Alastair Cook had passed 20 the afternoon before, so finishing with 12,345 runs was out of the question. A shame for members of the Consecutive Numbers Appreciation Society.
Then there was the half-century to tick off. He did so on the first ball of the second over of the morning, crisply flicking a Jasprit Bumrah delivery off his pads as the fans were still flooding in. No doubt at least some of them were skiving: who cares about work or the first full day back at school when history is crooking its finger?
Next up was Kumar Sangakkara’s position as fifth on the Test run-scorers’ table: Cook needed to reach 76 for that. He got there driving, not cleanly, but an inside edge was enough for a single and the title of highest scoring left-handed batsman in Test history.
And then, of course, the century. Cricket has been cruel to many of its greatest proponents. Few get to name the day of their final stand, let alone write the bit about riding off into the sunset and living happily-ever-after. Cook had scored a half-century and a century on his debut against India in Nagpur; surely, 12 years and 161 Test matches on, he couldn’t sign off a tremendous batting career in a home Test the same way? It would be too symmetrical, too perfect.
Okay, so it wasn’t a glorious cover drive or a dramatic slog sweep for six but in a way it was still a perfect shot to sum up Cook’s career: a dab to backward point. He was only on 96 at the time, but the overthrow for four made sure of it and the first to react was Joe Root, who threw both hands in the air. A kid once more, celebrating his idol.
Cook completed the run before raising his bat, removing his helmet and beaming his Jane Austen-hero smile at the crowd. No sweat visible, obviously.
The ovations that have greeted him throughout this game have been extraordinary but this was unlike any that preceded it. On and on the applause went, circling the Oval like an unending Mexican wave. It rose again each time his face appeared in the big screen. Play couldn’t restart. Eventually, standing at the non-striker’s end, he had to acknowledge it and, almost sheepishly, walked halfway down the pitch with his arms outstretched.
Then play resumed and all that is left is the party. England have won the series, they look ever more likely to win this match, and Cook has his farewell century. Everything else is icing. (ESPNCricinfo)