Alastair Cook: England captain hits 95 as Gary Ballance makes ton
|Third Test, Rose Bowl (day one):|
|England 247-2 v India|
Alastair Cook fell agonisingly short of a first Test hundred in 14 months as England controlled the first day of the third Test against India at Southampton.
The England captain seemed set to end his 27-innings wait for a century when he edged a Ravindra Jadeja long-hop down the leg side to wicketkeeper Mahendra Dhoni to depart for 95.
That ended a stand of 158 with Gary Ballance, who moved to his third ton in five Tests to lead England to 247-2.
While Ballance was the centurion, the day revolved around Cook, whose barren run had mirrored the poor form of his side and led to ex-England captains such as Michael Vaughan, Mike Atherton, Kevin Pietersen and former batsman Geoffrey Boycott to call for him to resign.
Cook, whose previous 27 innings had yielded only 638 runs at an average of 23.62, has repeatedly claimed he will not quit, despite presiding over a 10-match winless run.
And this knock will go some way to ending any doubt over his immediate future, with two more matches against India coming before England have an eight-month break from Test cricket.
|Former England batsman Geoffrey Boycott on Test Match Special|
|"It was a better day at the office for Cook and his team. It's better for him personally and better for the team. It will have lifted the dressing room. The selectors will be relieved, I hope they don't think everything is alright, but the captain has made runs. he got dropped off a comfortable chance, but you need a slice of luck when things are going wrong. He picked the ball off his legs, played the cover drives, worked at it and did exactly what was needed - make runs."|
"I was desperate to score runs," said Cook. "I was as fresh as I have ever been and now I have feel I have contributed to the team."
For so long, the Essex left-hander was on course for three figures, capitalising on being dropped on 15 to look more assured at the crease than at any point this summer.
"Mixed feelings sums it up quite well," added Cook. "If you'd offered me 95 before the game, I would have snapped your hand off, but I'm still frustrated not to get a hundred.
"I wanted to go down fighting and sometimes you do need a bit of luck. I haven't always had that."
Even though both the pitch and overhead conditions suggested the morning would be good for pace bowling, Cook opted to bat on winning the toss and was helped by the tourists' inaccuracy with the new ball.
Though he was leaving well, Cook, who edged the very first ball of the match short of the slips, was tempted into a familiar poke at debutant Pankaj Singh, in for the injured Ishant Sharma.
But, where those chances had previously been taken during his lean spell, Cook may have felt his fortunes had changed when Jadeja dropped a straightforward chance at third slip, a feeling that perhaps grew when the same man took a similar chance off the bowling of Mohammed Shami to dismiss Sam Robson for 26.
Despite losing his opening partner, Cook was growing in stature, cutting and pulling when India dropped short.
A hook off Shami took him to a first half-century in 10 innings, while the Essex opener also went past Pietersen and David Gower to third on the all-time list of England run-scorers in Test cricket.
|Highest England runscorers in Test cricket|
|8,900 - Graham Gooch (118 Tests, 1975-95)|
|8,463 - Alec Stewart (133 Tests, 1990-2003)|
|8,257 - Alastair Cook (107 Tests, 2006-to date)|
|8,231 - David Gower (117 Tests, 1978-92)|
|8,181 - Kevin Pietersen (104 Tests, 2005-14)|
|8,114 - Geoff Boycott (108 Tests, 1964-82)|
Not looking to score on the front foot through the off side, Cook moved into the 90s with another pull off Shami.
When Jadeja delivered an awful ball that pitched halfway down the pitch, Cook was primed to move closer to three figures. However, he under-edged a pull through to Dhoni and was sent on his way.
That left Ballance, strong on the cut but also driving on both sides of the wicket, the challenge of completing his third Test hundred while at the same time seeing off the second new ball.
He reached three figures by guiding Shami to the third man boundary, ending the day on 104 in the company of Ian Bell, who should have been given out lbw to Pankaj when on nought.
Though Pankaj impressed, both Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar were below the standards they set in the first two Tests, in which India earned a 1-0 series lead.
With all-rounder Stuart Binny left out in favour of batsman Rohit Sharma, Dhoni had to turn to the part-time spin of Rohit and Shikhar Dhawan as the pitch became ideal for batting after the threat of the new ball was negotiated.
Cook, who has Chris Jordan and Chris Woakes in his attack in place of Ben Stokes and Liam Plunkett, has the challenge of finding the right tactics to take India wickets to come.
For now, though, the pressure on the captain's batting has been eased.