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  • England v India, 3rd Test, Ageas Bowl, 1st day

Cook falls five short of century

The Report by George Binoy
July 27, 2014
Alistair Cook nicked an attempted leg glance through to MS Dhoni on 95 © PA Photos
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England 247 for 2 (Cook 95, Ballance 104*) v India
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Alastair Cook took a step towards quelling some of the criticism he has been bombarded with recently by making his highest score since his last Test hundred in May 2013.

He laid a foundation for England's large first-innings score during a 158-run association with Gary Ballance, who, unlike his captain, is enjoying a productive summer and scored his third hundred to go with two half-centuries in only six Tests. Cook now needs his tactical decisions to pay off to earn breathing space on the captaincy front.

Cook had the sort of fortune an under-pressure captain needs when chasing a 1-0 deficit in the series. England's first break came before play began when India's Man of the Match at Lord's, Ishant Sharma, was ruled out with an ankle injury. Cook then won the toss on a pitch that left MS Dhoni undecided about whether to bat or bowl had he called correctly, but the hard and grassy surface offered limited swing and seam movement to India's quicks.

Both those pieces of luck would have amounted to naught, however, had Ravindra Jadeja held a straightforward chance. Cook was on 15 at the time and the debutant Pankaj Singh, Ishant's replacement, missed out on a maiden Test wicket.

The first delivery of the match was perfect from Bhuvneshwar. He pitched on a good length around off, drew the batsman forward, wobbled the ball a bit and found the edge. Cook looked behind to see the chance fall short of second slip, an immediate sign it was going to be his day.

Unlike at Lord's, Cook stood outside his crease in this innings to counter Bhuvneshwar's swing. It worked, and when he was beaten the ball missed the edge. The plan was trickier to execute against the taller Pankaj, though. He bent a few deliveries back into Cook, before getting one to straighten off a good length. Pankaj had taken 300 first-class wickets before getting a Test debut, and he could have had a wicket in his third over had Jadeja been competent at third slip. It was the fifth catch India had put down in the cordon this series.

Sam Robson fell against the run of play. He had been moving forward smoothly until he stayed in his crease and prodded away at Shami's outswinger. This time Jadeja held the catch at third slip, ending the partnership on 55, England's first 50-plus opening in 10 innings.

Cook brought up his half-century soon after lunch, pulling a short delivery from Shami for two. There was no release of emotion as he received a standing ovation. Instead, he pulled the next short one for four.

India bowled too straight or too wide at Ballance, who scored his first 10 runs between backward square and midwicket and then began hitting the ball through point whenever he had width, which was often. Cook and Ballance picked on the shorter lengths from India's quicks, and while Jadeja's left-arm spin offered India economy, it did not do much else apart from ensuring an outstanding over rate.

India had another opportunity to dismiss Cook, but Shami missed a direct hit from mid-on, and when the batsman scored his 70th run he moved past David Gower to take third spot among England's leading run-scorers.

While Cook scored at a careful pace, Ballance gave England an infusion of energy in the last half hour before tea. He was adept at putting away anything wide, and peppered the arc between third man and cover with a series of cuts and drives to help England score 108 in the second session.

India's seamers frequently bowled poor lines and lengths - too straight and too short. Ballance fed off deliveries on his hips, while Cook moved into the nineties with a controlled pull off a half-tracker from Shami.

Like Robson, Cook was also dismissed against the run of play. On 95, he went back to pull a delivery from Jadeja that was sliding down leg and Dhoni caught the bottom edge. The Ageas Bowl had been preparing to celebrate Cook's hundred but the spectators rose in unison to applaud the England captain.

India then made an unsuccessful appeal against Ian Bell as soon as the new ball was taken, when Pankaj squared the batsman up and struck the pad with a delivery that behaved like a fast legcutter. Replays indicated Pankaj had been unlucky; Bell had not yet scored.

Ballance had no such worries. He carved a length ball from Bhuvneshwar over point to enter the nineties, and then rode the bounce to cut Shami to the third-man boundary to bring up a hundred.

George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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