Record-breaking Alastair Cook was hailed as a “hero” and a “great person as well as a great cricketer” following his announcement that he is about to retire.
Fellow former England captains and team-mates were among those queuing up to pay their tributes to the all-time national-record Test runscorer, who has called time on his international career at the age of 33.
Nasser Hussain, whose final season at Essex coincided with Cook’s first, was one of many ex-England stars to praise the mental toughness which has set the opener apart.
Alastair Cook retires from international cricket 😩 He gave it everything and more. Huge respect for a guy that has achieved so much, it was a pleasure being out in the middle when you scored a lot of your hundreds for @englandcricket !! Thanks for fighting so hard 🏴 This pic was from his debut hundred in Nagpur when he flew in last minute to replace @marcustrescothick An incredible century that was to carry on for the next 160 test matches!! #goat #cricket #england #proud #legend
Cook is set to play one final Test at The Oval this week before stepping away from the England limelight with 12,000-plus runs in his 160 matches to date.
Hussain, like Cook’s mentor and previous national-record runscorer Graham Gooch, spoke of the hard work and determination which were key to his success.
“He’s been a truly remarkable cricketer,” Hussain told Sky Sports News.
“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.”
It was a readiness to graft, and keep doing so, that underpinned Cook’s career.
Hussain added: “The thing with Alastair was he never had a perfect technique, so someone like him has to dig deep – even more because you’re constantly battling against your technique.
“Batting doesn’t always come naturally to Alastair – he has had to really work hard – but one thing that has always come naturally to him is how hard mentally he’s had to work at it.”
In Gooch’s tribute statement as president of the Professional Cricketers’ Association, he said: “He is a genuine legend of English cricket.
“He is a legend not only because of his performances, but because of his attitude, his sacrifices, the way he has carried himself and the example he has set.
“He is a great ambassador for his sport; he is a great person as well as a great cricketer.”
England and Wales Cricket Board chairman Colin Graves voiced his thanks for Cook’s long and outstanding service.
“Alastair’s selfless dedication to the England cause and his desire to succeed are an object lesson to any professional cricketer,” he said.
“As our highest ever Test run-scorer and most capped player, he fully deserves to be remembered as one of England’s greatest ever cricketers.
“I would like to personally thank Alastair for everything he has given to the England team and also acknowledge the important supporting role his family has played in helping him make such a success of his career.”
Alec Stewart, like Gooch and Hussain another ex-England captain, told BBC Radio 5 Live: “That record of over 12,000 runs, if someone breaks it they’re very, very good players – but it will take a long, long time to get there.
“That’s the amazing thing – every time in the last-chance saloon he’s come out and showed what a mentally strong player he is, but also what a fine player he is.
“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.
“There would be other more flamboyant cricketers, but he is such the heartbeat of that team in a very quiet, unassuming way.”
Cook’s former team-mate Graeme Swann spoke with admiration and affection for his fellow 2010/11 Ashes-winner and subsequent captain.
“He’s one of the nicest men alive,” he said. “He’s almost massively over-achieved.
“His natural physical prowess isn’t that of a sportsman, and yet he’s the holder of all these batting records.”
Recalling a Cook century in a tour match in Dubai – after he had fractured his shin at a water park, but not dared tell coach Andy Flower – Swann added: “This bloke’s a hero in my eyes. He’s a dear friend.”
England’s quest is to find a worthy successor to Cook, and Hussain warns that of course will be far from easy.
He said: “Eventually someone will come along, but it will take a long time to find another Alastair Cook.”
And Kevin Pietersen, who is fifth on England’s all-time Test run-scoring list with 8181, also tweeted his congratulations to Cook.
But the South Africa-born batsman spelt Cook’s name wrong in his comment.
Pietersen tweeted: “Big numbers! BIG BIG numbers but his biggest and best attribute was his mental strength when batting. Happy retirement, Allistair!”