England’s leading runscorer Alastair Cook will retire at the end of the fifth Test against India at The Oval, and added another half-century to the many he already has. But India’s bowlers ensured the away side ended the day on top, and he praised them at the end of play.
“I thought the way the Indians bowled was fantastic,” he told Sky Sports. “I think I played one cut and one pull shot all day. A lot of credit to them.”
He reserved particular praise for Mohammed Shami. Though the right-armer went wicketless, he beat the bat countless times, and bowled an especially hostile spell to Moeen Ali in the afternoon session. Cook also praised how Ali, who was eventually dismissed for an even 50 from 170 balls, battled through.
“It was an unbelievable spell,” he said. “I was facing Jadeja at the other end and quite happy! We found it hard to know which way it was going. One thing Mo did pretty well, yes he was playing and missing, but he wasn’t curtain-railing as much, he was playing the line.
“There’s sometimes a skill in playing and missing, I know it’s a bit of a funny thing, but he wasn’t moving his hands as much. Sometimes in Test cricket you’ve got to just suck it up and you need a bit of luck.”
The performance of the India bowling attack was made all the more impressive by the fact that Cook evaluated the Oval pitch as the easiest the teams have played on throughout a series which has seen the seamers receive significant assistance from the surfaces.
“It has been testing batting conditions for both sides with the new ball, but it didn’t nip as much early on here. There also wasn’t as much zip off the wicket, it was a slightly slower wicket. There was a bit of swing as the ball got a little bit older. The ball hasn’t strung straight away throughout the series.
I can’t [think of conditions as testing as this series]. Whether it’s the ball or the amount of grass which is left on the wickets these days, you don’t often get a white wicket anymore. It’s certainly made it an interesting contest between bat and ball.”
Cook made excellent use of the more benign conditions, making his first half-century of the series. The score was more meaningful since he announced before the game that this would be his final Test match.
“I think because of the emotion I didn’t want to not get a score. There’s nothing worse than going out and not contributing after all the fuss about the week. I was probably just as nervous as I was anyway.
“Everyone says, ‘just enjoy it, it doesn’t matter how many runs you get’, but actually that’s never the case. There’s never a game of cricket ever like that. It was nice to get off the mark, that was the most important thing first. I think it was seven or eight balls and then got going.”
That emotion was ramped up by the start to the day, with Cook receiving a rousing reception and a guard of honour from the India side.
“It all happened so quickly,” he said. “It’s really weird, I always think playing in the Ashes at Lord’s, walking through the long room, it’s such an amazing noise, but you just do not appreciate it. The guard of honour is such a nice gesture, but you’re just focussed on batting.
“It was very kind of Virat and the Indians but you’re just trying to concentrate on that first ball. The reception I got was fantastic, but it kind of went on a bit and made me even more determined not to get out.”
India ended the day on top, but Cook backed England to come back into the contest. “You don’t know what a good score is until both sides have batted,” he said. “It was disappointing to lose six in that last session, and it was slow going at Tea. You just don’t know. Even at the end the ball was still doing enough. We’ve got a very good bowling attack, and three wickets left to get. I do think I’ll be batting again.”