Ahmedabad: The pitch crumbled, but Cooky didn't.
Don't mind the spelling, because that's the name friends use while addressing Alastair Cook. But do not be surprised if the Indians name him Spooky. After what he did at Motera on Sunday, one can't blame Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Co. if they find the England captain scary.
Captain Cook, by the way, will also be an apt name as he saved the England ship from sinking on the fourth day of first Test. At stumps, England were 340 for five, ahead by 10 runs. Cook has single-handedly scored almost half of it ' 168. He is unbeaten after 505 minutes and 341 balls, hitting 20 boundaries.
This was Cook's third century in his third Test as captain. While the ongoing match is his first Test as the official captain, in the earlier two occasions he was filling in for Andrew Strauss.
Cast on an alien land and chased by demons of defeat, Cook's survival has been unbelievable… Unreal… When you consider the fact that Cook has been on the ground for almost the entire four days, either as a fielder or as a batsman, you know why England batting consultant Graham Gooch considers him as one of the best in the world.
But if Cook is Crusoe, then Matt Prior is his rightful Friday. When the distinguished Jonathan Trotts and Kevin Pietersens had departed, Prior, with his rather ordinary batting skills, proved that battles are won with common sense, not reputations. Batting on 84 at the close of play, Prior has so far shared a 141-run partnership for the sixth wicket with Cook.
Runs were never the priority for England, they needed to kill time. Cook and Prior just murdered it. From the Indian perspective, all they need is a wicket, as that will expose the England tail. And tails don't wag too often in Test matches.
Barring a charged up Umesh Yadav (2/60) and Pragyan Ojha's (2/102) occasional magic deliveries, the Indian bowling was pretty ordinary on Sunday. What hurt them most was Ravichandran Ashwin going wicketless in the 41 overs.
That English batting on subcontinent wickets is not always a wobbly skeleton was proved by the Cook and Compton stand on the third evening. And in Cook, they have a man who has been there and done that as far as daring the impossible is concerned.
In the Brisbane Test of November 2010, at the end of the third day's play, England, in their second innings, were 202 runs behind Australia's first innings total of 481. At crease were Cook and Strauss, facing the red-hot Peter Siddles. Having made just 260 in the first innings, defeat looked imminent for England. But Cook's unbeaten 235, along with Strauss and Trott's centuries, turned the match on its head and Australia had to settle for a draw.
England had begun the day with 219 runs in arrears and now they have a lead, no matter however little. So it's all in the mind, the willing suspension of disbelief, as the poet would say.
Earlier, when Dhoni missed an easy stumping of Compton, off Ashwin, in the sixth over of the day, one was tempted to feel that luck was England's twelfth man. Unfortunately, Compton (37) was not his Saturday self and when Zaheer Khan got one to reverse, he was caught plumb in front.
Two more wickets fell in the first session and Ojha got both. After inducing an outside edge of Trott (17), he fooled Pietersen (2) in flight to bowl him round the legs. With hopes receding at a frantic pace, one was not sure what Cook was saying when he looked skywards after reaching his 21st century… Was he expressing gratitude or was he requesting back-up? If it was the second, his prayers were definitely answered.
The negative publicity that England's frailties against spin have received of late would even put a Ram Gopal Varma movie to shame. But the fact is, that inner demons, and not a turning track or wily spinners, pose the biggest threat to the visitors. For the record, the Indian medium-pacers have taken five of the 15 wickets to fall so far. Umesh, armed with reverse swing and yorkers, trapped Ian Bell (22) and Samit Patel (0) leg before off consecutive deliveries on Sunday.
In a nutshell then, an interesting final day is on the cards… The Indian bowlers, after all, are no rookies, and Cooky knows that.