(SKY NEWS) – Former England captain Alastair Cook will retire from international cricket at the end of the current Test series against India.
England’s record run scorer said he was quitting “after much thought and deliberation over the last few months”.
He will end his 12-year England career at the end of the fifth and final Test, which is due to start on Friday at The Oval in London, with England having an unassailable 3-1 lead.
Cook, who is also England’s most-capped player, said it was a “sad day” but he could retire “with a big smile on my face knowing I have given everything and there is nothing left in the tank”.
He will still play for Essex County Cricket Club, where he has been for the past 15 years.
Cricketers and fans from around the world have paid tribute to his England career, with many calling him an “outstanding” player and a “champion bloke”.
The 33-year-old, whose nicknames are Chef and Cookie, said he has “achieved more than I could have ever imagined” and he is “privileged” to have played for such a long time “alongside some of the greats of the English game”.
He has played in 160 Tests, made 32 Test centuries and scored 12,254 Test runs for England – 3,354 more than his mentor, Graham Gooch.
A record-breaker from early on, Cook became the youngest player in the world to reach 6,000, 7,000, 8,000, 10,000 and 12,000 runs in Test cricket.
However, this year he has been off form, averaging just 18.62 runs in nine Tests.
Cook said he knows “the timing is right” although the thought of not sharing the dressing room with some of his teammates was “the hardest part of my decision”.
The Essex player said: “I have loved cricket my whole life from playing in the garden as a child and will never underestimate how special it is to pull on an England shirt.
“So I know it is the right time to give the next generation of young cricketers their turn to entertain us and feel the immense pride that comes with representing your country.”
In his resignation statement he thanked the Barmy Army – a group of fans who follow England on overseas tours – and all supporters for their “constant encouragement”.
He also gave a special mention to former England and Essex captain Gooch for mentoring. Cook recalled when, as a seven-year-old, he queued for Gooch’s autograph outside Essex County Cricket Club.
“Graham was my sounding board, especially in the early years of my career, spending hour after hour throwing balls at me with his dog stick,” Cook said.
“He made me realise you always need to keep improving whatever you are trying to achieve.”
Gooch described Cook as “a genuine legend of English cricket” and “a perfect role model”.
“Alastair has been the rock of England’s batting for the last 12 years since he made his debut and while we are all sad to see him retire, we must rejoice in what he has done for our country,” he said.
“He is a genuine legend of English cricket.”
Cook also thanked his family for their “quiet, unwavering support behind the scenes” during “12 wonderful years fulfilling my dreams”.
Essex County Cricket Club also got a mention “for their help and support ever since I was 12”.
He said he “can’t wait to get fully involved with them in the 2019 season”.
“I wish the England team every success in the future, and I will be watching with great excitement,” he added.
His Essex teammate, Varun Chopra, said it was the “end of an era” but he was looking forward to having him back on the county team.
Former England captain Nasser Hussain told Sky Sports News: “He’s been a truly remarkable cricketer. To carry on this long.
“I think he’s played 158 Test matches in a row. You’d think somewhere along the line you’d lose form or fitness. Huge credit to the lad. He’s been England’s best player.”
Another former captain, Alec Stewart, said it will take a “long, long time” for another player to break Cook’s run record.
He said: “He’s probably not the most naturally gifted cricketer, there will be others with far more natural talent that haven’t got the mental strength.
“The combination of what Cook has, both talent and mental strength, has meant he’s played for a very long time and has broken every single record going.”
Cook’s long-time teammate, Graeme Swann, told BBC Radio 5 Live: “He’s one of the nicest men alive. He’s almost massively overachieved.
“His natural physical prowess isn’t that of a sportsman and yet he’s the holder of all these batting records.”
Swann said Cook once batted with a broken leg, as he did not dare tell the head coach he had done it at a water park – and got a century.
He called him a “hero” and a “dear friend”, saying “he’s got a lot more to offer to the world”.
Cook owns a farm near Leighton Buzzard and his third child is due during his last Test match.