Alastair Cook's batting hero is Graham Gooch and he emulated him this morning in Perth by reaching 100 Test caps for England.
Where he will not want to match him or indeed most of the batsmen that reach their century is in the decline that occurs after this incredible benchmark. For England, Gooch, Alec Stewart and Michael Atherton all averaged significantly less after their 100th Test. Even Sachin Tendulkar, who retired recently after a mind-boggling 200 Test caps, dropped three points on his batting average after he had passed the three-figure mark 11 years ago.
Tendulkar's great skill, apart from making lots of runs, was to retain a boyish enthusiasm for cricket. Yesterday, Cook was almost dismissive that he might also reach the 200-mark, but he possesses that same wide-eyed sense of wonder that could see him go close, providing the trials of captaincy do not wear him down first. "I've absolutely no idea how long I can go on for," said Cook. "I've just got to cherish every one I play. It would be wrong to assume anything in this game, but I'd love to play a fair few more. It's a tough game. But if people still want me to play, I'll play for as long as I can. Obviously you have got to perform and score runs along the way. Hopefully I can give myself the best chance to play as many as possible."
A high proportion of the 57 cricketers who have reached 100 caps (Cook and Michael Clarke increased the tally by two here) have captained their countries. Whether longevity lends you the appropriate gravitas to be captain or whether it a player's perceived longevity that makes selectors appoint them to lead the side in the first place is not really known, but of England's 11 centurions only one, Graham Thorpe, never led in a Test. The rate of players reaching 100 Tests has increased in recent times. Pay is far better, providing monetary incentives to stay motivated for longer, though better wages also means more competition for places.
Players are also fitter now and Test matches more frequent, so caps can be racked up at a rapid rate. But while the body is willing, the mind can sometimes becomes less able to cope with such a frenetic fixture list, a problem highlighted by Jonathan Trott's sudden exit from Australia. Cook, who will be 29 on Christmas Day, has achieved so much since his debut in 2006. Although not yet the highest run-scorer for England, he does have the most hundreds, 25, no mean feat for an opening batsman. If he retains his form and hunger, he could set benchmarks for England unlikely to be surpassed in his lifetime unless Joe Root, 22, stops winding up Australian cricketers and focuses his energies on his cricket.
On Wednesday, Matt Prior paid tribute to Cook, saying he was "the greatest England player", which is not quite the same as saying he is the country's greatest batsman. Yet Cook, who is modest to a fault and does not sweat even in Perth's 100 degree heat, looked distinctly uncomfortable to be talked about in such terms. "It was nice of Matty to say those things but I would not put myself in that bracket," said Cook. "There are some great players who have played for England and Graham Gooch has always been my hero. To me, he's the greatest and always will be. Still, it is a huge honour for me to be joining the 100 Club, and one I never thought I'd get when I was starting off at Essex as a youngster. It is a special day."
In contrast to Cook, whose back has only started to play him up recently, Clarke's century of caps has been accomplished while battling a degenerative condition of the spine, an ailment not helped by carrying his team's batting in recent seasons. A more adventurous player and captain than Cook, he has been dropped during his career, an indignity not yet suffered by England's captain, who missed what would have been his third Test with a stomach upset in Mumbai. That blip apart, he has been a constant in England's rise to the summit of the Test rankings, and, should this series end in defeat, their fall from grace.
"Michael has had an incredible career," said Cook. "He's been the leading batsman over the past couple of years and he is very hard to bowl at. He takes the game by the scruff of the neck with his batting. We have had a fair few battles. It is great sharing the achievement of 100 Tests with him." Unlike Cook, Clarke does not know what it is like to win an Ashes series as captain, though that could soon change right here in Perth.