Cook’s batting revival inspires England victory to level series
England captain Alastair Cook has now gone 29 Test innings without a century, but the Essex opener has surely silenced his barrage of critics, at least for now, following his 95 and 70 not out against India.
As a result of his top order exploits, his side beat visitors India in the third Test of the five-match series, to level the scores to 1-1. After victory in the battle at the Rose Bowl, England are now favourites at 6/5 to win the war. A draw, meanwhile, is 9/4.
Cook’s captaincy has come under much scrutiny in recent months from former national skippers, after his run drought and defensive and unimaginative tactics contributed to their thrashing in the last Ashes series in Australia and 1-0 home loss to Sri Lanka.
But the 29-year-old and England’s all-round performance in Southampton was superb, and the 13-man squad, which is unchanged for the fourth Test at Old Trafford, will hope to build on that and finish off the series. They are 11/8 favourites to win the penultimate match in Manchester, while a draw is priced at 7/4.
Head coach Peter Moores said of his skipper: “[Cook] knew he had to deliver. You know you’re under pressure as an international player, especially as an international captain. He was getting to the point for him he really wanted to add something.”
“For Alastair he wanted to be contributing to the team he’s captaining. In this match he’s had a huge influence, not only as a batter, but as a captain so he can be very proud.”
However, Moores will know that the series is far from over, and there is still a lot of work to do against India, who are ranked one place above England in the Test rankings in fourth.
Despite Cook putting England off to a solid start in the first innings, he was actually perhaps overshadowed by three others. New star Gary Ballance and elder statesman Ian Bell both scored 150s, while Test debutant and stand-in wicketkeeper for Matt Prior, Jos Buttler, smashed 85 off just 83 balls. England finished the innings declaring on 569-7.
India then went into bat, but could manage just 330, with the top score of 54 coming from Ajinkya Rahane, with Man of the Match James Anderson taking bowling figures of 5-53.
Cook then had the option to enforce the visitors to follow on, but decided to give his bowlers a rest and instead lead himself out to build an even greater lead. The captain was impressive again, hitting an unbeaten 70, aided by Yorkshireman starlet Joe Root who got 56.
Again England declared, this time on 205-4 near the end of day four, setting a target of 445 to win. India managed 112 runs in the evening session, but at a loss of four wickets. The tourists were then skittled out on day five, 178 all out, before lunch, with part-time spinner Moeen Ali taking career-best figures of 6-67.
“I’m pleased, very pleased for the lads and everyone else in the set-up,” Moores also said. “Everyone has been working very hard over the last few months to get a win. It was important to get back into the series, get it back to 1-1 with two to play. That was something that we were aiming for in this Test match.
“We needed a win, of that there was no doubt and get some confidence. You’re trying to get some connections to people about how you do things and I think there’s enough from this game and how we played that we can talk about after this that if we play this sort of cricket we’ve got a great chance of winning Test matches.
“If you don’t get over the line it’s not as easy for maybe a young player to actually understand that actually this is the way we’ve got to play our cricket if we’re to be successful.”
So what next for England’s record century-maker Cook? A hundred would still be nice of course (he is 4/1 to be top batsman for his side in the first innings at Old Trafford), but the pressure is certainly not off him to produce. As he proved, if he scores high, it brings confidence to the rest of the team.
There was talk before the previous match to drop Cook as captain for the Rose Bowl, but it seems there is no doubt he will be in charge for the fourth test now.