Joe Root hailed Sir Alastair Cook as the “greatest ever” after England’s record Test run-scorer announced his retirement from professional cricket following a 20-year career.

The left-handed opener’s 12,472 runs and 33 hundreds in Tests are both England benchmarks but Root, his immediate successor as captain of the national side in the longest format, is swiftly catching up.

Root may be just over 1,000 runs and three centuries adrift but the Yorkshireman remains in awe of Cook, who started and ended his international career with unforgettable Test hundreds against India.

Root, currently in Delhi for England’s World Cup campaign, told the PA news agency: “It’s been a hell of a career. Clearly, what you did for England, we all know how special that was – a memorable finish and a memorable start.

“Everything in between, you were the greatest ever. What you’ve achieved has been incredible.

“To have had the opportunity to play so many Test matches alongside you, under your captaincy and even getting to boss you round a little bit at the end, was really great fun.”

Cook continued playing for Essex after retiring from England duty in 2018 but his contract expired at the end of the domestic season and last month the 38-year-old elected against seeking a renewal.

“It is not easy to say goodbye,” he said in a statement. “For more than two decades, cricket has been so much more than my job.

“It has allowed me to experience places I never dreamed I would go, be part of teams that have achieved things I would never have thought possible and, most importantly, created deep friendships that will last a lifetime.

“From the eight-year-old boy who first played for Wickham Bishops Under-11s to now, I end with a strange feeling of sadness mixed with pride. Although above all, I am incredibly happy.

“It is the right time for this part of my life to come to an end. I have always given absolutely everything I possibly have to be the best player I could be, but now I want to make way for the new generation to take over.”

Essex head coach Anthony McGrath had hoped “we’ll see him for a bit longer” as speculation swirled about Cook’s future after the Chelmsford club finished runners-up to Surrey in the championship.

But Cook’s decision to retire ends a remarkable career which began in 2003, impressing enough for Essex to be drafted into the England set-up for the first of 161 Test appearances, making a century in the second innings against India at Nagpur in 2006.

Sir Alastair Cook amassed 33 Test hundreds for England (Adam Davy/PA)
Sir Alastair Cook amassed 33 Test hundreds for England (Adam Davy/PA)

He went on to amass another 32 Test tons – an England record – and was part of Ashes series wins in 2009, 2010/11, 2013 and 2015, captaining them in the latter two. His 766 runs in the 2010/11 series saw him crowned player of the series and helped England seal a first triumph Down Under since 1986/87.

Cook won 24 of his 59 Tests as England captain between 2010 and 2016 and skippered the ODI side between 2010 and 2014 before being unceremoniously axed just months before the World Cup the following year.

He bowed out of England duty with a hundred against India at the Kia Oval in September 2018 and was given a knighthood for services to cricket a few months later in the New Year Honours List.

“You knew if he got past 20 balls, you could wedge in and read the paper, do whatever you wanted to do and not worry about padding up,” Root said.

“We never had much formula out in the middle in terms of any good chat or anything but he was always great to bat with and to learn from.

“As a young lad coming into that team, to have his experience to learn from… you can’t buy that. They are things that aid you as a young player and speed up your development.

“I’m very grateful for what he gave me and other young lads in my position. He’s been incredible for the game. It’s nice know you’ve made a friend for life.”

After the end of a distinguished international career, Cook showed he still had plenty of appetite and was Essex’s leading run-scorer in their 2019 championship triumph, while he topped the charts in the Covid-shortened summer of 2020 to help his side go all the way in the Bob Willis Trophy.

Cook helped Essex win the 2019 County Championship (Steven Paston/PA)
Cook helped Essex win the 2019 County Championship (Steven Paston/PA)

The last of his 352 first-class appearances – in which he registered 26,643 runs and 74 hundreds at an average of 46.41, fractionally above his Test mark of 45.35 – came against Northamptonshire a fortnight ago. In sharp contrast to his fairytale England exit, Cook made two single-figure scores.

Cook – who thanked his family and the staff at Essex as well as mentor Graham Gooch in his farewell statement – added: “When I ended my international career, I had no idea that I would have five more bonus years playing for Essex. I cannot put into words just how much fun we have had during that time.

“Playing a full part in the season when Essex won the County Championship in 2019 is one of my favourite achievements in the game.

“I look forward to watching Essex continue to punch above their weight, hopefully winning many more trophies in the coming years.

“Now, I hope the Bedfordshire Farmers will find space for a has-been ‘all-rounder’ somewhere in their lower order.”

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