Alastair Cook’s final serving: A 147 run knock
One last time, he walked to the crease and three hours later, when he walked off, the reaction was similar. Every soul at the Oval, barring the ones belonging to the Indian dressing room, willed him to get a final Test hundred.
This has been a series of great imbalance. The pendulum swings from one end to the other, without settling at one end for too long. For anybody looking to challenge the implication of a 3-1 scoreline needs only to be reminded of this unquantifiable detail.
Within the definition of a close series though, there’ve been certain facts that can’t be denied. While both bowling attacks have made hay, their batting lineups have come under sharp criticism. Even therein, England leaned heavily on their lower-order, while India relied on one batsman.
This fifth Test, even though a dead rubber, has been no different. Yet, on the best batting wicket of the series, it was a gauntlet thrown down to both English and Indian batsmen to come up good for once. It made for an interesting setting first up, and a brilliant narrative later on, with two stalwarts of Test cricket — Alastair Cook and James Anderson — playing their part.
By the end of day four, one had lost count of the number of standing ovations Cook has received in this Test alone. To say he’s a fan favourite would be an understatement. He’s loved here in England, perhaps like no other cricketer has been in recent times, and we’re talking a couple decades at least. He’s the quintessential Englishman — well educated, mild mannered, a family man, and on top of that a Test cricketer, one of the last of a rare kind.
Cook is the best representation of Test cricket’s continuous battle between bat and ball. That romance emanating when you shoulder arms to the ball, as well as the anticipation of a forward defence. He will bid adieu as the greatest left-hander to have played the game, at least in terms of runs scored — 12,472.
Monday was all about Cook, for the first two sessions undoubtedly. One last time, he walked to the crease and three hours later, when he walked off, the reaction was similar. Every soul at the Oval, barring the ones belonging to the Indian dressing room, willed him to get a final Test hundred. And Cook didn’t disappoint, putting in a grind that will forever be reminiscent of his entire Test career.
This innings — spanning 389 minutes — was longest he has batted in this series. In fact, it was longer than the sum of all eight innings before this.
Prior to this Test, he had managed only 109 runs in seven innings and since the retirement announcement, there was relief writ large on his face. His entire demeanour had changed, replaced instead by dogged determination to celebrate his one last outing.
And he did celebrate, with the entire country, as records tumbled — going past Kumar Sangakkara in Test runs and past Steve Waugh in Test centuries. Cook basked in glory that was richly deserved and well earned. Then, he passed the baton on to his teammate in the final session.
And before stumps, India were down in the dumps again when Virat Kohli was out for a golden duck for only the third time in his Test career.
In pursuit of 464, or rather an unlikely draw, James Anderson grasped his opportunity and equalled Glenn McGrath for 563 wickets with Shikhar Dhawan and Cheteshwar Pujara trapped plumb in front.
Once again, it left the Indian middle order exposed, ridiculed even for their top-order failed to get going on a pitch where Cook and Joe Root added 259 runs for the third wicket. More importantly, it underlined the basic cause of their series’ loss here. There is no spine in this batting line-up, not unless Kohli scores and hauls them to a safe total. As the series moves on to its final day though, irrespective of the scoreline, the contrast between the two sides couldn’t be clearer.