Former skipper formed a good partnership with Gary Ballance to leave hosts in good stead for tomorrow
ALASTAIR COOK certainly has not become a flashy, fly-by-night batsman since quitting as England captain.
His first fifty back in the ranks was a stodgy, obdurate affair… exactly the sort of innings he has been churning out for more than a decade.
But, as he chiselled run after run, Cook performed the effective task of nudging England closer to victory in the Investec First Test.
By the close of day three, the 33-year-old had reached 59 not out and England were 119-1 — an overall advantage of 216 runs.
With the pitch offering increasing turn and uneven bounce, it would be a huge surprise if England do not force victory sometime before tomorrow evening.
England had a first-innings lead of 97 but Cook and fellow opener Keaton Jennings were in no rush to increase their advantage.
At one stage, Cook scored two runs in 40 deliveries and his innings has so far spanned 164 balls.
Some would say it was too slow, too negative. After all, could you imagine Aussie dasher David Warner scoring two in 40 balls as his team build a lead?
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But this is how Cook plays, how he has always played.
And he will argue that England’s first objective was to eliminate any chance of South Africa winning.
You can guarantee one thing — new skipper Joe Root would have had nothing but admiration for Cook’s watchful effort.
Seamer Jimmy Anderson admitted any change in the former skipper has been minimal.
He said: “He does seem more relaxed but it’s probably a strange week for him with a new captain here. I’m sure he’s going to be missing it to an extent.
“But at the same time it’s a great opportunity for him to show people that he is still hungry to score runs. He’s been in great form for Essex this year and we are just glad that he’s out there still and churning runs out for us.
“You wouldn’t want anyone else in that position, when you need to graft through an evening session to put us in a strong position.”
Root and Cook know there is no rush — the dashing blades of Root himself, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali can accelerate the scoring today.
South Africa bowled well, too, presenting a more challenging task than the county attacks from which Cook has so far plundered six centuries this summer for Essex.
Jennings was caught behind for 33 — made in 35 overs — and No 3 Gary Ballance is 22 not out and in a position to make a decent score and justify Root’s insistence he was recalled.
When Cook reached 51, he had a grand total of 11,111 Test runs. A nicely symmetrical number and a further reminder of the length and magnitude of his run-scoring efforts.
Earlier, England had dismissed the Proteas for 361.
Five of their batsmen scored 48 or more but none was able to reach 60.
Liam Dawson took his first wicket when nightwatchman Kagiso Rabada edged behind.
Temba Bavuma fell to Moeen Ali for 59 in similar vein in the next over.
Quinton de Kock streaked to a sublime fifty from just 36 balls — failing by one delivery to equal Indian Kapil Dev’s record for the fastest half-century in a Lord’s Test — before Ben Stokes took a fine catch off Anderson.
Vernon Philander scored a determined half-century after being hit on the right hand by Anderson early on.
X-rays later revealed bruising but no break but Philander has not bowled so far in England’s second innings and must be a doubt for the Second Test starting on Friday.