AHMEDABAD, Nov 18 (PTI): Captain Alastair Cook led a remarkable England fightback with a heroic unbeaten 168 as the defiant visitors wiped out India’s mammoth first innings lead with a gritty batting display to raise hopes of saving the first cricket Test here today.The 27-year-old Cook displayed immense concentration and skill to not only notch up his 21st Test century under pressure but also keep his team in the game as he steered England to 340 for five at close on the penultimate day which saw the Sardar Patel track ease out quite a bit.
The England captain found an able ally in Matt Prior (84) as the duo put on an unfinished 141-run partnership to leave the Indians frustrated. The spinners, who were expected to do the bulk of the damage, found it difficult to get the wickets.
England, who conceded a mammoth 330-run first innings lead and were asked to follow-on, have now taken a lead of 10 runs, setting the stage for an interesting fifth day’s play tomorrow with all three results possible.
India will look to claim the remaining five wickets as quickly as possible tomorrow and push for a 1-0 lead in the four-match series.
England, on the other hand, will try to bat as much as possible and may even put pressure on India by taking a substantial lead on a tricky fifth day track.
Resuming at the overnight score of 111 for no loss, England lost the wickets of Nick Compton (37), Jonathan Trott (17), Kevin Pietersen (2), Ian Bell (22) and Samit Patel (0) but it was Cook who stood like a rock to hold the English innings together showing superb endurance.
Cook batted the whole day with exemplary patience, determination and composure to remain unconquered.
Cook, who has faced 341 balls and struck 20 fours, was given splendid support by Prior, who was not out on 84 that came off 190 balls and contained 10 fours.
The duo batted resolutely even as Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni constantly shuffled his bowling attack that lacked the bite of the first innings.
India can still come back strongly with a few quick blows tomorrow morning and press for victory on a track which is offering slow turn.
But the day belonged entirely to Cook after a couple of quick blows by left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha and wickets off successive balls by pacer Umesh Yadav on either side of lunch. Prior, on the other hand, played the ideal foil to his captain.
It was the sixth 150-plus score by Cook who had scored a century on debut in Nagpur in 2006. His other three-figure effort against India (294) was made at Edgbaston in the last series between the two teams in 2011.
Cook also became the eighth English batsman to score more than one hundred on Indian soil, by joining the ranks of Ken Barrington (3), Andrew Strauss (3), Colin Cowdrey (2), Tony Greig (2), Mike Gatting (2), Ian Botham (2) and Paul Collingwood (2).
The Indian bowlers toiled hard throughout the day against the resolute England skipper and, after lunch, against his more aggressive partner Prior without success.
Cook’s composure and patience was creditable right through and he hardly played a false shot. While Ojha was easily the more impressive of the two Indian spinners, getting some bite with his flighted deliveries, Ashwin bowled mostly flat through the air but was also guilty of not maintaining a tight line outside the off.
Ojha ended the day with figures of 2 for 102 in 44 overs to add to his 5-45 of the first innings while Ashwin, who got three in the first innings, went wicket-less in his 41 overs in which he gave away 104 runs.
India 1st innings: 521 for 8 decl.
England 1st innings: 191
England 2nd innings (overnight 111-0) Cook batting 168, Compton lbw b Zaheer Khan 37, Trott c Dhoni b Ojha 17, Pietersen b Ojha 2, Bell lbw b Yadav 22, Patel lbw b Yadav 0, Prior batting 84. Extras: (B-4, LB-6): 10. Total: (for 5 wkts in 158 overs) 340. Fall of wickets: 1-123, 2-156, 3-160, 4-199, 5-199. Bowling: Yadav 19-1-60-2, Ojha 44-13-102-2, Ashwin 41-9-104-0, Sehwag 1-0-1-0, Zaheer Khan 18-3-38-1, Tendulkar 1-0-8-0, Yuvraj Singh 4-0-17-0.