Alastair Cook’s determination to rise to the occasion in his final Test drove him on at The Oval.
Cook admits he was disappointed eventually to be dismissed, bowled off an inside-edge by India seamer Jasprit Bumrah for 71, but he spoke with relief too at stumps that he had done himself justice.
In his 161st and final Test, the innings which is likely to prove Cook’s penultimate in international cricket – after he announced his impending retirement – helped England close on 198-7.
Despite a late collapse of six wickets for 48 to an India attack who excelled themselves, England therefore retain prospects of sending their all-time record runscorer off with a win which would complete a 4-1 scoreline in a Specsavers series the hosts sealed last week.
Cook walked out to bat to a standing ovation, through a guard of honour from Virat Kohli’s India, and the last thing he wanted of course was to let himself and an expectant crowd down.
“Because of the emotion, I just did not want to not get a score,” he said.
“I was so determined, because there is nothing worse than going out and not contributing... all the fuss about the week, and you don’t deliver the goods.
“Everyone says ‘just enjoy it, it doesn’t matter how many runs you get’ – but that is never the case.
“There is never a game of cricket like that.
“I am pleased with a bit of a score, but disappointed to get out when I did.”
Cook shared an opening stand of 60 with Keaton Jennings and then one of 73 with England’s new No 3 Moeen Ali (50).
The 33-year-old opener was touched by the reaction of a packed house, and the opposition, when he began his innings.
“It all happened so quickly, it is really weird,” he said. “The guard of honour is such a nice gesture, it is very kind of Virat and the Indians, but I was just focusing on the first ball.
“The reception I got was fantastic. It went on a bit, and that made me even more determined not to get out.”
The reception I got was fantastic. It went on a bit, and that made me even more determined not to get out.Alastair Cook
Moeen Ali began to sense, during their hard-working partnership through a wicketless afternoon, that Joe Root’s prediction of a valedictory Cook century may prove accurate.
“Yeah, definitely,” he said. “When he got dropped I just said it was meant to be for you.”
Cook eventually succumbed to Jasprit, and after having to play against type for his deserved half-century, Moeen described India’s bowling as “one of the best attacks I’ve faced”.
He added: “I probably wasn’t good enough to nick them. When I went into tea, the guys were calling me Geoffrey Boycott. Then they came in, played and missed their first ball ... and I was pretty happy with that!”
Cook concurred, describing Mohammed Shami’s wicketless efforts as “an unbelievable spell”.
He added: “The way the Indians bowled was fantastic. I think I played one pull and one cut shot all day – so full credit to them. Sometimes in Test cricket you have just got to suck it up.”
India spinner Ravindra Jadeja took two wickets to help out the seamers.
He said: “Everyone bowled well. Especially when the partnership between Moeen Ali and Alastair Cook was on, our plan was to stop the boundaries. Our plan was that if they didn’t get boundaries, they’d panic and play wrong shots and get out – and that’s exactly what happened.”
The only success in the first two sessions for the tourists was down to left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja, who saw off Jennings with a sucker punch when the left-hander turned gentle spin straight into the hands of leg-slip.
It was a head-scratcher that the afternoon passed wicketless, although only 55 runs accrued from 31 overs.
In early evening, things began happening much more quickly for India.
Cook edged his 190th delivery, an inswinger from round the wicket, down on to middle stump then Root and Jonny Bairstow came and went in an all-Yorkshire blur for respective third and fourth-ball ducks.
Moeen was still in determined mood and reached his atypical half-century – at a tempo to make Cook proud – from 167 balls, having hit just four fours.
By then he had lost Ben Stokes plumb lbw after a misjudgment against Jadeja, and when Moeen himself and Sam Curran were both caught behind off Ishant in the space of three balls, this was India’s day – despite Cook.