By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – If records were kept for standing ovations received in a match Alastair Cook would top that list too after a fairytale day at the Oval in which he engraved his 291st and last test innings with a sublime century.
Arriving at the crease on 46 not out to thunderous applause from a 19,000 crowd on Monday morning, England’s most-capped test player, record run scorer and century-maker rolled back the years to score 147.
His 259-run third-wicket stand with skipper and fellow centurion Joe Root helped England to 423-8 declared and by the close of a momentous day India had stumbled to 58-3 in a hopeless chase of 464 for victory.
James Anderson had threatened to steal some of the energy from the Cook clap-athon as he took two wickets in four balls in his second over to reduce India to two for three.
One more would have seen his career haul reach 564 and take him past Australian great Glenn McGrath as the most successful fast bowler in test history.
Stuart Broad also added his own contribution to a head-spinning day by removing Virat Kohli — India’s run machine captain — for a golden duck.
Opener Lokesh Rahul offered late retaliation with a belligerent 46 from 51 balls and Ajinkya Rahane finished unbeaten on 10 but a 4-1 series defeat for India now looks inevitable.
Tickets were snapped up eagerly as fans flocked to the historic south London ground to watch the curtain come down on Cook’s magnificent career.
They were not disappointed either as, with a delightful sense of symmetry, Cook delivered a cucumber-cool century, just as he did against India on his debut in Nagpur 12 years ago.
He could hardly have imagined how he would complete his 33rd test hundred though.
Having played with greater fluency than he has shown for months to reach 96, he worked spinner Ravindra Jadeja away and was jogging a single when Jasprit Bumrah’s wild throw in from the outfield went skidding through for four overthrows.
Cook’s face broke into a broad smile and he removed his helmet, raising his bat to acknowledge the crowd before getting a hearty hug from Root. The applause seemed to go on forever.
“Sometimes dreams come true,” Cook said. “You couldn’t have scripted it. It was an unbelievable way to end. It was strange week but I was just determined not to get out early because it would have been an anti-climax.
“When I got to 50 I thought at least I’ve got the half century but when I got into the 80s I started to think that I had a chance. It’s a perfect way to end.”
The milestones came thick and fast.
Only a few balls into the day a trademark boundary off his legs took Cook to 50 — triggering the first ovation.
Another one broke out when he got to 76, moving him past Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara into fifth on the all-time list of test run scorers and making him the highest-scoring test left-hander.
The loudest came when he reached three figures but the one that accompanied him back to the pavilion after he was caught behind off part-time spinner Hanuma Vihari watered the eyes.
“There was definitely a lump in the throat with the ovation,” said Cook, whose 161st test match will enter English cricket folklore.
Former England skipper Michael Vaughan captured the mood.
“We have watched him for 12 years but that innings was up there with one of his best,” Vaughan said.
Cook will hang up his England bat with 12,472 test runs to his name — behind only India’s Sachin Tendulkar, Australian Ricky Ponting, South Africa’s Jacques Kallis and India’s Rahul Dravid.
With all eyes on Cook’s final gift to English cricket, Root’s superb 125 was almost a sideshow. He struck 12 fours and a six in a welcome return to form before falling to Vihari who ended up with three wickets.
Jonny Bairstow slogged 18 before being bowled by Mohammed Shami as England chased quick runs to top up their total and Jos Buttler fell without scoring. Ben Stokes became Jadeja’s third wicket after scoring 37 off 36 balls.
A tough series appeared to have finally caught up with India as they set about trying to save the game.
Anderson steamed in to remove Shikhar Dhawan and Cheteshwar Pujara plumb lbw in his second over and when Broad dismissed Kohli first ball, India were in disarray.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond and Pritha Sarkar)