One road left of left hand drive

By Clayton Murzello | Mumbai

Southpaw Alastair Cook, who announced his England retirement player, has some unfinished business against India at the Oval

England's opening batsman Alastair Cook drives during Day Four of the third Test against India at Nottingham, Trent Bridge on August 20. Pic/Getty Images

No player has given more to the England cricket shirt... No player has got more out of their ability... No player has shown more mental strength than Alastair Cook... More than that, he is the nicest cricketer we have ever had... Thanks for all the memories Cookie." If there was a competition for the most profound of tributes to the retiring Cook, former England captain Michael Vaughan would win hands down.

Cook has been England's finest batsman of his era and his record as batsman and captain in successful Ashes series (2013 and 2015) must be spoken of in heavyweight proportions. Yet, Yorkshireman Vaughan, England's 2005 Ashes-winning captain, was being presumptuous if not a touch disrespectful to all the tough and passionate men who have played under an England cap in years gone by.

English cricket has had some real tough cookies (pun unintended) and to be fair, despite all the world's scientific advancements, a device to measure commitment is yet to be invented. Over-lavish praise aside, this is not an attempt to under-value Cook's achievements. The Oval, where the fifth and final Test of this season's Pataudi Trophy series begins tomorrow, presents an opportunity for Cook to make history. A century off his trusted Gray Nicolls blade will make him the first England player to score a hundred in his first and final Test.

In world cricket, that has not been achieved by a retiree since Greg Chappell carved his 182 against Pakistan at the Sydney Cricket Ground in early 1984 (yes, Mohammed Azharuddin scored a ton against South Africa at Bangalore, but he had not announced his retirement). The other two on the century-in-first-and-last-Test list are Australians Reggie Duff and Bill Ponsford.

Duff scored his 1902 debut hundred coming in at No. 10 while his swansong Test ton was scored as an opener in 1905. He passed away six years later — reportedly let down by alcoholism. Ponsford scored a double century in his last Test match. Don Bradman also got a double ton and they put on 451 for the second wicket. Talking of double century efforts, Cook has five to his name and his last one — the unbeaten 244 against Australia in Melbourne — was plundered less than a year ago. The drawn result halted Australia's march of three Test wins in a row.

It was an innings which came on the back of some poor scores. His last six innings measured up to only 83 runs; the axe was hanging really low. Cook attributed this week's decision to retire because there is "nothing left in the tank." But who is to say he is bereft of hunger to drive away in a blaze of glory? And what a farewell it will be to take a hundred off the sharp Indian attack, which has been let down so badly by their batting colleagues (except for Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara).

The Indian bowlers have not allowed Cook to go past 29 and probably the series' most satisfying moment for him would be the catch he took at short leg to dismiss Kohli in the second innings at the Rose Bowl. However, no one should be surprised if the Oval offers both teams better batting conditions than all the four venues and great players like Cook can be banked upon to exploit batting-friendlier conditions to the maximum.

In all probability, spectators at the London venue will be informed that Cook needs only a single to hit the 1,000-run mark at the Oval; by far the most successful of current Test batsmen at the ground (the next best is South African Hashim Amla's 434 runs). After Lord's, it is his most rewarding ground in terms of runs and he'll want to go out on a high. Having said that, Cook will know that the best practitioners of batting have not had fairytale endings at the Oval. Most famous among those men are Sir Donald Bradman, who was bowled for a duck by a Eric Hollies googly 70 English summers ago.

Some reports suggested that Bradman did not see the spinner's delivery because his eyes were filled with tears after England skipper Norman Yardley got his team to give a three-cheers reception. Bradman admitted that the gesture stirred his emotions "very deeply" which made him anxious, but he debunked the tears theory. "There were no tears in my eyes," he told his last biographer, Roland Perry in 1995.

It will be a highly emotional time for Cook too and irrespective of how successful his farewell will turn out, he'd be glad to know that when he walks up the pavilion in an England shirt for the last time, he follows in the footsteps of fellow great English batsmen to end their Test careers at the Oval — Sir Jack Hobbs, Peter May, Ted Dexter, David Gower, Mike Atherton and Surrey's Director of Cricket, Alec Stewart. Hopefully, Vaughan is ready with another sterling tribute.

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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