Can Alastair Cook break Sachin Tendulkar’s record of highest Test run-getter?

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Giving glimpse of talent on debut

A tall, dark and handsome player flown in from West Indies as a last-minute replacement for Marcus Trescothick, consumed by stress due to gruelling schedule of international cricket. This was how Alastair Cook debuted at the age of 21 years against India at Nagpur in 2006. He made an instant impact, scoring 60 and 104 in the match, thereby becoming only a fifth Englishman who scored 50 and 100 in his debut match.

Penchant for playing long innings

Known fondly as Cookie or Chef to his teammates, Cook has been a prolific scorer and has penchant for playing long innings. He has passed 150 eleven times, more than any other England player.

Cook was born in Gloucester to a Anglo-Welsh parentage. His mother was a teacher and father a telecommunications engineer. Having played most of his formative cricket in England where cold, damp and windy conditions favour swing and seam bowling, testing a batsman's technique and patience in equal measure, Cook was equally adept in playing down under where his backfoot play allowed him to counter pace and bounce. The stylish opener is a master technician building his innings patiently and playing in the V initially before unleashing array of cuts, pulls and drives. He provided much needed stability at the top of the order with his prolific consistency and has been instrumental in England's successes over the years.

Revival at MCG

Alastair Cook came to MCG for the 4th Ashes Test, under fire for scoring just 83 runs in the first 3 Tests. But as champions are wont to do, he answered his critics in the best possible manner, scoring scintillating 244 not out under tremendous pressure. He displayed exemplary focus, powers of concentration by carving out his fifth double ton and second against Australia. Only Wally Hammond, who had scored seven for England, is ahead of him.

Cook's innings also eclipsed Hammond's record score for an Englishman at the MCG in 1928, and the highest by an overseas player in Melbourne, overtaking Viv Richards' 208 for West Indies in 1984.

Cook became the sixth highest run scorer in Test history (11,956), surpassing Mahela Jayawardene, Shivnarayan Chandrapaul and Brian Lara during his epic double ton at MCG. He also became the second England batsman to carry his bat since Mike Atherton against New Zealand in 1997.

Now only Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis, Rahul Dravid and Kumar Sangakkara are ahead of him.

Can Cook become world's highest run getter by surpassing Sachin's record aggregate of 15921?

Let's examine this with the help of data and possible scenarios. Cook is 33 years now. Assuming he remains motivated and play till 38, form and injury permitting, he has at least five years of cricket left in him to take a shot at this record. Say England play 10 Tests on an average per year for 5 years totalling 50 Tests with Cook playing all of them. He gets 100 innings to score remaining 3965 runs which means 39.65 runs per innings. On stats alone, this looks highly gettable but as you grow older reflexes slow down and consistency takes a hit. Another prolong slump in form for a series or two and you may fall out of favour quickly. If Cook is dropped from the side, it will be well nigh impossible for him to make a comeback into the side. The best case scenario is prolific run of form in the forthcoming 9 Test matches coming up in 2018. These 9 Tests should provide clear answer if Cook can get past Sachin's record aggregate tally.

England will be touring New Zealand in Feb-April 2018 for 2 Tests, 5 ODIs, in May Pakistan will be touring England for 2 Tests and in much awaited series of the year, India will be touring England June -Sept 2018 for 5 Tests, 5 ODIs, 1 T20.

It is just as well that Cook is not part of ODI team. He last played in an ODI in 2014 against Sri Lanka. This should prolong his Test career and keep him motivated and hungry for success.

Conclusion

I'm wagering on him to break Sachin's record tally, provided he remains fit, which is not difficult for a pure batsman. Motivation will be the key factor, and if he is able to keep bad form at bay and doesn't suffer slump in form as Sachin suffered in his last 20 Tests, he should be mighty close to Tendulkar's all-time aggregate. Tendulkar's 51 Test hundreds will be more difficult for Cook to surpass than his aggregate.

Historical data favours Cook if we look at the stats of some of the illustrious names of the game. Steve Waugh scored 20 Test hundreds after 32, Sachin, Lara and Dravid made more than 5000 runs after they turned 32. In fact Lara had the best phase of his Test career after he turned 32. Sachin retired at 40, Dravid at 39, Waugh at 39, Lara at 38 and Pakistan's Misbah-ul-Haq went on to play till 43. Cook is 33 and can easily play for 5-6 years more.

It will be a gargantuan achievement if Cook does surpass Sachin's milestone, but even if he doesn't, Cook's place in the history books of all-time greats is assured. He's already in the league of extraordinary gentlemen!

Bharat Sharma
December 30, 2017

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