Alastair Cook was set fair on 46 not out having ridden his luck at times. (Source: Reuters)
Alastair Cook, as unflappable as ever, led from the front in the final innings of his record-breaking test career as England built a commanding 154-run lead over India at the Oval on Sunday. Probably the longest standing ovation heard at the south London ground welcomed Cook to the crease for his 291st and last test knock midway through the late-summer afternoon.
England’s most prolific test run scorer began in nervy fashion as India battled hard to stay in contention on day three of the fifth and final match of the series. But by stumps he was set fair on 46 not out having ridden his luck at times in search of a second half century in his 161st test, having made a stubborn 71 on Friday.
Thirty more runs on Monday would take him past Sri Lankan Kumar Sangakkara’s 12,400 and into fifth on the all-time list.
With Joe Root looking fluent on 29 and England having eight wickets in hand Cook has every chance of signing off his magnificent international career with a victory.
India had mounted a spirited fightback earlier to limit their first-innings deficit to a modest 40 thanks to a superb 86 by Ravindra Jadeja and a debut half century from Hanuma Vihari. Having begun the day in a hole on 174-6 in reply to England’s 332, India were eventually all out for 292. India’s resistance frustrated James Anderson’s quest to grab the three wickets he needs to overtake Australia’s Glenn McGrath’s all-time test-wicket record of 563 for a fast bowler.
While all eyes were on Cook it was arguably a more important afternoon for fellow opener Keaton Jennings and his hopes of cementing his future as an England opener.
Jennings scratched around for 10 before offering no shot to a Mohammed Shami delivery to be clean bowled — extending his run of test innings without a half century to 18.
Once again India’s seam attack bowled with menace and at one stage delivered 31 dot balls before Cook broke the siege.
Moeen Ali was fortunate to survive when his attempted drive off Ishant Sharma took a thick edge and flew head high to KL Rahul at second slip but he dropped the chance.
Cook took the lead past 100 but India made a timely breakthrough as Jadeja tempted Moeen into a drive and bowled him through the gate out of the rough.
With clutches of wickets falling late on the previous two days India’s hopes of a consolation win to end a losing series remained just about intact but Root and Cook were taking the game away from them by the close.
with the Express Morning Briefing