Any and all English batting records can be broken by Alastair Cook now. He overhauled the most enduring of the lot today by becoming the first batsman to score 23 Test hundreds for the country, but that could be merely the start.
At 27, he has perhaps a decade ahead of him in the international game should he want it. He set another landmark figure yesterday by becoming the youngest player from any country to score 7,000 Test runs. A total around double that, accompanied by nearly 50 Test centuries, is at least feasible.
The player who was batting with Cook as he reached his twin landmarks yesterday was Nick Compton, grandson of Denis Compton, another legendary figure in the English game. It was small wonder that Compton Jnr had a firm sense of the history being made.
“Standing out there and looking up at the board, seeing those stats of 7,000 runs, the youngest player to do that, was quite an amazing moment,” he said. “A lot of players only find their feet at my age, 28 nor 29. He has found his a long time before and done it for such a long period already.”
Perhaps Cook’s most significant achievement yesterday in the third Test against India – aside from establishing control for the team of which he is now captain – was breaking a record that had stood for more than 73 years. Wally Hammond reached his 22nd hundred in 1939 and in the years since Colin Cowdrey and Geoff Boycott had both equalled it, as did Cook and Kevin Pietersen only a week ago in the second Test.
Cook, unbeaten on 136 from 236 balls at the end of the second day, sought the sanctuary of the dressing room with his business still unfinished as England, on 216 for 1, trailed India by only 100 runs in the first innings. It was left to Compton, his new opening partner with whom he has formed a solid alliance in India this past month, to do the talking for both of them.
“Unflappable is a good way to describe him,” said Compton, who made his maiden 50 in a stand of 165. “He's tough. There's not a huge amount said in the middle but I feel like I've got a really good bond with him. In between balls there's a little look and a little nod that we're both in this together.
“He's very clear, he seems to know exactly what he is trying to do and how he's doing it. It's a good way to get to know someone out in the middle. You can't be closer to someone than in the heat of the battle.”
Geoffrey Boycott, whom Cook surpassed on the hundreds list with yesterday's ton, backed the England captain to push on and extend his record total. The former England opener Boycott, commentating for BBC Radio 5 Live, hailed a “terrific performance” by Cook but felt the landmark was inevitable. “I don't think it'll be such a big deal to him, to pass Wally Hammond, Colin Cowdrey, myself and Kevin Pietersen,” Boycott said.
“He's going to get a lot more unless he suffers some serious illness or injury. He's got a sound technique, he's the captain so he'll automatically get picked – he'll be way up towards 40 by the time he's finished, high thirties maybe. If you think he'll be in his best years until he's about 32, that's five years. You play about 14 Tests a year so that's about another 70 Tests, and he'll probably get about 15 Test hundreds in that. He'll be close to 40 [hundreds] by the time he's in his early thirties, then it depends how long he plays, he might get more than that.”
Sir Ian Botham added to the appreciation of Cook. “He's 28 on Christmas Day,” he said, “and every day is like Christmas Day for him at the moment. He averages over 50 and he's done it in 80-odd Tests. He's probably going to play another 80-odd Tests again, so who knows how many centuries he's going to end up with?
“His record now is remarkable, but I think there's a lot more to come and that's because of the nature of the beast; he's got a unique mind set, he doesn't get flustered – he doesn't even sweat!”