The milestones that map out Alastair Cook’s career path show how far he has come in the fourteen years since making his Essex debut; now the former England captain is just a couple of lusty cover-drives from passing twenty-thousand first-class runs.
Lord’s, where Essex start today against Middlesex in the Specsavers County Championship, would be a fitting setting for the latest landmark to be chalked up. After hitting his 98th first-class fifty and 57th century in successive innings in the memorable victory over Somerset last weekend, Cook is just 30 runs shy of the next record in red-ball cricket.
Anthony McGrath has been both frustrated opponent and grateful batting coach during Cook’s run accumulation. He says: “You don’t get where he has by fluke. He is one of the hardest trainers I’ve worked with.
“He got out the other day for a hundred and went straight to the gym. His professionalism is absolutely sensational.
“Alastair’s record goes before him: England’s leading run-scorer and now he’s coming up for another milestone. It’s testament to him as a man and a player.
“From a selfish point of view, every time he’s around us at Essex it’s not just the runs he scores, but the confidence he brings to the dressing room.
“He’s a great example for the young players coming through. He makes it very easy for us coaches. We just say, ‘If you want to get to the top, there’s no better role model than Alastair Cook’. He ticks all the boxes: very professional, very fit, very thorough with his batting preparation and just a good man to have around.”
McGrath, 41, recalls coming up against the young Cook in his days with Yorkshire. “You could tell he could play straight away. I remember him getting a century against us in a Championship game. I think it was him and Ravi [Bopara], both got hundreds, and I think we tried everything that day to get them out. It was evident as soon as he came in that he was organised, knew his game and saw it well.”
Somerset will have felt much the same as Cook’s 110 at Taunton on Sunday set up Essex’s eight-wicket win, their first back in Division One.
However, in both their opening Championship matches, Essex have had to make sterling second-innings efforts after being bowled out for 159 and 129 first time round against Lancashire and Somerset.
“We’ve batted superbly in the second innings,” says McGrath, “but in the first innings, we’ve been the polar opposite. We’ve given away soft wickets and not been at the races.
“Batting bonus points are very important in domestic cricket and one of the cornerstones of our success last year was getting big runs. It’s something we need to address. We know that as a team. We just need to put together a four-day performance rather than two-day performances like we have done in the last two games.
“There was always going to be a period of settling into the division. But when you’re not playing your best and still picking up points [for wins and draws], for me that is the one big positive you can take confidence from.
“We were laughing in the dressing room the other day, saying, ‘Once we get our game all together, watch out!’ We know we’re not going to get away with it every week by losing the first two days and then coming back. There comes a time when you need to be performing from ball one on the first day.
“But Friday at Lord’s, we’ll start fast this time and try and control the game from there.”