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Nov
18

Cook keeps fighting, but England slipSome captains lead by rousing speeches, some by intricate tactical theories. Alastair Cook leads by example. Three times he has captained England in Tests and three times he has produced a century in response.

His first two hundreds, in Bangladesh two years ago as Andrew Strauss had a sabbatical, helped to win the series. He has now followed up with a hundred in Motera, a hundred of striking certainty considering the circumstances. It might not save the Ahmedabad Test, it might not even force India to bat again, but it showed impressive resolve at a time when England desperately needed it.

This was a phlegmatic hundred based on a confidence that his defensive technique provided a stable basis for a prolonged innings. Exquisite timing off his body gave him a boundary through midwicket off Umesh Yadav to reach 96 and he brought up his 21st Test century by quietly tucking the same bowler into the leg side.

India took three England wickets on the fourth morning, leaving them still 148 runs behind with seven wickets remaining. The weekend crowds have been much bigger (there are no official figures, not even guestimates), renewing hope that an attractive Test can still draw the crowds. The prospect of Indian domination on a turning pitch has appealed.

While Cook proceeded serenely through the 90s, all sorts of turmoil ensued 22 yards away as Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen both parted company, Pietersen to left-arm spin yet again. Nick Compton had gone earlier, a troubled half-hour in marked contrast to his equilibrium on the third evening as England had reached stumps at 111 without loss.

Zimbabwe drew a Test in Nagpur 12 years ago after following on when Andy Flower, now England’s director of cricket, batted for more than nine hours for an unbeaten double century, his highest Test score, on a tour that cemented his reputation as one of the best players of spin in the world.

How he must yearn for England’s batsmen to show some of the same attributes as they struggle to arrest a nightmarish year on Asian pitches. They tried to formulate a method in a session where the run rate was only 2.2 runs an over, but Cook apart it had the air of students sitting an unloved examination with pencils shoved firmly in mouths.

Compton resisted in workmanlike manner. He won an England Test debut by stripping down his game at Somerset and becoming reliant on a solid defensive technique. In this Test, he has stripped it down some more, spending 181 balls in the match for scores of 9 and 37.

In the half hour or so he survived, he lacked the certainty of the previous evening. He was fortunate to survive an lbw appeal from R Ashwin – another wicket that an Indian spinner might have gained had DRS been in place – and, when he tried to advance down the pitch to Ashwin, MS Dhoni missed a stumping. A single to Yuvraj Singh at point was also a bit too tight for Cook’s liking. He finally succumbed to Zaheer, who swung one back to have him lbw.

Zaheer bowled a good, combative spell, less regimented – and quicker – than his England counterparts. He mixed up his approach to combat what, for the quicker bowlers, remained a discouraging surface, but the real battle was joined when India’s spinners once again pitted their wits against uncertain England batsmen.

The pitch, dry and cracked, had an appearance to gladden any spinner’s heart, but the sharp turn of the second evening was again absent. Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha had to work hard for success. Ojha switched ends to remove Trott with one that turned more sharply, bringing a catch for Dhoni.

It was a hot day, no problem for Cook who since his Test debut century in Nagpur has shown his ability to cope with the hottest conditions. Famously, he does not sweat unduly; a contrast to Pietersen, who in this Test has looked so angsty he could drown in his own perspiration.

Pietersen’s first innings had involved a series of cavalier advances down the pitch. On this occasion, he had little time for such fripperies, attempting an ungainly pre-meditated sweep to the sixth ball he faced, from Ojha, and hearing the sound of ball against leg stump as a full-length ball bowled him around his legs.

Pietersen does not have a problem against left-arm spin apparently. And bees do not buzz and there is never honey for tea.

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