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Alastair Cook and Matt Prior give England hope in first Test in India

England captain Alastair Cook speaks during a press conference at Lord's Cricket Ground, London. Photo credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire England captain Alastair Cook speaks during a press conference at Lord's Cricket Ground, London. Photo credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Sunday, November 18, 2012
1:09 PM

Alastair Cook’s historic tour de force century took England’s brave struggle to save the first Test into an unexpected final day.

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Cook (168 not out) became the only batsman to make a hundred in his first three Tests as captain, his previous successes as Andrew Strauss’ deputy in Bangladesh two-and-a-half years ago before his permanent appointment for this four-match series.

He would doubtless swap any personal glory for a feat of collective escapology against India here, after England yesterday conceded a first-innings deficit of 330.

Following his unbroken sixth-wicket stand of 141 with Matt Prior (84no), there were some who dared to believe the improbable might just be possible after all too.

Despite Cook’s heroics, wickets began to fall at the other end on day four - twice in pairs, first for the addition of only four runs and then none when Umesh Yadav put himself on a hat-trick.

But in the doughty Prior, the captain finally found the lasting support he so badly needed and deserved as his near eight-and-a-half-hour triumph of technique and determination on a surface increasingly favouring spin underpinned a stumps total of 340 for five which sneaked England into a lead of 10.

Cook’s 21st Test hundred took him past his mentor, and England’s current batting coach, Graham Gooch in the list of those to make the most for his country.

Ahead of him still are Geoff Boycott, Colin Cowdrey and Wally Hammond on 22 - and level are Strauss and Kevin Pietersen. Cook and Nick Compton’s century opening stand continued this morning, until the debutant faltered.

Compton had nonetheless eaten up 128 balls and lasted 45 overs for his 37 runs - a handy contribution in the context of the match - before he toppled over in defence against Zaheer Khan’s left-arm inswing, and fell lbw.

Jonathan Trott then appeared to be getting himself in, after his first-innings duck, and could hardly be criticised for edging behind on the forward-defence when Pragyan Ojha turned one sharply from a perfect line and length.

Pietersen has long disputed he has a weakness to left-arm spin, but fell to that variety for the 25th time in his career when Ojha followed up yesterday’s success against him.

Bowled middle stump playing inside one that turned then, this time Pietersen got so far across to sweep that he was bowled round his legs by a delivery that took the off bail.

Ian Bell was under extreme pressure after his rush of blood against Ojha, and the resulting embarrassment of a golden duck yesterday.

But he confidently drove his second ball from the same bowler through extra cover for four, and soon afterwards Cook completed his 181-ball century in more prosaic fashion with a push for two into the leg side off Yadav.

Bell went in early afternoon, the first of two lbws in two deliveries for Yadav - thanks to reverse swing, with a ball almost 80 overs old.

Both Bell and then Samit Patel could have just as easily survived, each time the ball shaping in towards the outer limit of leg stump, with a suspicion of inside edge on the second occasion.

Prior top-scored in an England first innings he himself described as a “shocker” last night, and it was soon clear he retained an appetite to try to put things right.

Like Cook, his second attempt was chanceless - although both could have had few complaints to go lbw to Ojha, the opener on 41 and Prior on 65.

If they had one minor piece of good fortune each, it was earned.

Cook barely put a foot wrong throughout, and never wavered in stamina-sapping heat and glare.

Prior, like his captain, employed impeccable shot selection - and when, inevitably, they were beaten by the spin of Ojha and the wicketless Ravichandran Ashwin they did not fret about what was still to come, and were therefore able to withstand it.

This was not mere survival either, and it was testament to England’s resourcefulness that their two first-innings tormentors have each conceded more than 100 runs second time round.

Cook and Prior’s combined efforts may yet prove in vain, but acknowledgment is due already for taking this previously one-sided match much deeper than so many so knowingly predicted after England’s initial haplessness.

:: India opener Gautam Gambhir did not take the field this morning, having flown to Delhi following the death of his grandmother.

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