Alastair Cook finishes as he started with emotional Oval hundred

Alastair Cook had spent 20 the previous afternoon, so finishing with 12,345 races was impossible. A pity for the members of the Consecutive Number Appreciation Society.

Then there was the half century to mark. He did it on the first ball of the second half of the morning, abruptly shaking a delivery of Jasprit Bumrah from his pads while the fans kept flooding. Undoubtedly, at least some of them were dodging: who cares about the job or the first one? A day ago at school, when the story crosses the finger?

Kumar Sangakkara's next position was the fifth in the test score table: Cook needed to get to 76 for that. He came driving, not cleanly, but one inside edge was enough for one and the highest-scoring left-handed hitter in the history of the test.

And then, of course, the century. Cricket has been cruel to many of its best defenders. Few come to name the day of their final position, let alone write something about riding into the sunset and living happily ever after. Cook had marked half a century and a century in his debut against India in Nagpur; Surely, 12 years and 161 test matches, could not you sign a tremendous batting career in a home test in the same way? It would be too symmetrical, too perfect .

Okay, so it was not a glorious deck unit or a sweeping slogan of dramatic for six, but in a way it was still a perfect opportunity to summarize Cook's career: a point from the bottom to the back. He was only 96 years old at the time, but the overthrow of four made sure of it and the first to react was Joe Root, who threw both hands into the air. A child once again, celebrating his idol.

Cook completed the race before raising his bat, taking off his helmet and transmitting his Jane Austen-hero smile to the crowd. No visible sweat, obviously.

The ovations that have greeted him throughout this game have been extraordinary, but this does not resemble any that preceded him. Applause was continually heard, circling the Oval like an endless Mexican wave. He got up again every time his face appeared on the big screen. The playback could not be restarted. Finally, standing next to the non-attacker, he had to recognize him and, almost timidly, he walked to the middle of the court with his arms outstretched.

Then the game resumed and all that remains is the party. England has won the series, it seems increasingly likely to win this game, and Cook has his farewell to the century. Everything else is icing.


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