In a tour that has lasted more than two months, for the first time the Indian team looked like they couldn’t wait to catch the flight out of England. There has been the odd day where England dominated proceedings before (Lord’s, for instance) but never did it look like the Indian team wasn’t up for the fight. But on the penultimate day of this series, it was all England.
And it was all about Alastair Cook.
Fairytales do happen, tweeted former England captain Michael Vaughan. Even Kevin Pietersen (that old foe of Cook) mentioned that very word. It was nothing short of that for Cook, who finished his marvelous Test career just as he began.
With a fifty and a hundred in two innings against India. The journey that began in Nagpur, came to a rousing end at The Oval. The seemingly never-ending ovation that he got from the 17,000-large crowd at the ground when he reached his 33rd and final Test hundred will go down as one of the cricketing moments of the year.
There was something surreal about the England crowd embracing the man who has played 161 Tests and 92 ODIs in this era of white-ball overdose. For every one of us who is a Test match romantic, that just felt... right. He is not a flamboyant cricketer, he is a rare left-hander who can make cover drives look dull, but he is a Test cricketer out and out.
His final innings was the perfect embodiment of that. Just ask Mohammed Shami, who ran in, bowled his heart out, beat Cook’s outside edge over and over again, but could never get him out. All he got was a wry smile from the former England captain, when he middled a perfect forward defensive shot at the end of an over where he’d been beaten thrice, at the stroke of tea on day three. That summed up Cook as a Test batsman. For him, all that mattered was the next ball.
And thus, he soldiered on. With an increasingly tired Indian bowling attack, that would eventually lose the services of the man who has tormented him — Ishant Sharma bowled just one over on day four before an ankle issue ended his tour early — Cook got into the zone as the innings progressed.
After having missed out on a ton in the first innings due to a momentary lapse of concentration, he was not going to repeat that again in his final outing. He was not going to disappoint a near full-house on a Monday, most of whom had turned up with chef hats, some in full chef costumes.
One by one, the milestones at stake were being ticked off the list. Score a half century in both innings of the first and final Test? Check. Go past 12,400 Test runs and become the highest scoring left-hander of all time, beating Kumar Sangakkara? Check. Be involved in a 200-run partnership with his captain? Check. And most importantly, become the fifth player in Test cricket history to score a 100 in his first and last match? Check.
Ultimately, you didn’t have to be an England fan to appreciate him. To appreciate that moment, when the nation stood up as one and applauded a Test match specialist. It’s going to get increasingly rare. Irrespective of where one’s allegiances lay, that was a moment worth soaking up.
One final collapse
After Cook, Joe Root and Co. set India a target of 464, it was time for the Indian batsmen to walk out for one last time in this series.
And for one final time, the visitors suffered a top order collapse to make it a fitting (if you could call it that) farewell for the batting lineup from England.
Shikhar Dhawan continued to make us all wonder what must one do to earn a rope as long as he has to survive in this format despite being mediocre for so long. It was no surprise that James Anderson got him LBW in his second over. It was just waiting to happen. If after scores of 26, 13, 35, 44, 23, 17, 3, and 1, Dhawan continues to feature as a Test opener for this side, then good luck becoming “one of the best travelling teams.”
Cheteshwar Pujara continued to confound analysts and experts, as to how a No 3 batsman can be so vulnerable to the ball that targets his stumps, getting dismissed bowled and LBW over and over? In what looked like an action replay of a couple of his second innings dismissals from this series, he was out for a duck as Anderson equalled Glenn McGrath’s tally.
The only silver lining in that dark cloud of a batting performance by India was that Virat Kohli managed to finish the series without getting out to Anderson even once. (Oh, how Anderson would have loved for Kohli to be his record-breaking dismissal?) Kohli, instead, got out for a golden duck to Stuart Broad to finish the series seven short of 600 runs.
Suddenly, there were doubts whether this Indian batting lineup could last the 18 overs they had to face on Monday evening. But KL Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane ensured this Test will go into the fifth day.
On a day Cook’s every touch of the cricket ball was cheered by The Oval crowd, the Indian batting lineup offered one last reminder of why an otherwise competitive series is coming to a celebratory end in a dead rubber.