LONDON: England’s Alastair Cook fell short of a dream farewell century as India’s bowlers roared back to leave the hosts reeling on 198-7 at stumps on day one of the fifth and final Test at The Oval on Friday.
With England having built an unassailable 3-1 lead in the series after victory in Southampton last week, all eyes were on their record Test run-scorer Cook’s bid to end his international career just how he began it 12 years ago — with a century against India.
Displaying trademark fortitude he grafted his way to within 29 runs of three figures as the hosts reached 133-1 after tea, having won the toss on a day seemingly made for batting.
But when the 33-year-old played on to fall for 71 it sparked an all-too-familiar England collapse with skipper Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Sam Curran failing to trouble the scorers.
Moeen Ali played and missed countless times to score a 167-ball 50 but by the close a tenacious India were in the ascendancy with England relying on Jos Buttler and Adil Rashid to repair the damage.
Ishant Sharma, who had Cook dropped on 37, took three for 28 while recalled spinner Ravindra Jadeja and Jasprit Bumrah took two apiece as India raised hopes of a first Oval win since 1971.
With blue skies punctuated by cotton wool clouds, a lush outfield and an Indian guard of honour to welcome him to the crease for his 161st and final Test, the stage looked set for Cook to mark the day with a 33rd Test century.
Even the cricketing Gods seemed to be smiling on England’s greatest accumulator of Test runs when he was dropped on 37.
But having reached his 57th Test half-century in typically gritty style, his luck ran out.
Cook came through a torrid afternoon session intact and something memorable was brewing as he chiseled his way to his highest score since an epic 244 not out against Australia in Melbourne in December.
Then Bumrah spoilt the party with a ball that cannoned into the stumps off an inside edge — prompting a collective sigh from the packed stands.
“I’m pleased I got a bit of a score, I’m disappointed I got out,” Cook, who marked his Test debut in 2006 by scoring a century against India in Nagpur, said.
“The ball swung more after lunch, just a little bit later than we expected. India bowled fantastic. I think I played one cut and one pull shot all day.”
Cook struck successive boundaries off Bumrah in the day’s ninth over, the first cut hard through square and the second a majestic pull off a shortish delivery.
Fellow opener Keaton Jennings, battling to nail down his place as England plan a future without a man who began the day with 12,254 runs to his credit, looked reasonably assured as he shared in an opening partnership of 60 — the biggest by England in a low-scoring series.
Having reached 23, Jennings nudged a delivery from Jadeja straight into the hands of Lokesh Rahul at leg slip.
England reached lunch on 68-1 but led a charmed life after it as Bumrah, Sharma and the luckless Mohammed Shami repeatedly beat the bat.
Cook was squared up by Sharma but Ajinkya Rahane spilled a low catch then Virat Kohli shelled a catch as Moeen swished at a swinging Bumrah delivery.
England needed 273 balls to bring up the century on a day of old-school Test cricket. Once Cook departed, however, India took charge with England losing six for 48 in the evening session.
Bumrah had Root plumb lbw and then Sharma induced an edge from Bairstow to give keeper Rishabh Pant a simple catch.
Jadeja removed Stokes with a skiddy delivery and then three balls after reaching his 50 Moeen edged Sharma behind.
Curran, whose match-winning contribution at Southampton helped England seal the series, lasted only two balls as the impressive Sharma had him caught behind.