Cricket - Cook relishes return to form

Alastair Cook is back on the front foot as England captain and opener, after answering his many critics with a pivotal innings for England.

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Alastair Cook fell five runs short of a century

Cook fell five runs short of ending his sequence of Test innings without a century in his 28th since he made 130 against New Zealand at Headingley 14 months ago.

But after he and Gary Ballance (104no) had put their stamp on day one of the third Investec Test against India at the Ageas Bowl, there was vindication.

His determination to resist calls for his resignation, after a run of seven defeats in nine matches, received a much-needed endorsement - as did his batting technique - perhaps in the nick of time.

Cook admitted afterwards he had modified his technique mid-innings, with an exaggerated move of head and left foot towards the line of the ball.

It paid off, if not with a long-overdue century then very nearly as England reached stumps on 247 for two after Cook's second-wicket stand of 158 with Ballance.

He said: "The most pleasing aspect is that, probably under the most pressure I've ever been under as a player - when everyone is telling me to stop doing it, and it doesn't work ... to score runs is a nice place to be.

"I would have loved those extra five runs - so that, whatever it is, the 27 innings (without a century) everyone keeps banging on about could have stopped and recounted.

"But it's just nice to contribute."

He was left with feelings much closer to satisfaction than otherwise.

"Mixed feelings sums it up ... it's frustrating when you're five runs short.

"But if you'd sat here talking to me yesterday and offered me 95, I would have snapped your hand off.

"I'm obviously delighted I've got 95, (but) frustrated I haven't managed to get a hundred."

Whether his overdue contribution will silence those critics for long is a moot point, but not one he is fretting about.

"You'll never silence everyone ... that's the nature of the beast.

"But what it's done for me is (it's) given me some confidence that my batting is going in the right direction again.

"I just know I've got to make sure my head position is good, coming on to the front foot.

"I've never really changed my trigger movements during an innings. That's the first time I've done it.

"A lot more today, I was coming at the ball. It is different for me, but it seemed to work."

Cook did have a slice of luck on 15 when Ravindra Jadeja, who eventually had him caught-behind down the leg-side, dropped a regulation chance at third slip of Pankaj Singh.

It was then he decided this was his day.

"It was exactly that. The attitude was to make sure at least I go down fighting.

"I've always fought throughout my career, and sometimes you do need a bit of luck.

"I can't tell you how frustrating it is as a batter when you keep going out and not scoring runs, and sit back there in the dressing-room ... and everyone's supporting you, but it still feels as if you're letting people down."

Cook was applauded on and then off the ground as if he had made a double-hundred.

"It was an amazing reception - even when I was walking out to bat - the amount of well-wishers, walking down the stairs," he said.

"I've never experienced anything like that.

"It would have been fantastic, the noise if I had got a hundred."

Ballance did just that, for the third time in five Tests - confirming himself as England's find of the summer.

"It's very, very impressive," said his captain.

"That's what struck us when he first came into the England side.

"He came on tour and was quite a nervous character ... now he's found his feet, found his place in the dressing-room, he's settled really well and looks a mighty fine player."

India had less to smile about.

Bowling coach Joe Dawes said: "The scoreboard says it's not our day ... probably not the best on tour for our attack.

"We just need to tighten a couple of things up for tomorrow."

Sunday belonged instead to Cook, a fact acknowledged among others by his controversial former team-mate Kevin Pietersen.

Only 24 hours earlier, Pietersen had joined the chorus for Cook to resign.

But after the captain's response, he appeared full of admiration - tweeting: "Under the amount of pressure Cook was under, that was quite brilliant! Really happy he got runs. Well done, AC"

Cook passed both Pietersen and then David Gower in the course of an innings which took him up to third in the all-time list of England's top Test runscorers.

Afterwards, it was clear his sense of humour - as well as his form - was back.

Asked if it gave him particular pleasure to go above two such notables, he conspicuously left out Pietersen's name: "Well, it's nice to get past Gower isn't it? Let's be honest."

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