London: Alastair Cook could not have scripted a sweeter end to his long and illustrious Test career — going out on a high with a memorable 147 as a smitten Oval crowd bade farewell.
Cook, who scored 71 in the first innings of the fifth Test against India, was eventually dismissed about 40 minutes before tea on Monday as England took an iron grip on the match.
The Indian players applauded as he made his way back to the dressing room for the final time and the crowd once again rose to their feet in honour of the record-breaking former skipper.
Cook acknowledged the prolonged applause, turning one last time to soak up the atmosphere before disappearing from sight.
The opener, who shared a third-wicket stand of 259 with his successor as captain Joe Root, holds a clutch of England records — most England Test appearances (161), most runs (12,472) and most centuries (33).
Following a disappointing year, Cook’s late flurry has left him with an impressive career average of 45.35.
In a match that has turned into a long farewell for the Essex opener, peppered with standing ovations, the crowd got what they desperately wanted shortly before lunch when Cook reached three figures in bizarre fashion.
The batsman, on 96, scored a single and then celebrated as Jasprit Bumrah’s throw flashed across the ground and over the boundary rope for four overthrows.
As cheers rung around the London ground, Cook, wreathed in smiles, removed his helmet and raised his arms, hugging Root.
He had to work hard for his runs on Sunday evening but looked more fluent in the morning sunshine on Monday and his hundred contained eight boundaries.
For good measure, he leapfrogged Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara to fifth on the all-time list of Test run-scorers, becoming the most prolific left-hander in history.
The crowd has been on its feet multiple times during the match, aware they are witnessing the final chapter of Cook’s storied England career.
Record-breaker: The batsman, 33, who scored a hundred on his Test debut, has scored over 3,500 runs more than the next Englishmen on the all-time list, his mentor Graham Gooch.
Cook, who will continue to play for Essex and is about to become a father for the third time, caught the eye in 2005 when he scored a double hundred for his county side against Australia.
He was also a key factor in England’s 2010/11 Ashes triumph, their only series win in Australia in the past three decades, with a mammoth 766 runs.
Cook became England’s full-time captain in 2012 and led his country in a record 59 matches.
An accumulator rather than a dashing stroke-player, he led from the front in superb fashion when scoring three hundreds to inspire England to a rare series win in India, in 2012, as well as skippering the side to home Ashes series victories in 2013 and 2015.
But his team also suffered a chastening 5-0 series whitewash in Australia in 2013/14 and the fall-out from the effective sacking of star batsman Kevin Pietersen that followed.
Although he was far from alone in making the decision, it was Cook who was the public face of a move that left him in the firing line during a 2014 home season that started with a shock series defeat by Sri Lanka.
Now, national selector, Ed Smith is keen for England to make use of Cook’s knowledge and experience after his retirement.
And England assistant coach Paul Farbrace said he would be sorely missed both on and off the field.
“He just seems to cope with everything that’s in front of him and I think as much as we’re going to miss his runs and his catches, I think (we’ll miss) the calming influence that he has among the team, among the staff among everybody,” he said.