Michael Vaughan fears that Alastair Cook’s Test retirement could trigger an exodus of England’s remaining senior players, in the wake of James Anderson’s emotional farewell to his “best mate” at The Oval last week.
Anderson had seemed on the brink of tears in the immediate aftermath of England’s victory in the fifth Test against India, as he acknowledged the end of Cook’s 12-year England career – a stint that included 130 shared appearances in the same Test team.
And while Vaughan believes that even this England team will one day be saying “Alastair Who?” as they find new men to replace Cook at the top of the order, he added that Anderson’s emotions reflected the fact that life for him personally in that dressing-room will never be the same again.
“I thought Jimmy was more emotional than Alastair,” Vaughan told ESPNcricinfo at a Laureus event at The Oval. “[Cook] was as cool as ice. How he coped with the week, and just watched the ball and reacted, is how he coped throughout his career. Many cricketers get affected by the external messages, he just controlled what he can control.
“But you could see the true light of Jimmy Anderson,” Vaughan added. “On the pitch you see him as a grumpy bugger, he doesn’t smile a great deal, he gets into the odd confrontation – which I like – but off the field he’s a normal human being which came across at The Oval.
“His eyes were blubbing up and he was about to burst into tears. And that is what sport brings you to, when you’ve been with someone for so long and been through so much, in terms of great series wins and some negative times as well. When you see your pal leaving and know it’s the last time you’re going to spend a few hours in the dressing room with him.”
Vaughan himself knows all too well the emotions that sport can generate, after his own tearful resignation as Test captain in the summer of 2008. Vaughan never played for England again after that announcement and recognises how quickly former team-mates can become strangers when their days in the dressing-room are over.
“As much as they say they’ll go back in and invite Alastair in for a drink, it’s never the same when you’re not a part of the team,” he said. “You might go in and say hello, you might go in and make a speech, but it’s never the same place again and I think Jimmy knows that.”
Anderson himself has set no definitive date for his retirement and, with another stellar haul of 42 wickets at 20.54 in 2018, he is still at the peak of his powers at the age of 36. However, he also admitted last week that the end could come at any time, much as happened in 2006-07 to Glenn McGrath, the man whose tally of 563 Test wickets he overtook last week.
“I hope Jimmy goes on, because his body and his bowling, from what I’ve seen, gets better and better,” Vaughan added. “But he knows it will have to come to an end soon, and I hope what Alastair did doesn’t trigger one or two into thinking they should do the same because Jimmy and Stuart Broad still have a lot to give.”
Next week, England will name their Test squad for the Sri Lanka tour – their first for more than 12 years without Cook at the top of the order – and Vaughan expects Surrey’s Rory Burns to be given the first chance to fill the opening vacancy for the first Test in Galle, alongside the under-pressure incumbent, Keaton Jennings.
“In terms of numbers over the past 12 years, you can’t replace Alastair Cook, but in terms of what he’s delivered over the past couple of years, you probably can get close because he’d be the first to admit he hasn’t been at his best,” said Vaughan. “Players are always replaced, you always talk about how impossible it will be, but there will be someone who plays in a year or two’s time and then, I dread to say it, it will be ‘Alastair Who’?
“Cook will always be remembered by us in cricket for being great, but you move on, you have to. That’s what Joe Root has to do with a new opening partnership. He has to give faith to whoever he’s selected to go out there and face the new ball, and get better starts. That’s been the problem. Sort that area out at 1,2 and 3, and they’ll be a fantastic team.
“Rory Burns, I’ve seen his numbers,” Vaughan added. “He must be able to play the moving ball because you can’t succeed in county cricket without it.
“But Keaton Jennings has now had a number of opportunities to know exactly what Test match cricket is, and as much as it’s been doing a bit in a tough couple of summers, let’s not make excuses. He had five Tests against India and one against Pakistan, and he should have got a substantial score.
“He’ll go to Sri Lanka knowing he’s got three games to keep his Test career.”