Alastair Cook: The Autobiography

Published: 2019
Pages: 370
Author: Cook, Alastair
Publisher: Michael Joseph
Rating: 3.5 stars

I always liked Alastair Cook, and not just because he was England captain. He was one of those rare cricketers who gave the impression of combining a friendly, affable and modest approach with, when the time came for playing cricket being, if not exactly ‘as hard as nails’ then certainly distinctly flinty.

That much conceded I still didn’t like Cook quite enough to want to actually read his autobiography when that appeared in 2019. This was a case of the other side of the friendly, affable and modest coin, as I didn’t expect it to be particularly interesting, most of its contents having been well covered in the press and on social media at the time it was released.

The clincher was the photograph on the cover of the book, which I found off-putting and was clearly designed to assist with the publisher’s expectation that the book would do something that cricket books rarely do, which is shift lots of copies. I decided to give Cook’s book a miss.

In the two years since he retired Cook has, unlike some (in fact possibly all) 21st century former England captains, gone up in my estimation. I thought his punditry on the Indian series just gone to be worth listening to, but above all what has impressed me is that he has carried on playing for Essex. So I thought the least I can do is go out and buy his book.

There is a little more to this of course, that being that the bibliophile in me was roused when I learnt  recently that whilst there is no limited edition of the book as such, there is a slightly different version that carries Cook’s signature, and it was one of those that I saw and snapped up. Initially therefore it was the pleasure of ownership that prompted the purchase, rather than any real desire to read the book.

So when Alastair Cook: The Autobiography arrived I hadn’t actually intended to do anything other than slot it onto the shelf next to another book I’ve yet to read, Cook’s first autobiography, published back in 2008 a mere two years into his Test career. That one was entirely appropriately entitled Starting Out: My Story So Far – he wasn’t even 24 at the time!

But then having bought a book you have to at least have a quick look, if only to check that you have indeed been sent the more exclusive signed edition, which I had. I also, sad man that I am, checked out the photographs before, through force of habit, going straight to the end of the book to check out the stats and the index. The stats alone run to almost fifty pages, which at first blush seems excessive, but as I started to read the book I realised wasn’t, because the narrative is anything but a match by match account, and the only way to follow Cook’s career is via Max Wadsworth’s numerical labours.

Some cricket books don’t have indexes, which I always think is a dreadful omission, the result being that you end up appreciating the rudimentary efforts that generally appear. That is something that is brought sharply into focus on those rare occasions, like this, when you get what I can only describe as a ‘proper’ index. And it was as a result of that that I started to actually read the book.

So where did I start? As a good Lancastrian I started with Anderson, James, before moving on to the sad case of Kerrigan, Simon. The names kept jumping out at me, Broad, Hussain, Panesar and  Trott being some of the early ones, so much so that after twenty minutes or so I decided that it might be wise to start reading the book from the beginning rather than jumping around.

In the way of modern autobiographies the opening chapter singles out a particular incident from the author’s career. In Cook’s case it was that final match against India in 2018 and an apology for getting out on 147. But the main point of the opening chapter is to examine Cook’s reasons for leaving the Test arena when he did. Unlike a number of the better recent cricketing autobiographies there are no mental health issues as such for Cook to explain, but he was only 33 so, as he has demonstrated by remaining a county player, far too early to retire from the game. At the same time it is clear that he was very tired, and had had enough of Test cricket.

Where Cook’s book succeeds is his ability, or perhaps that is better attributed to his collaborator Michael Calvin, to explain how the biggest job in English cricket, combined with opening the batting, grinds a man down. Those of us whose playing careers were carried out wholly within the recreational sector can easily overlook those pressures, and whilst I like to think that I have picked up plenty of insights from the books of others none have made me think as hard as Cook’s about the sort of problems that he faced.

In fact there is only one aspect of Alastair Cook: The Autobiography that is not wholly convincing and that, perhaps inevitably, concerns the single biggest management problem that England had to deal with during his time as captain, Kevin Pietersen. That Pietersen was a thorn in Cook’s side I have no doubt, and he probably deserved to be sacked when he was, but could he not simply have been dropped, and the final ‘unpleasantness’ avoided?

There are a few cricket lovers around who take no great interest in the 21st century game, and nothing I say will cause Alastair Cook: The Autobiography to appeal to them. Those who are fans of Cook, and/or feel any degree of passion for the modern game, will already have read the book, so I am telling them nothing they do not already know. But I do know that I am far from the only cricket lover around who follows the game with great interest whilst at the same time generally preferring to read about its past. Somy revelation that Alistair Cook’s autobiography is well worth reading is aimed at them.

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