Chris Waters: Fresh approach required by England once Alastair Cook makes his exit

IT GOES without saying that Alastair Cook has been a wonderful servant to English cricket.

HEADING OFF: England's Alastair Cook acknowledges the crowd after his century at the close of play during day two of the Ashes Test match at the MCG in December last year. Picture: Jason O'Brien/PA.

He is England’s leading Test match run-scorer, their record appearance holder, their most prolific centurion, and so on.

Why, he has almost as many records in his collection as Whispering Bob Harris.

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But in announcing that the Oval Test match against India will be his last, Cook has spared the selectors a tough decision and given them a chance to start afresh. For the upcoming tours to Sri Lanka, the West Indies and then beyond, they need to settle on a new top-three to give England the starts they have sorely been lacking.

It is no secret that, wonderful player though he has been, Cook’s race has been run for quite some time.

He is averaging 18 in his last 16 innings and has not scored a fifty in the current Test series.

Indeed, it would hardly have been a surprise if the Oval Test had been his last in any event, seeing as the selectors cannot continue to pick on sentiment.

They needed more from their long-time rock at the top of the order and, deep down, he knew it too. It was only due to the lack of viable alternatives that Cook kept his place for as long as he did. Keaton Jennings has also benefited from this fact, having done little to justify his role as Cook’s opening partner.

BOWING OUT: England's Alastair Cook walks off undefeated at the end of play after making a double century during day three of the Ashes Test match at the MCG. Picture: Jason O'Brien/PA.

Time and again, the selectors have gone around in circles trying to find the right opening combination since Andrew Strauss retired in 2012.

And, time and again, they have palpably failed to find a solution.

Given that the definition of insanity is said to be doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, Cook’s retirement allows England to rip up the script.

There is no point trying to find another Alastair Cook, a man who, in his prime, was a throwback in terms of style, concentration, temperament and mental strength. There are simply not those kinds of batsmen around any more in this era of T20 cricket and with a marginalised Championship, no Boycottian-type openers knocking down the door.

Alastair Cook, right, takes a break during a partnership with Yorkshire's Joe Root, the man who succeeded him as Test captain. Picture: PA.

As such, England need to think outside the box and ask themselves questions such as, “What do we have?”, “What are our strengths?” instead of looking for answers that cannot be found.

And, what England have, if they only care to look, is a one-day team of extraordinary talent.So much so, they can barely fit all of the batsmen who should be in the side into the side, blessed as they are with a surfeit of riches.

Although one-day cricket is clearly different from Test cricket, the sport is evolving as never before and England’s strength lies in the explosive talents of batsmen such as Jason Roy and Alex Hales in one-day cricket and the all-round skills of players such as Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali and Jos Buttler.

So rather than go down the Jennings route, the Mark Stoneman route, the James Vince route, and so on, why not give someone like Roy a go and bend Hales’s ear about a red-ball return? Why not consider a player like Lancashire’s dynamic batsman Liam Livingstone for a top-three place?

Graphic: Graeme Bandeira

A top-three of Roy, Hales and Livingstone, for example, might not provide the type of patience or indeed permanence traditionally associated with the five-day game, but it might just come off every once in a while as opposed to the present situation where England’s top-three seems never to come off.

The likes of Virender Sehwag and David Warner have already challenged long-held notions of what a Test match opener should be like.

If England had another Cook waiting in the shires, another Boycott, another Graham Gooch, there would not be a problem, but they are simply not blessed with those kind of players.

Indeed, there may never again be an England batsman like Cook, who deserves a fitting send-off when the Oval Test begins on Friday.

Cook was an old-school opener, dogged and deliberate, and basically relied on three shots – the pull, the square cut, and the clip off the legs.

He may not have emptied too many bars but he must have driven many bowlers to drink.

Cook’s retirement marks the end of an era – one that England must mark with a change of approach.