Cook’s 33rd Test hundred, replete with nine standing ovations from the 19,300 enticed to witness his historic last hurrah, preceded a late bid for a share of the glory from his fellow England record-breaker James Anderson.
After Cook (147) and Joe Root (125) helped England pile up 423 for eight declared on day four of the fifth Specsavers Test, and Anderson then equalled Glenn McGrath’s all-time world record of 563 wickets for any pace bowler. The upshot was a near hopeless position for India.
Thanks to Anderson, and Stuart Broad, the tourists lurched to two for three before recovering to 58 without further loss in notional pursuit of 464 for victory.
This was billed as an occasion all about Cook – unbeaten on 46 at the start of play, while for good measure his wife Alice reached her due date to give birth to their third child.
It mostly was too as he bade farewell in the grandest manner.
The 33-year-old opener, England’s all-time record runscorer, became only the fifth batsman to bookend his career with a century in his first and last Test as he and Root shared a mammoth third-wicket stand of 259.
Cook belied his stoic reputation as he rapidly ticked off the milestones.
His first standing ovation came for merely walking out to resume his innings, and he needed just two deliveries to complete his half-century.
Next up was Kumar Sangakkara’s mark of 12,400 Test runs, taking Cook up to fifth in the global list.
It did not escape the attention of the PA announcer – and the Monday crowd, warming to the ‘I was there’ experience, lapped it all up again.
Their critical cue was still to come, though – and despite the expectation, there was an element of surprise thanks to Jasprit Bumrah’s four overthrows.
The bonus runs took Cook from 97, after a back-cut single off Hanuma Vihari, to 101 – and a moment of shared delirium.
For once, it seemed, the most self-contained of sportsmen did not know quite what to do with himself.
On adulation auto-pilot perhaps, he waved his bat to all four corners of the ground.
He then exchanged handshakes with his own captain and India’s Virat Kohli, and cupped his ear to the heavens – the unexplained personal gesture he has made on reaching each of his Test centuries.
At the other end, Root’s progress was barely footnote rating.
His 14th century was nonetheless significant as his first not just of the year, like Cook’s, but also in 28 innings since Edgbaston 13 months ago.
Root was twice dropped at slip, on 46 by Ajinkya Rahane off Ravindra Jadeja and 94 by Cheteshwar Pujara off the luckless Mohammed Shami.
His 151-ball century, third as Test captain, contained 11 fours and a six.
England were utterly dominant by the time Root and Cook were both suddenly dismissed in the blink of an eye as debutant Vihari, a part-time off-spinner, put himself on a hat-trick.
Root picked out sub fielder Hardik Pandya with a slog-sweep; then, barely after his due appreciation had died down, Cook edged a cut behind to end his near six-and-a-half-hour stay.
He made his way off, to more vociferous approval of course, twice allowing himself a turn to drink in what he was leaving behind.
Root insisted on some more swishing from England’s middle order and tail until, after a relative rush of wickets, he declared with 18 overs left in the day.
Anderson answered the call and how, with enough movement to have Shikhar Dhawan and Pujara lbw in his second over.
Kohli’s prized wicket has evaded Anderson all summer, and it did again – because Broad instead had him caught-behind for a golden duck, pushing away from his body – before KL Rahul and Rahane quelled the storm.
Winning at The Oval is just a matter of pride for India as they seek to pull the Test series back to a 3-2 defeat. However, Cook and Root were intent on rolling back the years together for England one last time.
Retiring opener Cook also passed the mark of Kumar Sangakkara to become the fifth-highest Test run-scorer of all time, before he clinched an emotional century – through the result of a horrendous overthrow – and his 33rd overall in England whites.
Then shortly after lunch, Root managed to sign off from an otherwise personally disappointing series with his 14th Test ton, as England extended their second-innings lead beyond 300.
Root (125) and Cook (147) finally were dismissed via back-to-back balls from the spin of debutant Hanuma Vihari, with the latter walking off to a rapturous ovation and handshakes from the Indian team.
Jonny Bairstow (18) and Jos Buttler (0) came and went but it was scant consolation for India – who must now concentrate on batting out a draw.
England declared on 423-8 and set India a mammoth target of 464. And the visitors looked all but finished when Jimmy Anderson removed Shikhar Dhawan and Cheteshwar Pujara to draw himself level with Glenn McGrath as the top pace wicket-taker in Tests. Stuart Broad found Virat Kohli’s edge, who trudged off for a miserable golden duck.
KL Rahul offered brave resistance as he neared a half-century (46), but India face the almost impossible to save the Test on day five – creaking on 58-3.
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England‘s retiring batsman Alastair Cook said the final Test of his career has been one of the most ‘surreal’ of his cricketing life.
Cook finished his England batting career with a fine 147 against India at The Oval on Monday.
The veteran was applauded numerous times by the crowd in south London and he did not disappoint the 19,000 spectators, reaching his 33rd century in 161 Tests in strange circumstances – through four overthrows.
The former England captain struggled to explain how it all felt. “It’s been the most surreal four days of my life really,” he said. “I suppose if she (Alice, his wife) goes into labour tonight that will probably top it off but it’s been incredible.
“There’s a few of my friends here as well so for that all to happen today and every reception I’ve had over the last four days it’s just been incredible. Even that last couple of overs when the whole crowd were singing my Barmy Army (fan) songs, incredibly special.”
When asked if it was his best day ever in cricket, Cook said it was a “different day”.
“On a purely selfish point of view I couldn’t have asked for a better week for me so yes on that side but obviously there have been bigger things in more important games that have meant more.”
Cook said the match had been emotional for him with family and friends in attendance.
“To perform and have a day like that I suppose after 160 other games, it’s a nice way to go.”