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The top five farewells in the history of sports

The top five farewells in the history of sports

Alastair Cook signed off in style this week, but who else from the world of sports chose the perfect moment to depart?

ALASTAIR Cook bowed out of international cricket with his finest display for years, pulling, driving, and cutting 218 runs as England completed a 4-1 series win over India. Though inevitably there are calls for Cook to continue, he has bowed out gloriously, on his own terms - surely the aim of every professional sports man or woman.

Who else, we wondered, had also quit while they were ahead? 

1) Kobe Bryant

Of his 1,346 regular-season games, Bryant hit 60 points on just six occasions. Prior to his final outing, it was only five. For despite the waning powers, the creeping age, and the significant downturn his once-dominant Los Angeles Lakers had taken, Bryant was able to roll back the years on his last appearance in front of his adoring Staples Centre crowd, and reach a personal high he hadn't hit for seven years.

Bryant's 60 points came from 50 shots - more than anyone had taken in the NBA in more than 30 years - but his relentless accuracy assured his last match wouldn't be as easily forgettable as those of Michael Jordan (15 points), Charles Barkley (2 points), and Shaquille O'Neal (0 points).

2) Didier Drogba

Between 2004 and 2012, Chelsea won 10 trophies with Drogba, a prolific scorer of goals in finals, arguably the key player in those successes. Drogba scored in eight separate finals for Chelsea, nine goals in total, and fittingly, saved his personal best for the very last moment.

Drogba had scored the winning goal in 2012's League Cup Final against Liverpool, but a fortnight later, facing a treble-chasing Bayern Munich in the Champions League final - on their own patch no less - Chelsea were staring down the barrel of defeat following Thomas Muller's 83rd-minute opener. Drogba saved Chelsea's bacon by powering home a header before, inevitably, slotting the decisive penalty in the shoot-out.

Drogba bowed out having sealed the highest prize for his club with his final kick though ruined the fairy tale by returning two years later to play another 40 games, failing even to score in the League Cup final as Chelsea saw off Tottenham. Alastair Cook, take note.

3) John Elway

At one stage in John Elway's Super Bowl career, going out on a high seemed more like relief than realism. Between 1987 and 1990, Elway's Broncos lost three finals. In 1998 however, Denver reached the summit again with defending champions, Green Bay Packers, standing between them and glory. Elway performed well, throwing 123 yards and running in a touchdown as the Broncos took the game 31-24. Quit while you're ahead, right? Not quite.

Elway was eager for more. Sure enough, the Broncos reached yet another Super Bowl the following season and this time, Elway dominated. 336 passing yards, a touchdown, and the coveted MVP award. Then he retired. Now that's how to do it. Three Super Bowl defeats then back-to-back titles to seal a place in history and a perfect goodbye.

4) Ray Bourque

Bourque's farewell party takes some beating. Despite being the greatest defenceman in NHL history - holding the record for goals, assists, and points - Bourque never managed to win the Stanley Cup in his 20-year stay with the Boston Bruins. Bourque appeared in the All-Star team a record 13 times, and at one stage, was rated as the 14th best NHL player of all-time despite that glaring omission on his CV.

Winding down a professional career that started in 1979, Bourque joined Colorado Avalanche in 2000. Two years later, having scored a powerplay goal in the season-ending final against defending champs, New Jersey Devils, he held the coveted trophy in his hands. Bourque's 1,612th and final NHL contest delivered his one and only Stanley Cup trophy. 22 years and out for the best defenceman ice hockey has ever seen.

5) Alastair Cook

Well, we couldn't leave him out! Cook boasts the most caps, consecutive appearances, runs, hundreds, catches, and wins in an England shirt but, as staggeringly impressive as that is, he was in dreadful form heading into his swansong. Prior to the Oval farewell, Cook had scored a century just four times in 75 innings. In fact, he'd only passed 50 on 16 occasions. He was averaging 18.6 in 2018, and just 15.6 in the current series with India.

But as Cook strode out to bat, something was different. The pressure, the anxiety had lifted - he was free to bat. And bat he did, firstly with a stylish 71 to set up a first innings lead for England, then with an exquisite 147 to hammer home the advantage. Cook's 33rd century for his country ensured he became only the fifth man to reach three figures in his first and final Test matches. Though there are calls for Cook to carry on, and sure he's young enough to do that, The Oval farewell was surely too perfect to tamper with.






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Chris Smith
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