Alastair Cook admits he was disappointed eventually to be dismissed, bowled off an inside-edge by India seamer Jasprit Bumrah for 71, but he spoke with relief too at stumps that he had done himself justice.
In his 161st and final Test, the innings which is likely to prove Cook’s penultimate in international cricket – after he announced his impending retirement – helped England close on 198 for seven.
Despite a late collapse of six wickets for 48 to an India attack who excelled themselves, England therefore retain prospects of sending their all-time record runscorer off with a win which would complete a 4-1 scoreline in a Specsavers series the hosts sealed last week.
Cook walked out to bat to a standing ovation, through a guard of honour from Virat Kohli‘s India, and the last thing he wanted of course was to let himself and an expectant crowd down.
“Because of the emotion, I just did not want to not get a score,” he told Sky Sports Cricket.
“I was so determined, because there is nothing worse than going out and not contributing…all the fuss about the week, and you don’t deliver the goods.
“Everyone says ‘just enjoy it, it doesn’t matter how many runs you get’ – but that is never the case. There is never a game of cricket like that.
“I am pleased with a bit of a score, but disappointed to get out when I did.”
Cook shared an opening stand of 60 with Keaton Jennings and then one of 73 with England’s new number three Moeen Ali (50).
The 33-year-old opener was touched by the reaction of a packed house, and the opposition, when he began his innings.
“It all happened so quickly, it is really weird,” he said. “The guard of honour is such a nice gesture, it is very kind of Virat and the Indians, but I was just focusing on the first ball.
“The reception I got was fantastic. It went on a bit, and that made me even more determined not to get out.”
Moeen Ali began to sense, during their hard-working partnership through a wicketless afternoon, that Joe Root’s prediction of a valedictory Cook century may prove accurate.
“Yeah, definitely,” he said. “When he got dropped I just said it was meant to be for you.”
Cook eventually succumbed to Jasprit, and after having to play against type for his deserved half-century, Moeen described India’s bowling as “one of the best attacks I’ve faced”.
He added: “I probably wasn’t good enough to nick them. When I went into tea, the guys were calling me Geoffrey Boycott.
“Then they came in, played and missed their first ball … and I was pretty happy with that!”
Cook concurred, describing Mohammed Shami’s wicketless efforts as “an unbelievable spell”.
He added: “The way the Indians bowled was fantastic. I think I played one pull and one cut shot all day – so full credit to them.
“Sometimes in Test cricket ,you have just got to suck it up.”
India spinner Ravindra Jadeja took two wickets to help out the seamers.
He said: “Everyone bowled well. Especially when the partnership between Moeen Ali and Alastair Cook was on, our plan was to stop the boundaries.
“Our plan was that if they didn’t get boundaries, they’d panic and play wrong shots and get out – and that’s exactly what happened.”
India handed a Test debut to Hanuma Vihari in the fifth and final Test against England which got underway on Friday. Vihari’s inclusion meant that Nair failed to find a berth in the playing XI after spending the entire summer on the sidelines.
Nair was named in the 18-man India squad for the five-Test series but failed to feature in a single game and will now return from England having only played in a warm-up game against Essex.
The Tamil Nadu batsman was also picked in the India squad for the one-off Test against Afghanistan in June this year but there too, he failed to make the playing XI. Nair’s last Test innings against England had resulted in a quick-fire triple century but a poor run in the series against Australia at home last year saw him sidelined from the squad.
“There is no argument that is going to ever satisfy me. What has Karun Nair done not to get in? I know he has not been your favourite player. You don’t want to pick him. He scores a triple hundred. You leave him out. He fails in a couple of games. You leave him out,” Gavaskar said during his commentary stint with Sony Six following the toss in the final Test.
“You have brought him back in the team. It could be the selectors who have brought him back. The team management probably doesn’t want him. And that’s why they haven’t given him the opportunity to play in this game,” he added.
Gavaskar believes that Nair has been hard done by and is entitled to an answer from the BCCI as to why he has continuously been ignored.
“How many Indians have got triple hundreds? Virender Sehwag twice and Karun Nair once. You don’t give that man an opportunity. So what are you trying to tell him? Look we don’t think you are a good player?” Gavaskar added.
“All the best to Hanuma Vihari. I really wish him well. Karun Nair has every right to ask the team management what he has done wrong. He deserves an answer. Why am I not picked? If you are going to pick an extra batsman, which they should have done from the first Test itself, and if you haven’t given him the opportunity, he deserves an answer.”
Having announced his decision to retire from international cricket following the culmination of the Test, the spotlight was on Alastair Cook as the England opener prepared to bid a final goodbye.
The packed Oval crowd got its money’s worth with England skipper Joe Root electing to bat first after winning the toss. Cook did not disappoint as he made a fine 71.
Here, we take a closer look at what could be Cook’s penultimate innings in Test cricket.
BALLS FACED: 190
It was almost as if fate had conspired to ensure a fitting finale for Cook in England colours. On a surface which was much slower compared to the ones previously in the series, an out-of-form Cook brought out his famed powers of concentration in a circumspect innings which frustrated the Indian bowlers. Much more confident and assured outside the off-stump, the England opener played to his strengths as he crawled towards a 57th Test half-century. It was not the most fluent of Cook’s innings but it was one which served as a reminder of his abilities to absorb pressure.
Having perished outside the off-stump for most of the series, Cook was much more watchful around the area. His defence and awareness of his off-stump were on point as he forced the bowlers to ultimately bowl to his strengths. Frustrating the Indian pacers with his risk-free approach outside the off-stump, Cook profited immensely whenever they strayed on to his pads. He collected most of runs flicking through the fine-leg region and even brought out his trademark cover drive – a sign of his confidence given how rarely he uses the stroke.
While Cook did hold up one end nicely for England, his inability to up the scoring-rate would ultimately prove costly for the hosts who lost a flurry of wickets following the opener’s dismissal. While he did guard against most of his deficiencies outside the off-stump, there was a momentary lapse of concentration while he was batting on 37. Ishant Sharma, Cook’s nemesis for much of the series, had the opener in all sorts of trouble after lunch and even induced an outside edge off his bat which Ajinkya Rahane put down in the slip cordon.
VERDICT – 7/10
While it is unfortunate that it has taken so long for England’s all-time leading run-scorer to come to the party in his final series, Cook’s innings on Friday will serve as a reminder to the hosts of what they will be missing. Playing with a steely determination that has for long been his forte, Cook showed the Test purists the virtue of patience in a carefully crafted innings. He will be disappointed to miss out on a farewell ton but given the way England’s batting collapsed following his dismissal, his 71-run knock might well be worth its weight in gold.