I REMEMBER first seeing Alastair Cook playing as an 18-year-old kid when I had just moved to Essex and I was immediately impressed.
I got asked by Graham Gooch and Ronnie Irani to give him a ‘going over’. They said that as a 15-year-old he had loads of talent but could not hit the ball off the square as he did not have any power. That said he’d just started to get into it and was getting lots of runs in the second team.
I was still pretty quick in those days and fit after my stint on Strictly! We had an open net session and I ran in for 40 minutes and peppered him. I bowled as well as you can do in a net – and he did not flinch.
I thought he was an amazing character with guts and determination.
I immediately nicknamed him ‘Double FEC’. Future Essex captain; future England captain. It stuck with him at Essex for a while and he obviously became England captain and has had a marvellous Test career, which he has now called time on.
Looking at his Test career, he had a lot of stick when he was captain. I know him as well as anyone; he actually lives just down the road after marrying a local girl; and I think he did a terrific job in his 59 Tests as captain.
People doubted him but he is a strong, stubborn character. In the dressing room, he was very opinionated. I loved being around him.
Look at his record: 12,254 Test runs and 161 Test caps by the time he finished. I loved watching him play with his stubbornness. He could look awkward at times, but he found a way to get runs.
He texted me this week and we shared messages. I told him to get one more hundred and said: ‘Mind you, these days when you get a century, you go onto get a double.’
In this series with India, his average has not been good enough and he knows that. What does surprise me with some Test cricketers is that they walk away and then that’s it. But look at Moeen Ali in terms of how he has performed after a little break.
We had an open net session and I ran in for 40 minutes and peppered him. I bowled as well as you can do in a net – and he did not flinch.Darren Gough on Alastair Cook
Cook has never really had a break. But he has clearly just got to a point and thought he is not good enough any more, so has just retired from Test cricket.
I remember walking off the field and should not have played in the last two Tests which I did in 2003. I was not fit and my knee was not right and I only played because of injuries.
Cook has obviously thought he is not good enough any more. But maybe he could have just said that he was not available for the rest of this summer and winter and had a proper break. In theory, he could start next summer with 100, 100, 100 and be straight back in with England. He is only 33 and has signed a new three-year deal with Essex.
In terms of memories of Cooky, I remember the series just before the historic Ashes win in Australia, when he was nearly dropped by England. He then went away in 2010-11 and scored 766 runs in that series – the first win Down Under since 1986-7. It was undoubtedly his greatest series.
I think his biggest regret – not from him in terms of what happened – will be that he was part of a group of people that ended a great player’s career in Kevin Pietersen. KP got 8,181 runs and had the most hundreds for England in a period and was dropped.
People will always question that about Cooky. It is hard for me, I was KP’s best man when he got married and I am good friends with Alastair.
But I do not have any loyalty to anybody when it comes to that. I judge people when I meet them. That is the way I have always worked.
But you do think ‘What if Cooky and KP could have played together another four years?’ But it was not to be. I wish Alastair all the best. He is a terrific guy.
In terms of his replacement, it is a difficult one.
There is a question mark over Keaton Jennings, although the squad for the final Test tells me that he will be going to Sri Lanka along with Adil Rashid.
As for the other potential replacements as opener for Cook, one is Rory Burns, who has over 1,000 runs in county cricket this year. But he is a left-hander which could prove a concern.
Nick Gubbins is also a contender and a left-hander but he has not had a good season. Then there is Mark Stoneman. He did not do too badly in Test cricket and is not a bad player. He just struggled to get past 60 for England. But he has picked a bit after a bad run. He has got five Test fifties, so he can bat.
People talk about Joe Denly, although he bats at three for Kent. I do think he is more suited to white-ball than red-ball cricket.
My choice would be James Vince. I cannot see him batting at three and I think that opener might be a good place for him.
That said, he is approaching the ‘last-chance saloon’, even though he is only 27. If he is a success, he could have five to six years opening.
Burns is 28 and averages 45 in first-class cricket with 14 hundreds. He is a pretty good player, but it is about conversion rate. Vince has 23 hundreds.
There is also Haseeb Hameed, but there is no way England could pick him with his average. It would be the biggest gamble ever with the pressure he would be under.