Cook and Prior keep England alive
A sensational unbroken partnership between record-breaking skipper Alastair Cook and Matt Prior gave England hope of denying India victory in the first Test at Ahmedabad.
After joining forces with the tourists 131 runs in arrears at 199 for five in their second innings, the experienced duo knuckled down to eventually secure an unlikely lead of 10 on day four.
Cook finished unbeaten on 168, having once again demonstrated his extraordinary powers of concentration and focus in compiling a third century in as many games as Test captain. No player has previously achieved such a feat.
The efforts of Prior, who made half as many as his partner, were similarly impressive. England’s wicketkeeper-batsman has long been admired for his character and overcame a nervy spell against India’s spinners to move within sight of a hundred.
Although the occasional ball misbehaved, particularly during the evening session, predictions of a hellish turner continued to prove wide of the mark.
Indeed, Cook and Prior were largely untroubled during their lengthy alliance, which came after Umesh Yadav had struck with consecutive deliveries to remove Ian Bell and Samit Patel.
Much work still lies ahead if England are to save the match – the presence of Virender Sehwag adds further intrigue to any possible run-chase – but there is certainly reason for optimism.
Prior proved typically effective through the off side, although he was fortunate to survive a strong lbw appeal from Pragyan Ojha when he had 65 to his name. With the ball on course for middle stump, one can only presume umpire Aleem Dar felt the initial impact involved bat rather than pad. If so, it appears he was mistaken.
Having benefited from a similar let-off against Ojha on the previous evening when struck plumb in front, Cook did not offer a single chance today in extending his innings beyond eight hours.
There can be little left to say when it comes to hailing the focus, patience and application of the Essex batsman.
Solid in defence, relentlessly strong on the cut and boasting a seemingly unrivalled ability to stave off fatigue, he accumulated steadily to record the highest score by an England captain in India, surpassing Kevin Pietersen’s 144 in Mohali four years ago.
True to form, Cook did not panic when England were twice undermined by the loss of two wickets in quick succession.
After Nick Compton had been trapped lbw for 37 by a Zaheer Khan inswinger, ending an opening stand of 123, Ojha added to his five first-innings scalps by ousting Jonathan Trott and Pietersen.
Trott failed to get to the pitch of the ball and was caught behind pushing forward, while Pietersen was bowled behind his legs on the sweep.
When Yadav then won lbw verdicts against Bell and Patel, the latter rueing his misfortune for the second time in the match as an inside edge went unnoticed, India appeared likely to wrap up proceedings with a day to spare.
Yet Cook and Prior had other ideas.
The opener maintained his remarkable record of reaching three figures in each of his outings as leader of England’s Test team, having twice done so when deputising for Andrew Strauss in Bangladesh in 2010.
By stumps, he had faced 341 deliveries in 501 minutes, with the gutsy Prior having offered able support for more than 50 overs.
Live Text Commentary
11am – STUMPS – Eng 340/5; Cook 168, Prior 84 - India will still be confident of claiming victory, but England now have a genuine chance of saving this first Test. Alastair Cook and Matt Prior’s sixth-wicket partnership remains unbroken at 141 heading into the final day. They have both been utterly magnificent. Be sure to set your alarm for 4am tomorrow morning!
10:52am - Seam from both ends now as Yadav takes over from Ojha. This really has been an epic rearguard from Cook and Prior, who have 168 and 83 respectively.
10:45am - Like a trusty old dog bringing a newspaper to its master, Cook’s defence remains gloriously reliable. Zaheer returns but cannot find a way through.
10:32am - I have to keep reminding myself to breathe, such is the level of suspense right now. Prior seems relaxed enough as he drills Ojha to the cover fence before cutting for four more. England are ahead!
10:28am - Prior breaks the shackles by carving Ojha through point. That takes England’s deficit into single figures, a turn of events that appeared somewhat unlikely just over three hours ago when Yadav struck twice in an over.
10:21am - India’s frontline spinners have upped their game in the last half-hour, perhaps wary of how crucial this period could be. Cook plays and misses against Ashwin, who has still yet to claim a second-innings wicket, before Prior edges Ojha short of the fielder at gully. The tension is rising!
10:11am - Well, well, well...that was a bit lively! Ojha gets one to spit from the edge of a footmark and the ball strikes Cook on the arm as he turns away. A big lbw appeal against Prior follows. That looked like pad first to me as the batsman propped forward and England may have enjoyed a stroke of luck.
10:02am - There are further signs of variable bounce, but a full toss from Ashwin gets the treatment it deserves as Prior drives down the ground for four. England now trail by just 17 as drinks come onto the field once more.
9:53am - Ojha gains sharp turn to beat Prior’s defensive push and Ravichandran Ashwin then benefits from some extra bounce as Cook finally fails to connect with the cut stroke. Deliveries such as those have been the exception rather than the norm for much of the day, however. This pitch continues to hold up better than many had anticipated and 36 overs have passed since the last wicket.
9:44am – CENTURY PARTNERSHIP - The imposing Umesh Yadav, who looks as though he could prove more than useful on Alastair Cook’s farm should he fancy a change of scene, replaces Zaheer. A short ball is comfortably pulled for four by the man known as Chef and Prior then punishes a loosener from Ojha to bring up the second hundred stand of the innings.
9:35am - Cook has now been batting for 213 hours in this innings. I’m joking, of course, but that’s what it must feel like for India. After a nervy spell, Prior is looking more at ease with both batsmen defending stoutly.
9:24am – 150!!! Cook (283b 19x4 0x6) - Short and wide to Cook generally equals four. Surely we all know this by now? Yuvraj is the guilty bowler on this occasion as England’s leader moves to 143. Cook then leans into a cover-drive off Zaheer to find the boundary once again before reaching 150 in Yuvraj’s next over. I’m running out of superlatives in all honesty.
9:16am – FIFTY! Prior (109b 5x4 0x6) - Cook has clearly been England’s main man with the bat in this match, but Matt Prior can also be proud of his efforts. He follows up a battling first-innings 48 by bringing up his 23rd Test fifty.
9:14am – Time for some round-arm spin from Yuvraj Singh. Not so many fielders around the bat for Yuvi, who concedes five in his first over. Cook is then struck dead in front by Zaheer, but thankfully there was plenty of bat involved and umpire Tony Hill remained unmoved.
9:03am – Three wickets fell in today’s morning session and two went down in the afternoon. England surely cannot afford to lose more than one this evening. India must be sick of the sight of Alastair Cook, who struck 294 against them at Edgbaston last August. He continues on his merry way with a single off Zaheer Khan.
8:41am – TEA – Eng 264/5; Cook 138, Prior 41 - Prior makes it through to tea alongside Cook, although the former is inconvenienced again before the interval when an Ojha delivery loops up off the pad and possibly brushes the glove before landing safely. England are just 66 behind and fighting hard.
8:34am - Another scare for Prior as he survives an lbw appeal from Ashwin when sweeping. Ojha is varying his pace to great effect at the other end.
8:24am - Goodness me, that was close! Prior picks the wrong ball to cut from Ojha and the ball almost grazes the off stump. An edge from the right-hander in the spinner’s next set of six falls marginally short of Virender Sehwag at first slip. England's number seven is living dangerously.
8:14am - That’s four more through the off side to Prior, this time off Ojha, and a valuable fifty partnership for the tourists.
8:04am - A slower ball from Zaheer deceives Prior, who almost spoons a catch to cover. The left-armer has been excellent today and sees an lbw shout turned down next ball due to a thick inside edge. Cook then plays and misses against Ashwin, before his partner sashays down the pitch to collect four over midwicket.
7:55am - Prior has settled in nicely, but I would suggest both he and Cook need to be batting at the end of the day if England are to retain any hope of saving this match. The skipper has faced 241 deliveries and still looks fresh as a daisy. He really is sensational.
7:40am - Yadav fires it in full again, but is glanced down to fine-leg by Prior. The new nut is then called for and England’s wicketkeeper-batsman responds with a flowing drive square of the wicket. Time for a drink!
7:33am - India have not taken the new ball, which is hardly surprising given Yadav’s success with the old one. Prior picks up his first boundary with a crunching cut. There is no value in the hosts bowling short and wide to either of these batsmen, that’s for sure. Cook edges a fuller delivery from Yadav but the ball drops short of Virat Kohli, who is occupying a wide first slip position.
7:28am - Yadav starts the second over of his spell on a hat-trick, but is denied as England’s captain leaves alone outside off. Cook, who has now been joined by Matt Prior, then cuts Ojha for four; all he can do is keep on batting here, but England’s position is perilous.
7:17am – WICKET! Patel lbw Yadav 0; Eng 199/5 - Samit Patel got a poor decision in the first innings, and he’s not happy with this one either. Yadav makes it two wickets in two balls, but the batsman appeared to get an inside edge to this full delivery.
7:14am – WICKET! Bell lbw Yadav 22; Eng 199/4 - Ojha is back once again and offers up a freebie to Bell, who cuts with a degree of panache. The right-hander departs in the next over, however, as Umesh Yadav wins an lbw verdict. Bell was beaten by appreciable swing.
7:05am - The new ball is due in five overs, although it remains to be seen whether it will be taken. Zaheer, such an experienced campaigner, is getting the old one to move around a little at present, but Alastair Cook and Ian Bell remain focussed.
6:52am - After an over from Zaheer Khan, Ravichandran Ashwin replaces fellow spinner Ojha. The pitch still appears to be holding up pretty well, which will encourage England.
6:44am – It’s no surprise to see Pragyan Ojha bowling beautifully after lunch. He beats the edge of Ian Bell once again in a maiden.
6:01am – LUNCH – Eng 182/3; Cook 109, Bell 11 - Ojha finds the perfect length again and beats the outside edge of Bell before seeing a strong lbw appeal turned down. A wonderful delivery clipped the back pad, although the ball may have pitched outside leg. Lunch is subsequently taken and that was definitely India’s session, despite Cook’s continued heroics.
5:54am - Cook flicks Yadav through midwicket for another effortless four, but is struck on the pad outside off later in the over. Not long until lunch now.
5:44am - I do love an Ian Bell back cut. That shot brings four off Yadav and takes the Warwickshire man into double figures. There is an appeal for a catch at slip later in the over, but the ball came off Bell’s thigh.
5:31am – CENTURY!!! Cook (181b 16x4 0x6) - Test century number 21 for Alastair Cook, and a third in as many matches as England’s five-day captain. Talk about leading by example. Sadly, his superb effort has been somewhat overshadowed by Ojha’s double strike. Ian Bell is alongside Cook and has moved swiftly to six following his golden duck in the first innings.
5:27am – WICKET! Pietersen b Ojha 2; Eng 160/3 – Cook loses another partner as Kevin Pietersen is bowled round his legs attempting to sweep Ojha. Oh dear.
5:17am – WICKET! Trott c Dhoni b Ojha 17; Eng 156/2 - That’s a huge blow for England. With the captain on the brink of three figures, Trott is caught behind pushing forward at Ojha.
5:14am - Substitute fielder Harbhajan Singh goes down in instalments at cover and fails to prevent Trott from picking up another boundary. The pacy Umesh Yadav is then brought on for his first spell of the day and concedes four through the leg side to Cook, who moves on to 96.
5am - An authoritative cut off Ojha allows Trott to collect his first four. He has 12, while captain Cook is unbeaten on 90 at drinks.
4:55am - Pragyan Ojha, the pick of India’s attack in this match, replaces Zaheer and has two slips in place for Trott. We’ve just heard the sad news that Gautam Gambhir’s grandmother has passed away. The opener has flown back to Delhi as a result.
4:45am - It was Ashwin who accounted for Trott in the first innings, with the aid of a catch at short-leg. No breakthrough for the off-spinner as yet this morning, but he is looking threatening. England’s number three ducks under a couple of short balls from Zaheer, who is mixing things up here.
4:38am - Ashwin looks to be all over Cook, but the skipper relieves the pressure by sweeping firmly to the boundary. Trott then gets off the dreaded pair by working Zaheer, who is getting it to reverse from round the wicket, through midwicket for two.
4:29am – WICKET! Compton lbw Zaheer 37; Eng 123/1 - That will make Dhoni feel much better! Zaheer ends a fine over by swinging one back into Compton’s pads. Umpire Tony Hill raises the finger and England’s excellent opening partnership is brought to an end. In comes Jonathan Trott, who is on a pair.
4:23am – MISSED STUMPING - Cook is called through for a quick single. That would have been tight had Yuvraj Singh managed a direct hit from backward point. A huge let-off follows for Compton, who should have been stumped after dashing down the pitch to Ashwin and being beaten on the outside edge. Sloppy work from India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
4:15am - We all know by now just how strong Cook is on the cut. He picks up four when Zaheer drops short outside off stump. Ashwin appeals for lbw against Compton in the next over, but that looked to be doing a little too much.
4:07am - Zaheer Khan operates from over and round the wicket in an opening maiden to Nick Compton, who remains defensively solid. Alastair Cook then gets England off Nelson by picking up a leg-side single off Ravichandran Ashwin.
3:58am - Here we go then. All of you who have been standing on one leg since 11am yesterday will no doubt be hoping England can add to their total of 111 as soon as possible.
3:50am - Much may depend on the pitch at the Sardar Patel Stadium, which was expected to break up on days four and five. There didn’t look to be too many demons in the track on day three, although a few rough patches have started to appear.
3:40am - England still have a huge job on their hands, but Matt Prior yesterday revealed the team have taken “a lot of confidence” from the efforts of Cook and Compton, who will resume on 74 and 34 respectively.
3:30am - Conceding a first-innings lead of 330 is never a good idea, but Alastair Cook and Nick Compton ensured England ended day three of the first Test with India on a positive note. The openers have put on 111 so far, and will aim to continue their recovery mission this morning. I’m here to take you through all of the action from Ahmedabad.