were surely his finest hour. He'd inherited a divided team following the retirement of Andrew Strauss in the summer, and having fought for the rehabilitation of Pietersen following the text-gate scandal, the opening exchanges of the first Test at Ahmedabad were ominous in the extreme. England slumped to 191 all out in reply to India's 521 for 8 declared - Cook himself was sixth man out for 41, but thereafter he made it his mission to coax a performance from his team, come what may. His nine-and-a-half hour 176 in the follow-on wasn't enough to prevent a nine-wicket defeat, but it transformed the horizons for his side. His subsequent first-innings scores of 122 at Mumbai and 190 at Kolkata frogmarched England into an astonishing 2-1 series win - aided and abetted, of course, by world-class support from the spin pairing Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, and inevitably, that man Pietersen.
Test No. 100 - Ashes humiliation
At The Oval in August 2013, Cook experienced one of the proudest moments of his career, as he led his England team to their fourth Ashes victory in five series, a 3-0 triumph that hindsight now confirms looked more emphatic than it actually was. Four months later, those scenes of jubilation must have felt like a figment of his imagination, as Australia tore back the urn with a savagery that surpassed even the trauma of 2006-07. Cook's personal nadir came in the third Test at Perth, the scene of Australia's series-seizing win. In the first innings he battled through his own lack of form to make 72, his highest score for eight Tests. In the second, however, and chasing a forlorn 504 for victory, he received surely the best ball of his career - a sneering, swinging, seaming snorter from Ryan Harris that curled in, then zipped away to trim his off bail and send him on his way for a first-ball duck.
Test No. 107 - Southampton sympathy
There has surely never been a post-mortem to rival it. The fetid fallout from England's Ashes whitewash contaminated every facet of the England team - not least the crassness of Pietersen's sacking, which heaped cruel and unwarranted pressure on Cook, a consummate team man who had been conditioned throughout his career never to take a backwards step, and was damned if he was going to start now, even in the midst of the most barren spell of form imaginable. By the start of the third Test against India, he had gone 14 months without a century, and when his first ball of the match, from Bhuveshwar Kumar, was edged inches short of slip, followed soon after by being dropped on 15, the entire crowd feared the worst. And yet he clung to his wicket for dear life and when, by lunch, he had creaked his way to 48 not out, the crowd rose as one in acclaim. He fell eventually for 95, an apt reflection of how even his best efforts were suddenly falling short.
Test No. 112 - A century at last
England's tour of the Caribbean in the spring of 2015 existed in a curious twilight zone, sandwiched between their humiliation in the World Cup (in which Cook played no part, having been dropped from the one-day squad at the eleventh hour) and the termination of Peter Moores' ill-fated second coming. But Cook was grateful for the contests nonetheless, as he finally hauled a hulking great monkey off his back, and racked up the 26th Test century of his career, and his first for nearly two years.
Test No. 120 - A whopper in Abu Dhabi
Cook's record in Asia surpasses that of many home-grown batsman - eight centuries in 21 Tests to date, at a towering average of 60.86. And the heftiest of the lot came in the opening exchanges of England's tour of the UAE in 2015-16, from a position of familiar peril. Pakistan had spent the first two days of the series racking up the small matter of 523 for 8 declared, with Shoaib Malik chipping in with a career-best 245. Cook, however, retorted with a 14-hour 263 - an innings so stultifyingly brilliant that it all but stole the contest. Pakistan imploded second-time around, leaving England a teasing chase of 99 in an hour's worth of daylight. They were halted at 74 for 4 after 11 overs, with Cook banished to No.7 to allow his flightier colleagues to have a slog.
Test No. 128 - 10,000 Test runs
At 3.15pm on the fourth and final afternoon of the third Test against Sri Lanka at Chester-le-Street, Cook nudged Nuwan Pradeep off his pads with that familiar shovelling followthrough, all the way to the midwicket rope to become the first England batsman to reach 10,000 Test runs. He had kept his audience waiting for the moment - he had been within striking distance of five figures for the best part of five months - but the flamboyant gesture has never been his style. "You need something tucked away to drive you to get up go running in the morning or bat in the nets with Goochy," he said. "I am still hungry to achieve stuff."
Test No. 134 - England's most-capped cricketer
In an appropriate echo of the circumstances of his maiden Test appearance, at Nagpur ten long years earlier, the occasion of Cook's record-breaking 134th Test was marked by another trans-continental dash. This time he had flown out to Bangladesh early to acclimatise with the one-day squad, before legging it back home for a 36-hour stop-over, to attend the birth of his second daughter. The upshot wasn't quite as remarkable as that debut performance, however, as Cook mustered scores of 4 and 12 across two innings at Chittagong. He did, however, lead his side to a memorable win, as England held their nerve in a tense fourth innings to squeak to victory by 22 runs.
Test No.145 - A pink-ball daddy
Cook's five-year captaincy reign came to an end in the wake of a torrid tour of the subcontinent, and with England pre-occupied by white-ball cricket in the build-up to the Champions Trophy, it would be seven long months before he completed his return to the ranks in the home series against South Africa and West Indies. His returns, at first, were unremarkable, but then - under the floodlights at Edgbaston - he marked England's first experience of day-night Test cricket with one of his trademark whoppers. A magisterial ten-hour grind produced a match-winning 243 - his fourth double-hundred and second in Birmingham - as West Indies were overwhelmed by an innings and 209 runs.
Test No.151 - An Ashes last hurrah
To Cook's intense chagrin, he proved powerless to resist as England slumped to a quickfire Ashes defeat: he amassed 83 runs in six innings in consecutive defeats at Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. But then, in the Boxing Day Test at Melbourne, he showcased the intense willpower that remained, even in the twilight of his career, his most enduring attribute. The pitch was unnaturally placid, but his concentration refused to waver, as he ground his way through records galore, matching Wally Hammond and Brian Lara as the only other tourists to score two double-hundreds in Australia, before surpassing Viv Richards' 208 as the highest score by a visiting batsman at Australia's most iconic venue. His unbeaten 244 spanned 409 balls and more than 10 and a half hours, and though England were unable to press on to a consolation win, he had at least stopped their series rot.
Test No.156 - Border's endurance record falls
Cook was legendary for his crease occupation, but no less extraordinary was his outstanding fitness record that spanned almost the entirety of his career. After missing the third Test of his maiden tour of India in 2005-06 with a stomach complaint, he has been omnipresent in each of his subsequent 158 matches - a tribute to his strength of mind and body alike. And, in the second Test of England's summer campaign in 2018, he surpassed the greatest Aussie battler of them all. Allan Border, like Cook, grafted a career from granite, making the utmost of his limited technical attributes to become a world-beater and an inspiration to team-mates and opponents alike. And against Pakistan at Headingley, Cook went past Border's record of 153 consecutive Test appearances. His first-innings 46 was not riches, but it would prove a vital factor in England's series-levelling win.