Alastair Cook is expected to go misty-eyed when the two teams line-up for the traditional ‘end of the game handshake’ at this final Test. He shouldn’t be blamed for being too expressive in case he earnestly grabs those kind palms that have floored his edges, firmly, to show his heart-felt gratitude. Nor will it be out of place if he walks up to MS Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja, Murali Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane and whispers: “Thanks for everything.”
When you have foes with butterfingers, who needs friends? On Day Two, India’s erratic bowling and inconsistent catching behind the stumps gifted Cook more runs than his form merited, and that in turn made England look more ruthless than they actually were. Two dropped catches by Vijay and Rahane helped the home skipper score an important 79. And a chanceless 129-ball 92 by Joe Root took England to 385/7 at stumps. With their lead swelling to 237 runs, England’s march towards 3-1, that had got a flying start on Day 1, continued to run ahead of schedule.
India were the perfect guest, who didn’t believe in spoiling parties. After ensuring that Cook found his way back as a batsman, the Indians are now making it certain that he leads his team home comfortably. Had Jadeja caught Cook at Southampton in the third Test, his scoring sequence from the first 5 outing of the series would have been 5, DNB, 10, 22 and 14. That costly reprieve would prove to be the window that cricketers of Cook’s class need to get out of form slump. The poor 14 would change to a watershed 95 and that knock would be followed by scores of 70, 17 and a 79 with two dropped catches on Saturday.
Ironically, the two Cook lives came about in the session that India dominated, their first after the Lord’s win. This was thanks to Varun Aaron, who was running in fast from round the wicket to the two left-handers, Cook and Gary Ballance, pitched the ball up and got late swing. He repeatedly caught Cook in the crease. The probing line assured that the newly improved Cook’s stride forward was conspicuous by its absence. Focusing on outside the off-stump line, the boy from Jharkhand made the England skipper to edge the ball to Vijay at first slip, that jinxed fielding spot where most catches have been dropped in this series. The record was not to improve.
R Ashwin from the other end was bowling those wicked and loopy off-spinners that were actually baits thrown at batsmen to play that risky cut shot. Since his return to form, the left-hander had hidden that one-time favourite shot of his in the closet.
Back among runs, now he felt confident continued…