England know Alastair Cook represents their best chance of somehow surviving six remaining sessions at Trent Bridge – or even chasing a world-record target of 474 – to stay ahead in the Investec series against South Africa.
Moeen Ali is among several England batsmen who are no strangers to attempted rearguards to save matches, but he defers to stoic opener Cook as the man to lead the way over the last two days of the second Test.
Cook survived the very first ball of the second innings by overturning an lbw decision against him as the hosts reached one without loss in four overs, and England are banking on him being able to blunt the new-ball threat of Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel.
Moeen, who took four wickets in South Africa’s 343-9 declared, is fully aware he will also be needed to bat well at some point, and he is adamant the task is within England’s collective capabilities.
Asked about the importance of Cook’s initial survival when Morkel thought he had him, the all-rounder said: “It was a big one. Thankfully it was going over.
“He’s such a massive player for us (in the remainder of this match).
“He’s the one guy in our side who we know can score big runs and also bat a long, long time. If there’s anybody in our team that can bat six sessions it’s him.”
Others such as captain Joe Root will need to step up too, of course, but Moeen insists it is feasible to close out a stalemate, or even better.
“We definitely can,” he said. “We’ve got some very good batters who are capable of doing that.
“We know Cookie, once he gets in, is very hard to get out. I hope we can see that on Monday.
“We need a good foundation if we’re going to bat the six sessions.
“The top three can be very, very solid and can bat a very long time, and we’ve got Joe who’s in very good form. And the rest of us who can block it for a while.”
Moeen has been a major contributor in similar circumstances in the past, but is also occasionally guilty of a rash shot.
“I’ve done it a few times before – I know I’m capable of it,” he said.
We know Cookie, once he gets in, is very hard to get out. I hope we can see that on Monday. We need a good foundation if we’re going to bat the six sessions.Moeen Ali on Alastiar Cook’s importance on day four at Trent Bridge.
“If and when I get in it might be a great situation, where we might be able to chase it.
“There have been times in the past where I, particularly, have made mistakes, playing for a draw and playing a big shot. But I hope I can get my head down.
“I think if we bat for six sessions, with the players we have there’s probably a chance we’ll be close to the total.”
Overhead conditions in Nottingham often dictate the difficulty or otherwise of batting, and under increasingly sunny skies, Hashim Amla (87), Dean Elgar (80) and South Africa captain Faf du Plessis (63) all made half-centuries on day three.
“We saw when the sun was out it was quite nice to bat,” added Moeen. “When it was overcast, we saw it doing quite a bit - not so much swing, but it nipped a bit more. Once you get over the new ball, it looked quite comfortable. The way Dean and Hashim were playing today, they didn’t look like they were going to get out.”
Elgar suggested South Africa have opened up some “cracks” in England’s line-up, come what may here, and can continue to take advantage in the remainder of the series.
Unsurprisingly, that is not a theory which found favour with Moeen.
“I think we just didn’t bat well in the first innings,” he said.
“The way we play in the middle order sometimes we just go and play our shots, and it just didn’t come off in the first innings.
“I don’t think it was any cracks being opened but he can say what he wants. We’ve (just) got to bat for two days.”
Elgar, who is taking nothing for granted about the outcome, said: “They rely heavily on their experienced batters to score runs, which allows their middle order to come in and play freely.
“By getting a few guys out cheaply in the first innings, the middle and lower order couldn’t come in and express themselves the way they wanted.
“So I definitely feel we have maybe opened up a few cracks in their side, which is going to be brilliant for us in the future in this Test series.”
England seamer Mark Wood had to leave the field temporarily because of a bruised left heel, but the injury is not connected with his previous ankle problems which have required three operations and kept him out of Test cricket for 20 months before his return at Lord’s last week.