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‘It is not easy to say goodbye’: Alastair Cook retires from cricket

After a fairytale farewell to Test cricket at the Oval five years ago, Alastair Cook has quietly called time on his decorated playing career altogether, announcing via a statement on Friday that the 2023 county season was his last as a professional cricketer.

The news is not unexpected, with reports of the 38-year-old’s intention to retire from playing emerging towards the end of his 21st summer in the Essex first team and the club’s denials notably noncommittal. Cook, it became clear, did not want a great fanfare during a low-key final outing against Northamptonshire at Wantage Road.

But the tributes will still follow, with confirmation of the former Test captain‘s open secret the end of an era at Chelmsford and for the English game as a whole. Cook’s final tally reads 26,643 first-class runs at an average of 46.41 and 74 centuries, including, of course, the national records of 12,472 runs and 33 centuries in Test cricket.

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“It is not easy to say goodbye,” Cook said. “For more than two decades, cricket has been so much more than my job. It is the right time for this part of my life to come to an end. I have always given absolutely everything I possibly have to be the best player I could be, but now I want to make way for the new generation to take over.

“From the eight-year-old boy who first played for Wickham Bishops Under-11s to now, I end with a strange feeling of sadness mixed with pride. Although, above all, I am incredibly happy.”

After signing off from England duty in 2018 with a record 33rd Test century – an emotional 147 against India followed by a knighthood later that year – Cook split his time between commentating for the BBC, life on the family farm in Bedfordshire and first-class cricket for Essex. During this latter period came a second County Championship win in 2019, with Cook, an ever-present, placing it among his favourite achievements.

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“I won’t miss strapping on my pads and facing the new ball, but I will miss being in the Essex changing room,” said Cook. “When I ended my international career, I had no idea that I would have five more bonus years playing for Essex. I cannot put into words just how much fun we have had during that time.”

Along with offering thanks to his wife, Alice, his family and supporters, there was a special mention for Graham Gooch, Cook’s spirit guide with Essex and England. The former opener saw his record 8,900 Test runs harvested for England between 1975 and 1995 surpassed by his apprentice in 2015, with his influence unquestionable.

“As a seven-year-old boy, Goochie was my hero,” said Cook. “He became my coach, mentor and, above all, a great friend. I dread to think of the number of hours he has given up to help me become the best player I could be.”

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That player was quite formidable, Cook announcing himself to the world in 2005 aged 20 with 214 for Essex against the touring Australians. A Test debut came in Nagpur the next year and, despite a late call-up that required a dash from a Lions tour in the Caribbean, scores of 60 and 104 not out highlighted him as a significant talent.

From there a torrent of runs and centuries flowed, the highlight coming in 2010-11 when his 766 runs delivered England’s first away Ashes series win in 24 years. As a captain he also oversaw home Ashes victories in 2013 and 2015, even if the standout of his 59 caps in charge came early on with a 2-1 win in India in 2012.

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More challenging times personally included the 5-0 Ashes defeat in 2013‑14, the fallout from which saw an acrimonious end to Kevin Pietersen’s Test career, and his removal as one-day captain on the eve of a calamitous 2015 World Cup.

“It’s been a hell of a career,” said Joe Root, speaking in Delhi as England prepared for the third match of their World Cup defence against Afghanistan on Sunday. “You were the greatest ever. What you’ve achieved has been incredible.

“To have had the opportunity to play so many Test matches alongside you, under your captaincy and even getting to boss you round a little bit at the end, was really great fun.”

Jimmy Anderson, England’s record wicket-taker and Cook’s teammate for 130 Tests, told the BBC: “For him to give back to Essex what he has over the past few years speaks volumes about him. He constantly performs, churning out runs. He’ll be hugely missed.”

Though good enough to make a 57-ball century in Twenty20 cricket for Essex, this retirement will no doubt prompt the question of whether Cook – predominantly a red-ball specialist with remarkable powers of concentration – will be among the last of his kind in a world shifting towards the shorter formats.

Root, with 11,416 Test runs to date, appears the only player likely to ever beat Cook’s record. Not that Cook has hung up his bat entirely, offering a nod to the solitary Test wicket on his CV by adding: “I hope the Bedfordshire Farmers will find space for a has-been ‘all-rounder’ somewhere in their lower order.”