London: Alastair Cook was lauded as England’s “greatest ever player” by former opening partner Andrew Strauss during his final Test before international retirement.
Cook was thrust straight into the action in his farewell Test after England captain Joe Root won the toss and elected to bat against India at the Oval on Friday.
That meant Cook, in what was the opening batsman’s 161st and final Test appearance before his international retirement, would be involved from the first ball.
At lunch, the 33-year-old Essex left-hander was 37 not out in a total of 68 for one.
Former captain Cook, England’s all-time record run-scorer, walked out to a guard of honour from his India opponents after being presented with a commemorative cap by Strauss, his predecessor as Test skipper, before play started.
Strauss, now the England and Wales Cricket Board director, addressed the England team before handing Cook a cap numbered 161 to mark the final international match of a 12-year international career.
A video montage produced by the Professional Cricketers’ Association, featuring the favourite recollections of many of the 74 players with whom Cook has shared his Test career, was shown to the batsman on Thursday.
“It’s incredibly humbling watching all those messages,” said Cook. “Not that I am wishing this week away but once it is out of the way and the dust has settled and life has moved on I think it will be a great watch, just to appreciate how many people I have played Test cricket with and how special everything has been.”
– ‘Bit surreal’ –
Cook, who intends to continue playing for Essex, added: “It is a bit surreal at the moment, with all the adulation, but I am determined to go out and enjoy it — and I am determined to go out with a win.
“It has been a privilege to pull on the England shirt. You almost forget how many people I have played with, and it has been fantastic.
“I thank everyone for sharing my journey and my time in the team but everyone will have their own story. It has been fantastic and I am a very lucky boy.”
Cook came into this match having scored 12,254 Test runs at an average of 44.88 including 32 hundreds.
That average is not the highest by an England batsman, with Yorkshire opener Herbert Sutcliffe posting a mark of 60.73 in 54 Tests in the 1920s and 1930s.
Yet Strauss, perhaps out of understandable loyalty to his former opening partner, told Sky Sports when asked about Cook’s record: “That average, that consistency, the number of times he’s passed fifty and obviously the hundreds and the match-winning hundreds he’s got, all combine to make him England’s greatest player ever in my opinion.”
Cook scored a hundred on his Test debut, against India at Nagpur in 2006, and Virat Kohli, the current India captain, said at the toss: “We have seen too much of him sometimes.
“He has been a great player for England. What he has done as an opener has been outstanding and he will go down as one of the greatest openers to have played the game.”
England had announced on Thursday they would be unchanged in personnel from the side that won by 60 runs at Southampton on Sunday to take an unassailable 3-1 lead in this five-match series.