Alastair Cook is the first English batsman to break into an elite of modern-great players, but his career has been inflated by how much England play.
Without a doubt, England’s captain is one of, if not the greatest English batsmen. He will no doubt be one of the best Test batsman ever too, by the end of his career.
But, he has had a big advantage, in that he plays more than double the amount of cricket as some of his closest contemporaries.
Of the top 20 batsmen on the ‘most Test runs list’ of all time, only Allan Border, Graham Gooch and Javed Minded retired before the year 2000.
In other words, the record books have been redefined in the last 15-20 years.
England missed the boat, with England’s captain one of only two Englishmen in the top 25 top run-scorers ever.
The main reason Cook is viewed with such admiration in world cricket, is not because of his swashbuckling style or awe-inspiring power; but because he’s the first.
He has been playing in the golden age of batting, in the shadows of legends such as Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting, Sachin Tendulkar and Jacques Kallis, and he’s the first to break into that elite group.
His breakthrough into the top 10 is historic, and is on top of an array of other impressive records he has been piling up.
But he isn’t in the same category of greatness as Lara, Tendulkar or Kallis.
Cook is a grinder, not a genius. Bowlers don’t fear him.
He has this pile of runs, because out of the top 15 Test run scorers in history, Cook plays the most Tests per year, on average.
This is a major advantage when it comes to accumulating:
- Sachin Tendulkar played 200 played Tests between 1989-2013 = 8.3 Tests per year
- Ricky Ponting played 168 Tests between 1995 – 2012 = 9.8 Tests per year
- Jacques Kallis played 166 Tests between 1996 – 2013 – = 9.8 Tests per year
- Rahul Dravid played 164 Tests between 1996 -2012 = 10.25 Tests per year
- Kumar Sangakkara played 134 Tests between 2000 – 2015 = 8.9 Tests per year
- Brian Lara – 131 played Tests between 1990- 2006 = 8.18 Tests per year
- Shiv Chanderpaul played 164 Tests between 1994 – 2015 = 7.8 Tests per year
- Mahela Jayawardene played 149 Tests between 1997 – 2014 = 8.7 Tests per year
- Allan Border played 156 played 1979 Tests between 1994 = 10.4 Tests per year
- Steve Waugh played 168 Tests between 1985 – 2004 = 8.84
- Sunil Gavaskar played 125 – Tests between 1971-1987 = 7.8 Tests per year
- Younis Khan played 118 Tests between 2000-2017 = 6.9 Tests per year
- Graeme Smith played 117 Tests between 2002-2014 = 9.75 Tests per year
- Graham Gooch – played 118 Tests between 1975-1995 = 5.9 Tests per year
Alastair Cook played* 144 Tests between 2006-2017 = 140 Tests in 11 years = 13 Tests per year.
A mind-boggling amount of cricket.
His 31 Test tons and 55 Test fifties are invaluable to England over the last decade, and makes Cook is a great player, of that there is no question.
But he has had, in some cases, double the amount of playing time as others in the same bracket.
If any other batsman on this distinguished list, with a bigger average (all of them) or a more dominating batting style (all of them), had the opportunity to play 13-14 Tests a year, they’d get a lot more runs.
Not for one moment would I challenge Cook’s right to be in the upper-echelons of cricketing greatness.
But if he ends up at the top of the pile at the end of his career, ahead of Sachin and Ponting and Kallis, it doesn’t make him the greatest.
When looking at ‘the best’, it’s not just about numbers. It’s about how. It’s about the rate at which greats accumulated their greatness.