LONDON: Alastair Cook marked his farewell to international cricket by posting his highest score of the series as he reached 37 not out to lead England to 68-1 against India at lunch on the opening day of the fifth test at the Oval on Friday.
With England having taken a decisive 3-1 series lead with victory in Southampton, all eyes were on former captain Cook as he began his 161st and final test match, eager to end a magnificent 12-year international career with a flourish.
His country’s highest test run scorer received a thunderous ovation from the packed stands as he walked on to the pitch through an Indian guard of honour to open the batting in glorious late-summer sunshine after England won the toss.
Following a run of low scores there was relief all round as the 33-year-old got off the mark by pushing Ishant Sharma through the covers for three — the runs celebrated by many fans marking the occasion wearing chef hats.
That took Cook past 1,000 test runs at the Oval, making him only the second England batsman, along with Graham Gooch, to reach that milestone at Lord’s and the Oval.
Despite a career average of 44, Cook’s highest score in the first four tests was 29 and only once in his last 16 test innings as he gone past 50.
But there were signs of the old composure as he collected successive boundaries off Jasprit Bumrah in the day’s ninth over, the first cut hard through square and the second a majestic pull off a shortish delivery.
The spotlight on Cook rather disguised the fact that Keaton Jennings, his fellow opener, is battling to nail down his place in the side as England look to a future without a man who is sixth on the all-time list of test run scorers.
Jennings got away with a miscued drive off spinner Ravindra Jadeja, the ball looping over the covers.
Yet in Jadeja’s next over, having reached 23, he fell straight into a trap, nudging the ball off his legs into the hands of KL Rahul at leg slip.
The 60 opening stand was the highest by either side in a series in which ball has dominated bat.
That brought Moeen Ali to the crease, the all rounder promoted to third in the order to allow skipper Joe Root to drop to his preferred fourth.
Cook continued to look calm and composed and reached the interval with few alarms, having struck four boundaries in his 77-ball knock.
India handed a test debut to 24-year-old Hanuma Vihari, the middle-order batsman replacing all-rounder Hardik Pandya as one of two changes to the line-up with Jadeja coming in for fellow spinner Ravichandran Ashwin.