Cook delighted to weigh in

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Alastair Cook spoke to the press after his century in Durban

Alastair Cook marked his 50th Test with his 10th century but admitted to relief more than any other emotion at finally contributing a major score for England again.

Alastair Cook

Alastair Cook grinds his way to three figures, an innings he rates as "pretty much up there" in terms of importance

Cook had gone 11 Test innings with just one half-century, and it was at Chester-le-Street seven months ago that he last reached three figures.

That is history, though, after his 118 on day three of the second Test against South Africa at Kingsmead in a stumps total of 386 for five - which gives England a lead of 43, with power to add.

Cook, having shared a century stand with Paul Collingwood who contributed 91, said: “I’m just delighted. It was relief when I got to a hundred that probably best describes how I felt.

“It’s a little milestone to get your 10th as well, so I very much enjoyed that moment.”

Few had failed to notice Cook’s relative drought through last summer’s Ashes, and an apparent ongoing struggle since then as he has set about remodelling his technique.

“It’s not so much pressure,” he insisted. “It’s just the last few games the side has been playing really well and you feel like you’re being carried by your team-mates. So it’s nice to repay that.”

The level-headed opener was never likely to get his problems out of proportion, though.

“I’m close to a thousand runs this year, I’ve been told. So it’s obviously not been all doom and gloom,” he pointed out.

“When you don’t score runs in a few games, you do feel the pressure. It’s not so much a monkey off my back, just very satisfying that I’ve scored some runs.”

Cook acknowledges this hundred will rank as one of his most important, personally.

“It’s pretty much up there, and chanceless as well,” he said. “I’ve never been the prettiest batter to watch. But it’s how many runs you score.

“I only got one in the first hour, but it’s good to know you’ve got the patience to get through that - and then you’re rewarded for that later in the day.

Alastair Cook & Paul Collingwood

Cook and Paul Collingwood's partnership of 142, which came at more than three runs per over, has shunted England into the driving seat heading into the penultimate day at Kingsmead

“I was pleased with my discipline, that I didn’t have a whoosh at one and then it all ends in tears. I didn’t even flirt at one all morning, and that’s good for my confidence.”

Cook, who was 25 on Christmas Day, warns England are not yet in position to be too gung-ho heading into the fourth day as they try to establish a match-winning platform in a four-match series currently standing at 0-0.

“The South Africans bowled with a lot of discipline all day, but we’ve got ourselves into a good position,” he believes.

“We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves - after what happened (in the first Test) at Centurion when we thought we were cruising (to a draw) and then all those wickets fell.

“We need to get through that first hour again and then build as big a lead as we can. But we’ve got to be careful.”

South Africa coach Mickey Arthur was happy to congratulate both Cook and Ian Bell - who made a fluent 55 not out - having suggested before this match that the pressure was mounting on both batsmen.

“I thought they both played very well,” he said. “Bell came in a little short of runs but played very well - and they’ll get a lot of confidence from today.

“They didn’t give it away. It was good old-fashioned Test cricket, where I thought we ran in well - and England didn’t give us an inch.”

Ian Bell

Cook and Ian Bell's contributions received praise from Mickey Arthur given they both began the second Test in the spotlight

For Arthur, it was all a world away from the previous evening when he was disappointed with South Africa’s new-ball efforts and the way they allowed Andrew Strauss to get England off to a flier.

“I thought we were particularly poor to Strauss where we gifted him a lot of runs in areas he likes to score in,” he said of his attack. “But I can take nothing away from them today.”