If cricket thrives on an element of imperfection, then Alastair Cook could be doing it a serious disservice. He has made it known — and loudly enough — that only a ball in a thousand or a freak dismissal will dislodge him from the wicket. So unflappable has he looked that when he did offer a chance or two, India were found in slumberland.
On 156, Cook drove Ishant Sharma uppishly but the bowler fluffed the return catch (make that two drops in two days, the earlier one by Cheteshwar Pujara on Thursday). That was the hosts’ last chance to have a toe in the door where this Test was concerned.
At 509 for six on Day Three, a lead of 193, England may think that one session of batting on Saturday should be enough.
Briefly on Friday, the Indian spinners did have a sniff at wickets. R Ashwin, who finally found an off-stump length in the morning before going back to his favourite middle-and-leg region, was denied the leg-before rewards against Cook and Jonathan Trott. Pragyan Ojha, too, got past the England captain’s lunging bat, a rare visual here for the home side.
But it wasn’t long before the Indian attack started losing weight. Cook worked the quicks around, and Jonathan Trott, for once coming good, creamed Ashwin past covers as England seemed poised to relentlessly bat India out of the Test.
The surface, meanwhile, was showing certain signs of alarm. Cook somehow dead-batted an Ishant delivery that cocked up awkwardly. Another ball from a nearly similar length travelled to MS Dhoni at ankle height. And this was just the third day. A crumbling strip and Monty Panesar are an unnerving thought if you are the Indian captain.
That may have only goaded the two England batsmen who, besides looking at a lead of 350, were heading towards their own landmarks: Cook was inching closer to another double and Trott to a hundred.
A wicket came like a flash: Trott hung his bat to an Ojha delivery and Dhoni latched on to the chance. But could India net the big fish? So long as Cook was around, runs streamed over the field. He stepped out to Ashwin to deposit him over long-on, conjuring up memories of the 294 at Edgbaston (2011) against the same side.
Finally, it needed a freak act of providence to end the Cook marathon. As Kevin Pietersen and Cook set off for a run, Virat Kohli chanced his arm for a possible direct hit. Quite bizarrely, Cook, sensing that the ball might hit him, tried to get out of the way of the throw. The skipper had, however, failed to ground his bat and the Virat hit splintered the stumps. Cook trudged back 10 short of a deserving double. Perhaps, he could draw comfort from the fact that the damage had been well and duly done, even though India did extract three more wickets later.
Pietersen, with confidence sky high, flayed his nemesis in Ahmeda-bad (Ojha) for three successive boundaries before carting him for a straight six. Dhoni had even summoned Pietersen’s bunny (Yuvraj Singh) to create a wicket-taking opportunity as soon as he arrived. But bar a wide ball that Pietersen almost chopped to the stumps, he sauntered his way to a polished half-century.
The lead continued to swell, with Matt Prior and Graeme Swann extinguishing the last light out of India. England are yet to declare, but what batting fare India will offer in the fourth innings is already the talking point.