Captain Cook dishes out a delicacy
So many times he has been part of India teams that have been ground out by left-handers. On Sunday, it was Alastair Cook who meted out the torture. Sanjjeev K Samyal reports. Scorecardindia Updated: Nov 19, 2012 11:17 IST
Watching from his fielding position in the deep under a hot November sun, it would have been a frustrating, familiar feeling for Sachin Tendulkar.
So many times he has been part of India teams that have been ground out by left-handers. On Sunday, it was Alastair Cook who meted out the torture.
Had Tendulkar been asked who could have inspired Cook, it's a good guess he would have pointed to coach Andy Flower. Exactly 12 seasons ago, in November 2000, the southpaw had established himself as one of the finest players of spin with a defiant unbeaten double century to save the Nagpur Test. Like England, Zimbabwe too had followed on. Call it India's left-hander bug, but India looked as hapless in dealing with Cook at the Sardar Patel Stadium as they had looked against his coach well over a decade ago.
Demonstrating extraordinary powers of concentration, the England captain hit an unbeaten 168 to script a sensational comeback for his team on the fourth day of the series opener. The Essex player's 505-minute vigil will go down as one of the finest in England's cricket history because of the situation it was played in.
His 141-run unfinished partnership with Matt Prior has thrown open the game in which any result is possible on the final day. Even if England are able to draw the Test, it will be a tremendous achievement as they looked dead and buried at one stage. When they were asked to follow on by the hosts with a lead of 330 runs, it was felt it would only be a matter of time before India's spinners performed the final rites.
England were still 131 runs in arrears with five wickets in hand when Prior joined forces with Cook, and at the end of Day 4, the experienced duo had secured an unlikely lead of 10 runs.
Prior has played many entertaining innings but the satisfaction of his unbeaten 84 would be unmatched. He had to play against his grain and prove he can exercise control over his mind to meet the team's demands.
Some captains get weighed down by responsibility, some relish it. Cook, only 27, seems to revel in the role. In contrast, his opposite number, MS Dhoni, seems to be feeling the burden.
The tactical acumen of a seasoned leader was missing and there were periods when he let things drift. On a slow, turning wicket, he had his pacers on from one end for most of the day, while spinners R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha were tried alternately from the pavilion end. Dhoni preferred to use his bowlers in short spells rather than allowing them to probe the batsmen for sustained periods. By the time he went back to this strategy, Cook and Prior were firmly entrenched.
Strike bowler Ashwin was a massive disappointment, going wicketless. His team would have expected the off-spinner to do the job against Cook, given the natural angle at which he bowled to the left-hander but he wasn't patient enough and experimented too much. There was no sign of the much talked-about mystery delivery either.
India will feel the pressure now. If Cook and Prior manage to save the game, they would have delivered a big psychological blow to the hosts. And, if England even manage a lead of around 150, it will set up a fascinating day's cricket as it could then be anybody's game.