Today (weather permitting) will see a great sportsman applauded on and off the pitch at the Oval when England face India in the fifth and final test of the series. I remember Alastair Cook being plucked from the relative obscurity of an ECB Academy tour of the West Indies in February 2006 to fly out (or around, or possibly over?) to India as a replacement for the injured Michael Vaughan & Marcus Trescothick. From his 60 in the first innings and century in the second he looked the part, he played in the second test on that tour but could not play in the the third due to illness (it was India after all), since then he has not missed a test match and his records are the stuff of legend.
You can read reports about the man and his stats elsewhere, but what I admire about him is the way he has shown dedication and concentration and brought sportsmanship to his role. He is not the most forceful, fluent or stylish of batsman but he became the very best Alastair Cook that he could be. Opening batsmen are up there with golfers and tennis players in my estimation of the hardest “jobs” in sport, whilst they have the support of the team they also feel they have let a team down if they fail (which they do with regularity). One slip, one mistake and that’s it. In most sports you can have another go, not as a batsman.
Over the past decade I have admired hugely two young men who have captained their countries with dignity, skill and diplomacy, not only captained but led by example and have rarely put a foot wrong. Both have retired from the international stage, one from the sport completely. Can you have heroes who are 30+ years younger than you? Of course you can if they are Cook and Sam Warburton. They have both used what talent they have been given, worked incredibly hard, put their bodies in harm’s way and missed out on normal life (whatever that may be) to make the most of their talents. Thank you both for your inspiration and service.
(Ironically only Cook has “Welsh” blood – his mother is from Swansea – whilst Sam’s parents are both English.)
When the time comes I hope wherever you are you will stand and applaud a true great as he takes his bow at The Oval.
I can’t think of a better excuse to play Roy Harper – enjoy.