Alastair Cook

Alastair Cook stands tall with the weight of his batting statistics vouching for his greatness © PTI

Kevin Pietersen recently said that Alastair Cook “is on target to go for” Sachin Tendulkar’s record. Nishad Pai Vaidya opens the record books and compares Cook’s record to that of Tendulkar’s at a similar stage.

Alastair Cook has been one of the most prolific Test batsmen in recent times. At a young age, the left-hander was earmarked for bigger things. Today he stands tall with the weight of his statistics vouching for his greatness. Such has been his consistency that his team-mate Kevin Pietersen suggested that he might actually challenge Sachin Tendulkar’s monumental records in Test cricket.

Does Pietersen have a point there? A statistical outlook will help solve the question.

Numbers at a similar stage

Let us first compare Cook’s current Test record to that of Tendulkar’s at a similar stage in his career. Cook is currently 28-years old and has played 93 Tests. Interestingly, Tendulkar completed his 93rd Test a day short of his 29th birthday. So let us keep that as the time line for our study and also remember that Cook has a few Tests to go before he turns 29.

Here are the two sets of numbers:

M   I Runs Ave 100s 50s HS NO Ducks
Tendulkar* 93 149 7869 58.72 29 31 217 15    8
Cook 93 165 7587 48.94 25 30 294 10    5

*up to April 24, 2002

Note: All records for Tendulkar in this article are up to April 24, 2002

After 93 Tests, Tendulkar is only 282 runs ahead —a mark Cook may breach by the time he celebrates his 29th birthday. Tendulkar has also scored four more centuries and his average is almost 10 notches higher than that of Cook’s. The reason for Tendulkar’s higher average would be the fact that Cook is an opener and has more innings (165 to Tendulkar’s 149) under his belt. When coupled with Tendulkar’s higher count of not outs, his average is bound to inflate. Being an opener, Cook has lesser chances of finishing unbeaten. The remarkable thing is Cook has been dismissed for a blob only five times — which is incredibly low for an opener.

The penchant for big scores

Great batsmen have always had this penchant for big scores. Merely overhauling a three-figure mark doesn’t satisfy them and they chase higher honours. Let us have a look at the number of 150 plus scores amassed by Tendulkar in his first 93 Tests and compare it to Cook’s current score:

150+
Tendulkar 10
Cook 7

Tendulkar leads Cook by three on this parameter. But, there is one area where Cook shoots ahead. Both batsmen have two double hundreds to their name at this stage, but Cook has made bigger scores. Tendulkar’s two doubles read 217 and 201 not out, whereas Cook scored 294 and 235 not out.
Record at home and away

A criterion that is often used to judge a quality batsman is his away record. On home soil, any batsman can be comfortable as there is no adjustment required. The real test comes when they travel abroad, where surfaces tend to be different and the opposing bowlers would know to exploit the conditions.

Here are Cook and Tendulkar’s home and away records after 93 Tests:

Tendulkar:

M Runs Ave 100s 50s HS
Home 42 3888 63.73 14 14 217
Away 51 3981 54.43 15 17 177

Cook:

M Runs Ave 100s 50s HS
Home 50 3688 44.97 11 15 294
Away* 43 3899 53.41 14 15 235*

*includes the three Tests against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates.

There isn’t much to choose between Cook and Tendulkar’s respective away figures. Tendulkar’s average is slightly higher than that of Cook’s and he has scored one more hundred. The astonishing thing is that Cook’s away record is superior to his numbers in England. At home, he averages only 44.97 and isn’t as dominant there as Tendulkar (63.73) was in India during the first half of his career.
Record in the other’s territory

It would be unfair to evaluate their numbers against particular teams because the attacks Tendulkar tackled in his first 93 Tests were very different to the ones Cook has played against. Furthermore, to judge their stats in different conditions wouldn’t be feasible because a turning track in Sri Lanka may be a haven for Tendulkar, but a difficult proposition for Cook. Similarly, a Cook may feel at home on swinging conditions in New Zealand, but Tendulkar would have taken time to adjust.

Thus, for an illustrative comparison, it would be better to weigh their numbers in each other’s territory i.e. Cook in India vs Tendulkar in England. Here are the relevant statistics:

Tendulkar in England:

M Runs Ave 100s 50s HS
6 673 74.77   3 2 177

Cook in India:

M Runs Ave 100s 50s HS
8 866 61.85   4 3 190

For any English batsman, coming to India is a huge challenge, but Cook has surpassed it with flying colours. Right since his hundred on Test debut at Nagpur in 2006 to the memorable series win last year, Cook has adjusted to India like fish taking to water. Tendulkar too did well in England in the early part of his career and was a cut above his team-mates in those swinging conditions.

Final verdict

Cook has matched Tendulkar on most parameters and Pietersen’s arguments look strong given the current scenario. The future however is uncertain and Cook would have to match the high standards he has set for himself and also keep up with Tendulkar. England play more Test cricket when compared to India and it is pretty evident from the stats. Tendulkar made his Test debut when he was 16-years old and had played his 93rd Test by the time he turned 29. On the other hand, Cook debuted at the age of 21 and has featured in 93 games much before his 29th birthday.

Thus, Cook may have more games in future if England continues to play their quota of Tests. However, it is Tendulkar’s longevity that has separated him from the pack and it would be a challenge for Cook to continue playing till the age of 37 or 38. At some stage, Cook may have to battle the wear and tear caused by the rigours of modern day cricket. That phase may test Cook, the way it hampered Tendulkar for some time.
It is a long road ahead for Cook, but he looks good for now and is poised to write his amongst the greats.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)