“A flash or two of semi-attacking strokes did create a variation, but it will be a huge stretch to say that they brightened the proceedings”
There were hordes of spectators, proudly flaunting Alastair Cook face masks. There were several rows of people who had dressed up as chefs … as a tribute to the man’s famed nickname.
There was emotion in the hearts of the thousands who turned up. The eyes were rheumy.
The teammates, members, stewards all took up the chorus of cheering as he walked down the steps into the ground, the spectators broke into a roar. The Indian team lined up as he entered the field, and gave the stalwart a guard of honour.
The first ball was greeted by merriment, the first run was clapped and a crescendo of applause hit the ground when he hit his first boundary.
Cook was determined to do well. He has not been in the best of nick, now he steeled himself. The focus was writ on his face, determination evident in the way the jaws were set.
He wanted to succeed. Dearly. He did not want to give his wicket away.
At the other end was Keaton Jennings. Another batsman woefully short of runs. He too did not want to get out.
23 overs and a ball were required before Jennings was snared in Ravindra Jadeja’s leg-trap. He walked back for 23, eked out of 75 balls. The score was just 60. But, at long last England had managed to put up a half-century partnership.
Cook was joined at the wicket by Moeen Ali. A mistake?
An excellent batsman, Moeen, to have down the order. But, at No 3?
The man who had spun England to victory in the last Test looked rather more than a fish out of water. Something piscine with respiratory distress in the middle of the Atacama Desert? That perhaps sums up the way he approached the innings.
Both Moeen and Cook were dropped, within the space of four balls. But, it hardly helped matters.
They stuck to their task, in the most painstaking manner. Moeen played and missed, failed to get a nick on balls that would have dismissed anyone in marginally better form. At the other end, Cook marched on with plenty of resolve and grit. But most of the marching was done in place. Marking time rather than moving forward.
As a result, the scoreboard remained near-static. At the rear of the press box, respectable scribes dropped off like nine-pins. England went to lunch at 68 for 1 in 28 overs. Cook had 37 from two hours of batting.
The break did not help. Post-prandial sloth seemed to have affected the game. The next hour brought forth 26 runs.
So rigid was Cook in his resolve not to give his wicket away, during this first hour after lunch he added just 8 to his score. 26 runs were made in that phase. Half the day’s play was over. England stood at 94 for 1.
The crawl continued even after that. Cook did reach his elusive half-century, in 139 balls, but he dearly wanted more … a hundred perhaps, as he had notched in his first ever Test. He continued to graft. A flash or two of semi-attacking strokes did create a variation, but it will be a huge stretch to say that they brightened the proceedings.
India did help a lot. Their bowlers periodically sprayed it down the leg side, leaving a hapless Rishabh Pant sprawling, as bye after bye were conceded to the fine boundary. But the score did not really move other than at snail’s pace, a snail with heavy weights attached to its torso.
Tea was taken at 123 for 1. A flattering scorecard, but a potentially dangerous one. Cook had added 29 in the second session. Moeen 21.
The tardiness finally imploded after Tea. After battling it out in slow motion for 190 balls, Cook played on to Jasprit Bumrah. The disappointment was writ large on his face as he walked back. The crowd rose as one and clapped as he made his way back to the pavilion. But there was the feeling that the 73-run association, put together across a lethargic 41 overs and one ball, had sucked the life out of the side. Certainly it had done no wonders for the momentum.
Joe Root had perhaps drifted into a stupor during this partnership. His sluggish feet led to a leg before decision for duck. Johnny Bairstow did not trouble the scorers either. Suddenly, it was 134 for 4 in 65 overs, and India were on top.
It remained that way, with some excellent Indian bowling on display. Finally, Moeen got back into a sort of groove, showing just about enough form to snick a ball from Ishant Sharma after making 50 from 170 deliveries.
England had lost just 1 wicket in the first 63 overs. In modern day cricket, that should put any team in the driver’s seat, with the scoreboard registering well over 200.
But the surprisingly, emotion-driven Alistair Cook slowness, and the curious ploy of trying to fit Moeen at No 3, backfired in a big way. The bowlers were on top and less than 200 was scored in the full day’s play. England ended at 198 for 7 and they have the second wicket association to blame for digging themselves into an enormous hole.
Ishant’s figures at the end of the day read 3 for 28 from 22 overs. That is incredible, but owes much to the lack of enterprise of the English batsmen.
All the pacemen of India bowled well, and in cricket’s unfair way Mohammed Shami did so without any reward. Jadeja did not purchase any significant help from the pitch, but was resourceful enough to bag two wickets.
But, at the end of the day, England should be looking back at the association between Cook and Moeen with some askance.
One understands that it is a sentimental moment to bid adieu after 160 Tests, 12000-odd runs and 32 hundreds.
But, it did seem that the zeal to do well today weighed down on Cook and ultimately worked in a negative way for England. And Moeen’s promotion up the order only compounded the problem.