So that’s it, then. India have managed to discover another left-handed nemesis. Over the years, southpaws have come to this land, frustrated the home team and went away unscathed. Garry Sobers, Clive Lloyd, Allan Border, Matthew Hayden, Jimmy Adams, David Gower and England’s very own coach Andy Flower… the list is quite endless. Now India have realised, to their utter consternation, that Alastair Cook has joined the long list of left-handed baiters.
On Sunday, the England captain stood like the Rock of Gibraltar amid a cascade of wickets and dwindling fortunes as his team struggled to deal with the mounting pressure from the Indian bowlers. He batted through the day and led his side to a position that was unthinkable 24 hours ago. England can still lose the first Test, as England coach Graham Gooch admitted at the end of the day’s play, but they will go to Mumbai with a few positives.
The visitors have wiped out India’s lead and finished the fourth day with 10 runs ahead at 340 for five, a score that was inconceivable when Umesh Yadav delivered two lethal blows in the second session, but thanks to Cook’s monumental effort, England have survived to fight another day. Cook retired for the day at 168, after exhibiting relentless grind and mental fortitude for over 500 minutes.
It was the third consecutive century as captain for Cook, a 27-year Essex batsman, who had scored his previous two hundreds against Bangladesh when he was standing in for the now-retired Andrew Strauss. But Sunday’s effort was in different circumstances and of different class. With the team behind 330 runs and more than two days to save the Test, lesser mortals would have succumbed to the pressure.
But Cook exhibited a high degree of patience, perseverance and will power as he remarkably refused to be cowed down by the adverse situation. He went on and on, resolutely, showing amazing skills of batsmanship.
In his ‘save the Test mission’, Cook had an unlikely sidekick in Matt Prior, who remained unbeaten on 84. Together, the two have added 141 runs for the sixth wicket in 51 overs. With the pitch suddenly slowing down and not offering any assistance to the bowlers, batting in the middle was more mental than technical. The two stood up to the task showing extreme stubbornness.
Earlier, India’s hopes were raised by Zaheer Khan and Yadav. While Zaheer provided the much-needed breakthrough in the first session, accounting for Nick Compton, Yadav gave India a double breakthrough in the second, dismissing Ian Bell and Samit Patel off successive deliveries. At 199 for five, India were on top. It appeared the match could end on Sunday itself, but Cook and Prior had other ideas.
For India, it was a disappointing day for their spinners, particularly R Ashwin. The offie’s trump cards – doosra and carom ball – either have outlived their utility or have been sorted out by England. He went wicketless in 41 overs. Ojha, on the other hand, managed to remove Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen in quick succession in the morning session but he was never menacing. More than the two spinners, pacers Zaheer and Yadav looked more likely to get wickets.
The lead-up to the Test was dominated so much by England’s hysteric obsession for spin that the visitors appear to have not accounted for the Indian pacers. It is likely that Zaheer and Yadav have not figured in their preparations. That could come in handy for India who should still force a win at Motera.