ALASTAIR COOK’S 30th Test hundred helped pile the pressure on as India had to hang on against England’s spinners to salvage a draw in the hard-fought series opener in Rajkot.
England made all the running throughout an often attritional contest but after Cook and Haseeb Hameed’s opening stand of 180 allowed them to declare on 260-3 to set India a notional 310 to win, there was not quite enough time or deterioration in the pitch to land a knockout blow.
It fell to home captain Virat Kohli to prove the point, after two wickets in nine balls put India in peril on 71-4 with 25 overs remaining, as he finished unbeaten on 49 out of 172-6 to confirm the stalemate.
Even so, there was plenty in this first Test of five to persuade doubters that England may be adequately equipped after all for the onerous task which is still sprawling in front of them over the next five-and-a-half weeks.
They need their captain in form, of course, as he was so brilliantly when they won in India under his leadership four years ago.
Cook’s five-hour 130 duly demonstrated his well-being; yet it was merely one of several heartening facets to England’s opening gambit here.
They included Hameed’s second-innings 82, three first-innings hundreds and fine bowling - albeit with scant reward on a largely unforgiving surface - from Chris Woakes and the much-improved Adil Rashid, who finished with seven wickets in the match.
After England left their hosts a minimum 49 overs to bat out, the rearguard was almost immediately minus Gautam Gambhir when Woakes - wicketless in 31 exemplary overs in the first innings - struck with his sixth delivery.
Woakes found enough bounce to have the left-hander fencing a routine catch to second slip.
Murali Vijay might have gone when Zafar Ansari dropped a sharp caught-and-bowled chance and Stuart Broad put down an easier opportunity to see off Cheteshwar Pujara in the same bowler’s next over, lunging forward at backward point.
Pujara fell soon afterwards to a double misjudgment, first when he was pinned on the back foot by a Rashid variation and secondly failing to review the lbw verdict even though replays demonstrated the ball pitching well outside leg stump.
Then after tea, a wicket each in quick succession for Rashid and then Moeen Ali, sowed brief belief that England could achieve an improbable victory.
Murali was snapped up bat-pad at short leg by Hameed and Ajinkya Rahane bowled off his pads when Moeen located one of the many cracks on the ageing surface, and found alarming turn.
But Kohli made sure that India’s fears and England’s raised hopes were transitory, despite Ravi Ashwin’s departure to a loose shot at Ansari and Wriddhiman Saha’s to another at Rashid.
England’s supporters began the day willing Cook’s young partner Hameed on to three figures, but there was to be no debut hundred for the teenager.
Hameed was noticeably less assured throughout on the resumption having impressed the previous evening. He eventually fell for the addition of 20 to his overnight tally when he slapped a return catch back at Amit Mishra.
The leg-spinner was mighty close to the front line, but once the third umpire ruled out the no-ball Hameed had to continue his walk-off. There was to be no century after all, but the consolation of registering the highest score by any English teenager and a hand in beating Tim Robinson and Graeme Fowler’s previous national-record best opening stand in India.
England were restricted to 36 runs in the first hour, as Hameed struggled to attune himself.
It was Cook who accelerated England’s progress, surging past his junior partner. After Hameed and then Joe Root went in successive Mishra overs, the latter to a mistimed slog-sweep at a leg-break that looped up to wicketkeeper Saha, the captain duly completed hundred number 30.
It came from 194 balls and contained 10 fours, taking Cook past Don Bradman, although the great Australian made his 29 centuries in the small matter of 165 fewer innings.
He was joined by Ben Stokes either side of lunch - and having failed to beat long off with an attempted big hit down the ground to be caught off Ashwin, Cook called time on England’s innings.
He had cut to the chase, but it was one which was never likely to be realised.