At the end of what Alastair Cook described as “the most surreal four days of my life”, he sat contentedly with a box of beers and a big old smile on his face. The box of beers was a gift on behalf of the English media that had been covering his movements for over a decade: 33 bottles, one for each of his Test centuries. The smile, by contrast, he had brought himself.
In front of his family and friends, as well as a packed crowd at The Oval, Cook had achieved what many have attempted but few have pulled off: to script the perfect ending to a Test career. “I don’t know how I’ve managed it,” he admitted. “To go out on your own terms, with your last ever innings for England a hundred. From a purely selfish point of view, I couldn’t have asked for a better week.”
The moment itself arrived in bizarre fashion, courtesy of four overthrows, and was greeted by a standing ovation that lasted for whole minutes. “I remember cutting it for 97,” Cook remembered. “And just as he let it [the throw] go I thought: hang on, he’s launched that pretty hard. Then the ground erupted. The ovation was just incredible. They wouldn’t shut up. It was phenomenal.”
And so the big question: had Cook’s stunning return to form, after one of the worst batting slumps of his life, given him any pause for thought over his decision to retire? In fact, it was entirely the contrary. “No,” he said firmly. “It absolutely confirms it.
“As I said before, this is not a combination of three or four bad games. This is something that’s come over 12 or 18 months. It’s not a bit of bad form – that’s happened a number of times. It’s just time. Time for me, time for my family. And it’s always nice to leave people wanting a little bit more, rather than people kicking you out.”
Cook may only be 33, with a contract to play county cricket for Essex for the next three seasons. But he’s a stubborn one, too. And so when he describes his decision as final, you take him at his word. After 161 Tests, 12,472 Test runs and 33 centuries, the man’s earned a drink.