Record-breaking Alastair Cook could be retiring from international cricket too early, according to former England head coach Andy Flower.
England’s all-time national-record Test runscorer has called time on his international career at the age of 33.
The opener was hailed as an “icon in sport” and one of the “nicest men alive” following the announcement, as former team-mates, coaches and mentors queued up to pay tribute.
But the man who made Cook England captain feels he could have kept going longer.
Flower told BBC 5 Live’s Tuffers and Vaughan Cricket Show: “I’m not so sure (it’s the right time to leave). If Alastair thinks it’s the right time then it is. I think he’s still got plenty left in the tank.
“But it’s his choice and he’s a decisive guy, he knows his own mind, and he’s made his decision.”
Cook is set to play one final Test at The Oval this week before stepping away from the England limelight with 12,254 runs in his 160 matches to date.
His former mentor Graham Gooch – whose England record of 8,900 runs Cook surpassed – believes England are losing more than a record-breaking opening batsman.
“He’s a hero to a lot of people and he’s entertained a lot of people down the years,” Gooch added on the show.
“I think if you’re looking for a role model, for an icon in sport let alone cricket, you couldn’t get a more upstanding person and lovely guy than Alastair Cook.
“He’s everything you want from a sportsman. He sets high standards, he’s a role model, he’s disciplined, he plays his sport in the right way, he’s an ambassador for youngsters to look up to.”
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
“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.”
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.
“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 overachieved.
“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 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!”