Cook comes up with the goods
Alastair Cook and the rain came to England’s rescue on the fifth day of the final Test against Sri Lanka in Galle.
Cook ended England’s much-publicised wait for a century on this tour with a defiant 118, while two downpours abbreviated the afternoon and evening sessions, and eventually forced the game to be abandoned as a draw.
The left-handed opener fell moments before the heavens opened for a second and final time, having steered England - following on - to the relative security of 251 for six as they sought to survive the day.
That they trailed by 167 runs when play was called off at 3.45pm will matter less to the England players than the fact they managed to lose a largely one-sided series only 1-0.
Cook’s 285-ball effort, which occupied almost six and a half hours, served to anchor the tourists’ second innings either side of a horrendous spell which saw them lose three wickets in four balls.
Muttiah Muralitharan, predictably, sparked a collapse that saw Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood and Ravi Bopara fall in one tumultuous over before lunch to leave England reeling on 200 for five.
But Cook, accompanied by Matt Prior, steadied English nerves with a doughty sixth-wicket stand, the importance of which could be measured not by the 50 runs it yielded, but by the fact it occupied almost 29 overs.
Though Cook was caught behind shortly before the weather intervened for the last time, he and Prior, who spent 100 balls over his unbeaten 19, had done enough to ensure England will leave these shores having salvaged some of the pride that deserted them in such spectacular fashion on Thursday.
The rapid loss of the middle order in a matter of seconds on the fifth morning evoked memories of the first innings, when they were bowled out for a paltry 81 in response to Sri Lanka’s 499 for eight declared.
It also took the shine off Cook’s progress to a resolute hundred, without which England’s fightback - in the face of a sustained onslaught from Muralitharan - would, in all probability, have been futile.
The 22-year-old, who admitted being booed by travelling supporters after England’s first attempt with the bat provided extra motivation in their bid to save the game, made the most of a reprieve early on day five to reach three figures for the seventh time in his Test career.
Having added just one to his overnight 53, he saw wicket-keeper Prasanna Jayawardene spill a straightforward leg-side chance off Lasith Malinga.
But Cook, in the unflustered manner which has typified his England Test career, continued to blunt a Sri Lanka attack led superbly by Muralitharan, whose 38 overs brought figures of 3-91.
Cook and Ian Bell extended their second-wicket partnership, which was worth 35 overnight, to 61 before the latter was bowled for 34, punished for playing back to a delivery from Muralitharan that turned viciously and kept low.
Cook made light of Bell’s departure in the 10th over of the day to add 72 for the third wicket with Pietersen, both batsmen taking every opportunity to score in between regular threatening deliveries from Muralitharan.
Cook pulled the off-spinner to the fence and Pietersen advanced down the track to hit him for a straight four, but, just as thoughts began drifting towards lunch, Muralitharan struck again.
He tempted Pietersen, who made 30, to drive to an expertly-positioned Mahela Jayawardene at short mid-wicket, and Collingwood perished two balls later when he failed to pick the doosra, overbalanced as he aimed across the line and provided Prasanna Jayawardene with a simple stumping chance.
Bopara completed a pair to cap a remarkable over. Keen to get off the mark, he left his crease in search of a run after playing Muralitharan behind square on the off side, only for a diving Mahela Jayawardene, at slip, to collect the ball and return it to his namesake in one thrilling movement. Bopara, face down in the dust as he lunged for the crease, was inches short.
It took Cook, who lunched on 96, more than seven overs after the interval to reach a 228-ball hundred containing 11 boundaries, but the fact that he and Prior were still together as the heavens opened was of much more importance to England.
Tea was taken early and, though Cook succumbed not long into the final session - caught behind playing back to Chanaka Welegedara - his job had been done.