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Alastair Cook revels in dual role to give England hope

Monday, 19 November 2012 - 8:39am IST | Place: Ahmedabad | Agency: Daily Telegraph

India must bat again after captain stays cool under pressure to build unbroken 141-run alliance with Prior.

We knew Alastair Cook was a resolute batsman of the highest class but what we did not know was how successful he would be in combining that with the demanding second job of captaining England.

Yesterday (Sunday), after three wretched days for his team, he gave us our answer in the most emphatic fashion after making an unbeaten 168 that had India tensing with every passing minute.

By the end of the day, it was already an epic of almost 81/2 hours, irrespective of the result of the match.

The English psyche loves a rearguard, and Cook did not disappoint. Although he did not manage to quite score 100 runs in the day - he began it on 74 - it was still a supreme effort which, along with Matt Prior's impressive unbeaten 84, took England into the lead for the first time in the Test, though at the close they were essentially 10 for five with one day remaining.

The century was Cook's third in as many Tests as captain, having twice led England in Bangladesh 21/2 years ago while Andrew Strauss took a break, a statistic which makes him unique in the annals of the game.

Not that we should have doubted his ability to multi-task for a single moment. Cook may be less articulate in explaining himself than Strauss, the man from whom he took over as captain, and he may run between the wickets like a Keystone Kop, but he is redoubtable and, on the evidence here, more resourceful than his predecessor.

Strauss made three hundreds in Asia, but Cook now has five as well as two 94s this year, one in Sri Lanka and one against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi, where the pitch was subcontinental in all but geography.

Cook may struggle for column inches over here following the death and funeral of controversial politician Bal Thackeray, the founder of Shiv Sena, a right-wing Hindu party. However, his innings has certainly been special, being the highest by an England captain in India, beating the 144 Kevin Pietersen made in Mohali three years ago, and the longest by an England player in a follow-on.

England were under the cosh when Pietersen played his knock but the conditions were nothing like they were yesterday in Ahmedabad, with the ball spinning sharply and the smoke from the wreckage of -England's first innings still lingering in the nostrils.

One of Cook's outstanding -qualities is that he appears impervious to such pressures. Like a computer, he can click and refresh to face every ball anew, something he needed to do with Pragyan Ojha and Ravichandran Ashwin getting more than the -occasional ball to spit sideways off the pitch.

Until Prior brought similar assets of defiance and skill to stay with him, Cook must have feared a pasting as batsmen came and went at the other end. The 141-run alliance between him, a man who does not perspire, and Prior, who sweats copiously, has at least brought some honour where only bad odour had threatened -previously.

Having begun the fourth day on 74, with his team inauspiciously placed on the Nelson (111), Cook largely batted as he did in the first innings until lured from his plan by a juicy wide ball to drive from Ashwin. This time he was not tempted into indiscretion by him or anyone else, cutting out the sweep shot too, at least when Ojha was bowling around the wicket when the angle would have brought lbw into play.

Given the broken nature of the pitch, India's spinners must have been disappointed with their performance, with Ashwin in particular, unable to get enough energy on the ball often enough to defeat determined batsmen and an increasingly sluggish pitch. Instead, it was left to Zaheer Khan, India's canny old swinger, to end Nick Compton's impressive vigil with an lbw that looked perilously close to pitching outside leg-stump.

The breach made, spin was employed once more, with Ojha eventually dismissing Jonathan Trott, caught by MS Dhoni off a snorter that turned and bounced, before bowling Pietersen behind his legs, having also breached his defences in the first innings.

A tall man, Pietersen does get himself into a tangle against left-arm spin, though there is also something about the angle left-armers bowl from that seems to scramble Pietersen's already hyperactive mind, forcing him to make spectacularly bad decisions early in his innings.

At this point it looked a matter of time before England headed back to their hotel one down in the series, a notion that was strengthened when Umesh Yadav, cleverly harnessing some reverse-swing, had Ian Bell and Samit Patel lbw in successive balls, though Snicko suggested that Patel probably got a thin inside edge on his.

Reverse-swing was what England's bowlers were meant to trouble India with here but Yadav, apart from being the fastest bowler in the match, neatly reversed the roles.

Bell now heads back home to attend the birth of his first child, knowing he will probably not regain his place when he returns for the third Test unless his replacement, probably Jonny Bairstow but possibly Eoin Morgan, makes an even bigger hash than he has.

Fortunately for England, Cook did not misstep once yesterday, though India felt Ojha had him lbw on 41 when he missed a sweep.

With Prior finding that elusive balance between aggression and organised defence, the pair at least took the game into the final day and made India bat again, an achievement that looked pure fantasy when they followed on 330 runs behind on a crumbling pitch on Saturday afternoon.

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