SOUTHAMPTON, United Kingdom: England captain Alastair Cook fell agonisingly short of ending his barren spell without a Test hundred as he led from the front against India at Southampton yesterday.
Cook won the toss and then made 95, having been dropped early on, out of England’s 247 for two at stumps on the first day of the third Test.
Batsman Gary Ballance, who helped his captain put on 158 for the second wicket, succeeded where Cook had failed by reaching three figures to be 104 not out at the close.
Ian Bell was 16 not out.
His innings meant the Zimbabwe-born Ballance, who’d repeatedly come in with England in difficulty, had now scored three hundreds and two fifties in his six Tests.
An India attack missing injured paceman Ishant Sharma, whose career-best seven for 74 sealed their 95-run win in the second Test at Lord’s, was unable to pose much of a physical threat on an even-paced pitch.
But if those circumstances were in Cook’s favour, he knew it was more than a year since he had scored the last of his England record 25 Test hundreds.
Several ex-England skippers, the latest being Test exile Kevin Pietersen on Saturday, had called for Cook to resign as captain.
But the undaunted Cook, despite his run drought and with England 1-0 down in the five-match series, opted to bat first on a green-tinged surface.
Cook edged the first ball of the match, from Bhuvneshwar Kumar, just short of the slips.
He then had a huge let-off on 15 when he opened the face as he pushed out to 6ft 6in Test debutant Pankaj Singh, Ishant Sharma’s replacement, and got a thick outside edge only for Ravindra Jadeja to drop a seemingly simple catch at third slip.
But a first-wicket partnership worth 55 ended when Sam Robson fell in familiar fashion.
Mohammed Shami squared up the Australia-born opener and this time Jadeja held the catch. Shami also beat Cook outside off stump.
But two cut fours off spinners Rohit Sharma, recalled in place of dropped all-rounder Stuart Binny, and Jadeja took the 29-year-old Cook to 48 not out at lunch.
Cook completed a 98-ball fifty with a pulled two off Shami as the crowd signalled its support with a standing ovation, an unusual accolade for a half-century.
At tea, England were 186 for one, with Cook 82 not out and Ballance 72 not out.
But Cook’s near five-hour innings ended when, swiping at a long hop from left-arm spinner Jadeja, he got a bottom edge and was caught down the legside by wicketkeeper and opposing captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Umpire Marais Erasmus took his time before giving Cook out but replays proved the South African correct.
Cook received another standing ovation as he walked back having faced 231 balls including nine fours.
England were now 213 for two and were fortunate not to lose Bell, without a hundred in his previous 19 Test innings, when he survived an lbw appeal from Singh after the bowler’s excellent outswinger rapped him on the pads.
Singh deserved better than his figures of none for 62 in 20 overs but his was just one of several economical contributions as India’s bowlers kept England to a run-rate of under three an over throughout the day.
Yorkshire left-hander Ballance late cut Shami for four to complete a 189-ball hundred including 15 boundaries that followed the 24-year-old’s 110 at Lord’s
England made three changes from the side that lost the second Test, bringing in debutant wicketkeeper Jos Buttler for the injured Matt Prior while all-rounders Chris Jordan and Chris Woakes replaced fast bowler Liam Plunkett and Ben Stokes respectively.