Captain’s knock: Persistent, perfect, priceless

Having gone back in his crease to cut Ravichandran Ashwin to the fielder at deep point, Alastair Cook skittered a couple of steps diagonally across the pitch before trotting to the other end to complete his single.

This was the first ball of the 93 rd over of England's innings, and nothing particularly dramatic had happened. But it was an important delivery nonetheless, for Cook's unbeaten and virtually untroubled innings of 168 was built around the avoidance of dramatic events. And that ball, the 254 th faced by Cook, contained a number of ingredients critical to how his innings, and England's resistance on Day Four, unfolded.

Early in the over, Cook had gotten off strike. He did this brilliantly right through. Despite spending all of England's 128 overs at the crease, Cook faced only 341 balls, roughly 44 per cent of the total deliveries. Today, he was on strike only 40 per cent of the time. None of the bowlers pinned him at one end. No one managed to build any pressure on him.

That ball from Ashwin was short. Conventional wisdom has it that off spinners prefer bowling to left-handers. Despite getting Cook caught at slip in the first innings, with a peach of an off break, Ashwin probably doesn't. At this stage of his career, he can be a little wayward with his length, and drags the ball short much more frequently than, say, Pragyan Ojha – whose pitch map was tightly packed with deliveries on a good length.

On this track, cutting a shortish delivery from an off spinner is fraught with risk for the right-hander. And the ball needs to be much shorter – a long-hop – to pull safely, considering how often the ball has kept low. But even a slightly short delivery presents the left-hander width. Cook frequently cut Ashwin – for boundaries on Saturday evening, and singles on Sunday, when a deep point lurked to cut off fours.

... contd.

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