Calcutta: Arms raised, he gently punched the air with his clenched fist. There wasn’t much of a show of emotion on Alastair Cook’s face as he paddle swept Ravichandran Ashwin after tea to complete his 23rd Test century, at the Eden, on Thursday.
But such is Cook’s demeanour that he doesn’t believe in such flamboyance or extravagance and is more focused on the larger job at hand.
If the Indians believed that the humiliation in Mumbai was an aberration, the England captain ground it into the dust with a commanding unbeaten 136 that put them only 100 behind India’s first innings total at the close.
The notion that the Indians are impregnable whenever a home series comes around is proving to be a myth. Cook’s England have already raised hopes of a 2-1 lead and it will take a huge effort from the home team to claw their way back into this Test.
Cook has remained an enigma in this series that the Indians have struggled to unravel. Since wiping out the deficit of 330 in Ahmedabad with a classy 176, Cook has simply marvelled at his art. Kevin Pietersen and Monty Panesar stole the limelight in Mumbai, and Cook’s 122 went largely unnoticed.
But, make no mistake, he was the one who showed that the Indian spinners can be pinned down in the backyard. The rest have only rode the wave of confidence thus generated.
This was Cook’s fifth consecutive hundred in Tests as captain, dating back to Andrew Struass’ regime when he was the deputy. He also moved ahead of Geoffrey Boycott, Colin Cowdrey, Wally Hammond and teammate Kevin Pietersen in the list of hundreds.
Poor Cheteshwar Pujara! He will have to rue dropping Cook on 17 a little after lunch.
The England innings was built around the 165-run opening partnership. Nick Compton (57) proved to be a useful foil, grinding the attack for 215 minutes, and was unlucky to be given leg before.
“It hit my gloves, one of those things...” he said later.
Cook frustrated the Indian attack for 288 minutes while hitting 19 delectable boundaries and a six off Ashwin.
For most of a harrowing day, the Indians cut a sorry figure: shoulders drooping, the bowling varying from the inadequate to being flawed and the fielding listless, with everyone seemingly happy going through the motions rather than making an effort to change things around.
If Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma relied more on reverse swing, their efforts didn’t prove to be effective. Ishant, in fact, bowled better with the new ball while Zaheer hardly made an impact on the openers.
It was only for a brief period after lunch when Cook seemed to be troubled by the lateral movement. After being lucky twice to have not nicked it off Ishant, Zaheer finally induced an edge from the England captain which Pujara grassed at first slip.
The retirement of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman has also seen the exit of specialist slip fielders. Pujara is not regarded as an expert in that position with short leg being his preferred spot. Having Ashwin at second slip while keeping Virender Sehwag in the outfield also defies logic.
But then reasoning the think-tank’s every move is proving to be futile!
James Anderson and Steven Finn certainly proved to be more adept at their craft compared to their Indian counterparts. Zaheer never looked wicket threatening, and was more content with restricting the flow of runs.
The spinners seemed to be bowling in alien conditions. Hoping for turn and variation from them on this wicket was like betting on Ricky Ponting to have a change of mind and return for the Ashes.
Ashwin’s limitations are increasingly getting exposed against quality opposition as the batsmen seem to have sorted him out while Ojha, despite being more aggressive, was never penetrating.
The tragedy is India hardly have a quality spinner who can replace them. On current form, Harbhajan Singh will consider himself lucky if he gets to play his 100th Test, while the Amit Mishras and the Piyush Chawlas haven’t been able to make a mark even in the Ranji Trophy.
The cupboard is empty and unless the batsmen manage to pile up the runs against a classy England attack, more days of agony and shame await the Indians in this series.
That the Indians managed to cross the 300-mark, was thanks largely to Dhoni’s useful 52. While the tail floundered, the Team India captain tried to exert pressure with successive sixes off Panesar.
But once the resistance ended after 62 minutes in the morning, the Indians’ old habits returned. The bite on the wicket had vanished and Cook was back on song.