London: Alastair Cook’s typically grinding effort of 46 not out in his final Test innings before international retirement left England in a strong position in the fifth Test against India at the Oval on Sunday.
England were 114 for two in their second innings at stumps on the third day, a lead of 154 runs, having already won this five-match series at 3-1 up.
Now Cook, England’s all-time leading Test run-scorer and captain Joe Root (29 not out) will look to pile on the agony for India when they resume their unbroken third-wicket partnership of 52 on Monday.
Cook, who made 71 in a first-innings 332, was now 11/4 with leading British bookmaker William Hill to mark his last Test appearance with a century that would extend his England record tally of hundreds to 33.
“It would be fantastic, wouldn’t it (if Cook scored a hundred)?,” said England assistant coach Paul Farbrace.
“He’s just shown everything that he’s about so far in this game.
“It’s all about waiting for the right ball in the right place but he’s just looked pretty organised and got stuck in.”
– ‘Enjoying the scrap’ –
Farbrace added: “It’s not easy out there. It’s been quite tough but it looks as if he’s really enjoying the scrap.”
Meanwhile, India’s Ravindra Jadeja continued an excellent return to Test cricket by starring with both bat and ball.
Jadeja, playing his first Test of the series after being recalled in place of the injured Ravichandran Ashwin, added to his haul of four first-innings wickets by top-scoring with 86 not out in an India total of 292.
England, who led by 40 runs on first innings, have long struggled to find an opening partner for Cook, with 12 batsmen given a shot at the job since Andrew Strauss retired six years ago.
And ahead of their upcoming tour of Sri Lanka, England may now be looking for two openers rather than one after Keaton Jennings completed a miserable series by being bowled for 10 playing no shot to Mohammed Shami on Sunday.
It was the second time in as many Tests that Jennings had been dismissed leaving the ball and meant he ended the series with just 163 runs at a meagre average of 18.
An unconcerned Cook, who has already batted for more than three hours this innings, went 26 balls without scoring but seized on an over-pitched ball to drive Shami down the ground for four.
Moeen Ali, batting at number three — another of England’s problem positions — failed to demonstrate similar patience as he was bowled by left-arm spinner Jadeja for 20, having been dropped on 14.
A frustrating day for England spearhead James Anderson saw him continue to remain two shy of Australia great Glenn McGrath’s record of 563 Test wickets — the most taken by a fast bowler.
Before play started, the International Cricket Council announced Anderson had been fined 15 percent of his match fee for “speaking in an aggressive manner” to umpire Kumar Dharmasena on Saturday after a failed lbw review against Virat Kohli.
India resumed in trouble at 174 for six, with Test debutant Hanuma Vihari 25 not out and Jadeja eight not out.
Vihari, however, was increasingly assured as he completed a fifty in 104 balls, including six fours and a six.
But a seventh-wicket partnership of 77 finished when off-spinner Moeen had Vihari edging to wicket-keeper Jonny Bairstow for 56.
– Jadeja dusts off the sword –
Jadeja made a 113-ball fifty, including seven fours, and celebrated the landmark with a trademark twirl of the bat.
“You can’t ask for tougher than batting in English conditions, with clouds and Anderson and (Stuart) Broad bowling,” Jadeja told Sky Sports. “They bowled very well, swinging it both ways so I was just looking to carry on for as long as I could.
“After a long time I needed to rub the dust off my bat and bring out that ‘sword celebration’ again for my fifty.”
Silly-point Jennings then snatched at a bat/pad chance when last man Jasprit Bumrah went forward first ball to leg-spinner Adil Rashid.
Jadeja, on 56 at the time, cashed in on Bumrah’s reprieve.
England took the new ball only for Jadeja to drive Anderson straight back over his head for six and hook Broad for four, but he was left short of a hundred when Bumrah was run out.