England’s Alastair Cook served a fitting final masterpiece and his illustrious bowling colleagues James Anderson and Stuart Broad then garnished the platter with a fiery spell to leave the beleaguered Indians in disarray on Monday.
With England well in command overnight, the main theme of the penultimate day of the fifth and final Test was whether former skipper Cook could join an elite group of cricketers to score a century on their debut and farewell Tests. A much loved figure inside and outside the dressing room, the 33-year-old gave a near-packed Oval crowd and the English fans exactly what they wanted, a typically grinding and accumulating 147 (286b, 14x4) to walk away to a rousing applause.
At the other end, going about his business in his own busy way, skipper Joe Root, struggling for runs for the better part of the series, brought up his 14th Test century — a 190-ball 125. The 259-run partnership between Root and Cook, built on the good old of art of patience and perseverance, ensured England went on to declare at an emphatic 423/8, setting India an impossible target of 464 runs.
Totally fragmented after getting a massive pasting, the Indian top-order suffered an all too familiar implosion against the pace and swing of Anderson (2/23) and Broad (1/17), collapsing to 58/3 at stumps.
Cook set the tone for England’s dominance with another dogged innings. Having already surpassed Kumar Sangakkara earlier in the day to be in fifth place for most career runs in Test cricket, he knew he would become a member of another celebrated group if he could get his 33rd Test ton. Out of sorts this series, a fact that hastened his decision to hang up his boots, Cook relied on his famous grit and application to crown a great career in glorious fashion.
He stuck to his three patented shots — cut, drive down the ground and flick off the hips. The injury to his nemesis Ishant Sharma -- who has dismissed him 12 times -- made life a tad easier too. But, still he had to grind it down, overcoming the emotional battle rather than the one on the pitch. He did that exceptionally, showing what England and cricket would miss from now on.
Cook’s ton come in bizarre fashion. On 96, he dabbed at a Ravindra Jadeja delivery and headed off for an easy single. Jasprit Bumrah, fielding at point, collected the ball and hurled it in a blaze back at the bowler’s end. With no back-up and the throw being wild, the ball sped to the boundary. Cook, totally surprised by turn of events, immediately threw his hands up while the crowd went ballistic. The claps kept on coming, no-one willing to stop as an emotional Cook soaked it all up before being embraced by Root.
Cook thus joined Reggie Duff, Bill Ponsford, Greg Chappell and Mohd Azharuddin as the only men who hit tons on debut and in their final game.
Once Cook got to his landmark moment, attention shifted to Root who achieved it soon after lunch. The duo showed no interest in acceleration, intent on mentally disintegrating India and squeezing the life out of them before asking them to bat late in the day.
Indian batsmen then came and went in a hurry. Shikhar Dhawan departed for one, Virat Kohli for a golden duck and Cheteshwar Pujara for nought. KL Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane steadied the rot with an unbroken 56-run stand but they know rescuing this sinking ship would need a mighty miracle.