England captain Alastair Cook last night spoke of his relief, despite falling agonisingly short of his first century in over a year, as he finally felt like he had made a positive contribution with the bat again on the opening day of the third Test against India at the Ageas Bowl.
The 29-year-old had looked set to take his Test tally to 26 hundreds – 14 months and 28 innings after getting his 25th – but Ravindra Jadeja spoiled the party by dismissing him, caught-behind down leg-side, on 95. “If you’d have offered me that at the beginning of the day, of course I’d have taken it.
“I’m disappointed because it adds to the innings without a hundred, but I’ve batted okay and it’s nice to finally contribute,” he said.
Cook and Sam Robson (26) started the day with their first half-century opening stand together, at the eighth attempt, before the England captain’s second-wicket partnership of 158 with Yorkshire’s Gary Ballance (104no) powered England into a strong position. The hosts finished the day on 247-2, with Ballance and Ian Bell (16) at the crease ready to go again today.
Cook, meanwhile, can reflect on a job well done as he finally managed to answer his critics.
“I can’t tell you how much I wanted to score a hundred,” he added. “The support I have had throughout this period, which I’m not through yet but it’s a little step in the right direction, has been great.
“When you haven’t scored runs for a long time it’s only natural to be nervous and only natural to want it even more.”
The England captain’s fine knock also took him past Kevin Pietersen and David Gower to move up to third in the country’s list of all-time Test runscorers, but Cook insisted that was not as important as simply getting back among the runs.
“Honestly it was nothing to do with that. I did see it at tea but I was just desperate to score runs,” he said.
“It’s been a long time since I was able to do it and contribute to the England team and that’s what has hurt me more than anything.
“When you don’t score runs you sit back in the dressing room and you watch people do that and you try to talk about it, you try to lead from it.
“But when you don’t feel you’re doing anything personally that’s a hard place to be. At least (last night) I can feel I contributed to that.”
As well as solving his own problems with the bat, Cook has also been under intense pressure to arrest a run of seven defeats in nine matches for England.
That run has seen a host of former players call for Cook, who hit nine fours in his 95 on yesterday, to resign the England captaincy.
Pietersen joined those calling for Cook to step down in his column for a national newspaper, but he tweeted a congratulatory message as he watched Cook’s progress yesterday.
He said: “Under the amount of pressure Cook was under, that was quite brilliant. Really happy he got runs. Well done, AC #95”.
With four days left Cook knows his side have a good chance of levelling the series and wants to see them today build on what he started.
“We’re in a good position after day one,” he added. “It was quite slow at times because they bowled defensively at us.
“There are lot of miles in their legs but tomorrow we’ll have to earn the right again and hopefully accelerate later and put some damage on the ball.”
Ballance savours third century in six Tests: Page 4.