Cook points way to happier times in the desert for England

England captain Alastair Cook acknowledges the crowed after he reached 150 runs don day three in Abu Dhabi.
England captain Alastair Cook acknowledges the crowed after he reached 150 runs don day three in Abu Dhabi.
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Alastair Cook was in his element as he dug in for more than eight hours to put England on course to save the first Test against Pakistan at the Zayed Cricket Stadium.

Cook’s 28th Test hundred, an extreme example in attritional conditions of his rearguard adaptability, featured a clutch of notable individual statistics.

Crucially too, in the wider scheme as England try to follow up last summer’s Ashes success in these arduous climes, it spread belief they can be competitive against Pakistan here.

These were hard yards, albeit on a pitch largely unresponsive to spin or seam, an exacting test of concentration and patience in the middle, not to mention one of endurance in the stands too.

But it was no problem for the famously resourceful Cook.

On the way to an unbeaten 168, he underpinned consecutive century stands with his new opening partner Moeen Ali and then Ian Bell (63) in a stumps total of 290-3.

Almost four years ago, on England’s only previous Test visit to the United Arab Emirates, they were trounced 3-0 under previous captain Andrew Strauss.

While Pakistan were racking up 523-8 declared this time, as England spent more than five stamina-sapping sessions bowling and retrieving, old doubts inevitably resurfaced.

But Cook systematically set them aside.

When he reached 93, en route to a 180-ball century he would complete with a cover-drive off Wahab Riaz for his 10th four, he passed 1,000 Test runs in 2015.

In a year which started amid much ongoing chatter about his drought of 35 innings without a hundred, and following his axing as World Cup captain last Christmas, it has been a fine and typical riposte from England’s leading all-time Test runscorer.

Cook’s latest century means he has also gone above Kevin Pietersen to stand alone with 33 across the international formats, including eight in Tests in Asia – the most by any non-native of the sub-continent.

He has done his captaincy stature no harm either, ensuring England would not fold easily here in a match notable for the lack so far of a single wicket to any spinner in a world-record 130 overs. Half-an-hour before lunch, Moeen departed to seam for a painstaking 35 from 131 balls, edging a good delivery from Imran Khan that left him off the pitch and carried low to wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed.

Bell began nervously and, still on one, as he was for 32 balls either side of lunch, the England No 3 gave a sharp chance to silly point, where Shan Masood could not hold on, and then on nine he edged Wahab just short of slip.

Cook was characteristically unfazed and was in control almost throughout.

The ball evaded his stumps without intervention from just the second delivery he faced, and there was barely a semblance of a mistake in another 93 overs until on 147 Cook mis-swept Zulfiqar to deep square-leg, where diving substitute fielder Fawad Alam failed to hold the chance.

By then Bell had crawled, by his usually fluent standards, past a 134-ball half-century before he eventually speared a catch to point off Wahab, and then England hit another snag when nightwatchman Mark Wood edged a little extra bounce from the same bowler on to his stumps. For Bell, though, after his two costly dropped slip chances on Tuesday, there were some heartening if hard-earned runs in the bank – a sign perhaps to a happier return to the desert for more than one of England’s 2012 veterans.