Alastair Cook is refusing to look beyond the next game as he prepares for his record-breaking 150th Test.
Cook, England’s record Test run-scorer, will on Thursday become the first England player – and the eighth man from any nation – to appear in 150 Tests. But while Cook insisted those who have suggested he was on the verge of retirement (the likes of Kevin Pietersen and Mitchell Johnson) did so from a position of ignorance – “they’ve have no contact time with me,” he said – he did admit he had “no idea” whether this Ashes campaign could prove to be his final Test series.
All of which did little to quell the rising tide of speculation that suggests Cook could be tiring of the demands of a life as an international cricketer. And while he points to the extra training sessions he is taking as proof of his enduring ambition, he did hint that a decision about his future could be taken by the selectors unless he is able to rediscover his form with the bat.
Cook has never been dropped from the Test team but the scars of losing the ODI captaincy at the end of 2014 are still apparent.
“At the moment, I’m very much taking things on a game-by-game basis,” Cook said ahead of the third Test at the WACA. “I’m trying to score runs, trying to set up England wins.
“Could it be my last series? I’ve no idea. And I’ve said that since I gave up the captaincy. Things change incredibly quickly. I was taught a lesson in 2014 with that World Cup. In the morning I was expecting to lead England in that World Cup and in the afternoon I got a phone call saying they didn’t want me to do it. And that was an hour after a meeting when they said they wanted me to, so you end up living on the edge in professional cricket.
“I wouldn’t be going to do extra gym sessions or the extra batting behind closed doors if I wasn’t keen on carrying on. The people who are saying that [I’m finished] have had no contact time with me. They wouldn’t know the extra nets I’ve been having behind closed doors. I was with the batting coach Gary Palmer for an hour-and-a-half yesterday morning desperately trying to keep working at my game. That’s probably not a guy who’s given in.
“It doesn’t get any easier. I think I said before that it doesn’t matter what you’ve done before, you still go out on nought every time you bat. That’s why it’s called Test cricket. It’s meant to be hard. I’m not saying I’m absolutely flying here, because you only fly when you’re really scoring runs.
“If you’re scoring runs all the time your place is guaranteed and if you don’t there are plenty of other people who want your place so that hasn’t changed. That hasn’t changed in my 12 years and it won’t change in the next 20 years. People want your place and it’s up to me to score runs to get those people off my back. It’s just judged on results.”
He did, he admits, lose a little of the drive required to lead the side at the end of 2016 but says he has enjoyed the transition back into the ranks.
“I’ve really enjoyed the last 12 months, with Essex obviously winning the County Championship and with England winning the last two series. We’ve got the biggest game of our lives coming up now, and we’ve got to scrap unbelievably hard for the five days.”
It is, Cook says, the fact that he has played so many consecutive games (this match will be his 148th in succession; only Allan Border, with 153, can claim more) that provides most cause for pride. It is a record that demonstrates consistency, sustained fitness and a good relationship with the England management who have ensured he has been extended patience during the lean days.
There have been a few of those, too. And, while is he keen to remind us that it is only four Tests since he made a double-century at Edgbaston, he is in something of a lean run now. That Edgbaston effort is his only hundred in his last 25 Test innings and he has not reached 40 in the eight innings since it.
“Clearly I’d like to score more runs,” he said. “My job at the top of the order, and it has been since 2006, is to try to get England off to a good start and on this tour I have struggled. I thought in Adelaide I played a bit better. Four games ago I got a double hundred. So it’s amazing how the cycle of the world goes. I’m not going to sit here and say I’m setting the world alight but you get through that first hour as a batter and you try to get a big one. That doesn’t change.
“I probably didn’t think I would be here when I turned up in Nagpur [for his Test debut] all those years ago. It’s obviously a very special moment in terms of a personal milestone. Not many people play 150 Test matches so to do that and do it at the top of the order, I’m quite proud of that.
“It is a very special thing to pull on that cap. It’s a special thing to walk out and play for England. And that’s why I love doing it. Hopefully there can be a few more.”