Why Cook Would Have Found it Tough to Break Tendulkar’s Record
"Six thousand runs is a long way away. It was set by an incredibly talented genius. I'm no genius and Tendulkar is, so that is a long way ahead,” Alastair Cook said in June 2016 as he became the 12th player ever to go past the 10,000-run milestone in Tests.
He was 31 years old then and had age on his side. Plus, he was fit and the hunger to score was intact. Sachin Tendulkar’s mountainous feat of 15,921 Test runs was well within sight. Both Ian Botham and Sunil Gavaskar entertained this possibility. In fact, Cook was five months younger when he breached the landmark than what Tendulkar had been when he achieved the same.
The Essex lad had two more advantages over the Little Master. One, he played only Test cricket since 2014. His last T20 came in 2009 and last ODI in 2014. And second, England play 12-15 Tests in a single calendar year which is more than any other Test playing nation. Since Cook’s Test debut in March 2006, England have played 162 Tests, way more than Australia who have played the second most with 135.
As a young Cook made his debut against India in 2006 at Nagpur, he showed his class right away with a half-century and a century in the match and did not look back since then.
Then, age started catching up and the struggle for survival overtook the endeavours of breaking records.
Interestingly, Cook equalled one of Tendulkar's records in his last Test. His 33rd Test century that came in his last Test innings was also his seventh ton against India. This has put him in an elite club alongside Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar who scored the same number of centuries in clashes between the two teams.
How Cook Could Have Surpassed the Master Blaster?
As Cook calls it a day, he has 12,254 Test runs against his name. This is 3,667 short of Tendulkar’s tally of 15,921. If Cook had continued to score at his career average of 45.35, it would have taken him three and a half more years to surpass Tendulkar.
At a time when the team is struggling to find a Test opener and the likes of Keaton Jennings with a career average of 22.09 are getting such a long rope, an average of 40 would have guaranteed Cook a place in the side.
Cook would have been 37 by that time, which is perfectly fine as per modern standards. Some of the greats of the game who share space on the list of highest Test run-getters, like Kumar Sangakkara and Ricky Ponting, too hung their boots at 37.
But these are mere numbers. What gives them context is the ever-increasing public scrutiny and the burden of expectations. With that, age has its own impact on reflexes and you’ve got to continuously evolve to adjust.
On this front, the sheer longevity of Tendulkar's career gives him an edge over all others. You can be very good for some time or reasonably good for a long time but being very good for a long time has put Tendulkar in a different league.
Why Cook Lost His Way?
In the last two years, a slew of problems in Cook’s technique had emerged. His feet were not moving. He was not only rooted to the crease but also falling over. His vulnerability to the full ball increased manifold. The whip off the hips and the trademark pull cum punch were nowhere to be seen.
Not discounting his 218-run contribution in the last Test, it had been a real struggle for the 33-year-old. Runs had dried up and big knocks were far and few in between. Even his century at the Oval came in relatively batting friendly conditions.
But, the slump in Tendulkar’s career came only after he had achieved most of his feats. Records, however, are meant to be broken. One Cook threatened to break it and fell short; another will breach it, sooner or later.
When Tendulkar was once asked in another context that who could break his record of 100 hundreds, he had said “Virat and Rohit are the ones. As long as an Indian breaks it, I don't mind.” With Cook gone, we now know whom to look at.
(Saksham Mishra is a budding sports journalist and a student of Radio and TV journalism at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)