Alistair Cook must have felt blessed, sweet relief when Moeen Ali took the wicket of Pankaj Singh (who, incidentally, must rank as one of the unluckiest bowlers in his first test ever) on Thursday morning in Southampton to tie up a spectacular, wonderful Test match victory for his beleaguered England side.
The pattern was set in the first innings, when Ian Bell, Gary Ballance and, best of all, Cook himself, all made big runs to give England a commanding total of 569-7. Bell was in imperious form, making a beautiful 167. It was an innings full of deft stroke play and commanding drives, as well as some power play at the end as the various bowlers tired. Ballance continued his remarkable run of form since the start of the summer, his innings of 156 ending prematurely when he was wrongly given caught behind-the ball clearly came off his thigh pad. Most encouraging of all though were the respective innings of Cook and young Jos Buttler, coming in at No. 7 in his first Test innings and playing the sort of fearless cricket that will get crowds back on Englands side, and will bring the public flooding back to Test matches.
Cook started a little edgily (literally), with a nibble outside off when he was only on 15 dropped by Jadeja at third slip. It was to be a costly error by the Indian fielder (and not the only one that was made in the field by the tourists), as Cook seemed to use the drop to galvanise him. Suddenly he became much more authoritative, with several crisp drives indicating he might just, finally, be returning to some sort of form. Moving with ease past 50 and past the 70’s then 80’s, all of those inside the gladiatorial Rose Bowl just outside Southampton dared to dream. Was this the day he would finally record a 26th Test century? Unfortunately it was not, as he fell agonisingly on 95 to a fairly innocuous Ravi Jadeja delivery. Buttler was also in good form, making a brisk and breezy 85 at more than a run a ball, just upping the tempo of the innings when it was needed to make create a well-timed declaration.
The bowling was also excellent, with Anderson back to his best form in at least a year, Stuart Broad pacy and threatening as usual, and Chris Woakes and Chris Jordan providing excellent backup. Although the pitch was a good one, the bowling unsettled and roughed up the Indian batsmen, never letting them get comfortable or get easy runs. Another massive plus point was in the spinning department, with Moeen Ali coming to the wicket-taking party in spectacular fashion by taking 6 wickets in the Indian second innings. Bearing in mind that Cook’s captaincy was also much better than previously this summer (no doubt helped by his two 50+ scores in the game), and that the catching was also vastly improved from against Sri Lanka and during the Ashes, this was a performance of quality, skill and a whole lot of determination from a side without a win in almost a year.
The last word must of course be reserved for Cook, the captain who has taken so much flak in the last few months and now enjoys a few days of huge professional pride, as well as just a little bit of relief.