'But if I wanted someone to guarantee me runs I would put my money on Cook above anyone else in the world,' says Geoffrey Boycott.
Alastair Cook is a perfect opener and would have been just as good in any era because the way he plays is ideally suited to the job. It is risk-free batting which is exactly what you want up front. If I wanted someone to thrill me, I would send for Kevin Pietersen. But if I wanted someone to guarantee me runs I would put my money on Cook above anyone else in the world.
As an opener there is nothing better than wearing the opposition down. Those big, fast bowlers start with energy and fire in their belly but you grind them down to the point they feel they are bowling at a brick wall. You take the spirit out of them and that is exactly what he did to India. They were broken and going through the motions by the end of the day.
That was my idea of opening the batting and he plays in a fashion similar to me. It is how I was taught: see off the new ball, give the innings a good start, but carry on and make runs yourself. It’s very simple. It is no good being flashy. Punchy little twenties and thirties don’t win Test matches; hundreds do.
Cook is a natural opener but I batted down the order as a young man. I was nervous of the new ball. But Brian Close made me open. He said: “You’ve got two choices: you can be 12th man or you can open.” It was simple and it worked. Like me, Cook loves batting. My Uncle Algy gave me the best advice when I was a youngster. First: “Stay in, because you can’t score runs in the pavilion.” And second: “Listen, it’s better your team-mates are watching you bat than you are in the pavilion watching them bat.”
Well, England have sat there watching Cook bat for most of the last couple of years. He knows his own game and he keeps it very simple. He plays in safe areas. He doesn’t try to be too expansive early on. It is a case of limiting himself, although he is not a limited player. He’s clever and makes it difficult for the bowlers to bowl him out. He doesn’t give them chances because he sticks to his game plan until he gets in. Then, when he has a few runs, and is in the comfort zone, he expands his repertoire. I felt fine about him going past my record. They are there to be broken. When I got up there with Colin Cowdrey and Wally Hammond or passed Len Hutton I didn’t think it made me a better player than them.
Facts and figures don’t tell you everything. They don’t tell you the quality of the opposition, the type of surfaces or what laws the game was played under.
Statistics give you a yardstick as to how good you were in your era against contemporary players. Anyone can make stats say anything. Politicians do it all the time: that’s why we don’t trust them. You can only judge Alastair alongside modern-day players and I would put him in the top five with Michael Clarke, Hashim Alma, Jacques Kallis and Pietersen. By the time he finishes his career there is every chance Cook will have scored more runs and hundreds than the lot of them. He could finish second only behind Sachin Tendulkar.