Cook and Root hit centuries in final warm-up

Alastair Cook on the attack during his century knock at the Pietermaritzburg Oval yesterday. Picture: Getty
Alastair Cook on the attack during his century knock at the Pietermaritzburg Oval yesterday. Picture: Getty
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Alastair Cook and Joe Root reeled off impressive hundreds as England enjoyed a near-perfect Test warm-up 
on day two against South 
Africa A.

Head coach Trevor Bayliss will have enjoyed his 53rd birthday, spent watching his captain and vice-captain tune up for the Boxing Day Test in Durban in convincing fashion in a total of 414 for six declared.

Cook made 126, passing three figures with a domineering pulled six off Marchant De Lange, with Root making a typically ebullient 117 in 125 balls.

The tourists ended the day 243 ahead, with South Africa A 35 for two in their second innings at stumps.

Elsewhere on a confidence-boosting day at the Pietermaritzburg Oval, there was a half-century for Cook’s partner Alex Hales, who made 56 before losing his off stump offering no stroke, and Ben Stokes again looked in ominous touch as he thrashed 66 in quick time.

With Steven Finn apparently locking down the third seamer’s spot with four wickets on day one, things could hardly have gone better for England against what a seemed a strong side on paper.

Cook and Root are the top two run-scorers in Test cricket this year, on 1,357 and 1,288 respectively, and will be the central pillars of the English batting effort against the Proteas. On this evidence, they are ready to shoulder that burden.

This was no lame duck exercise for England, with De Lange and Chris Morris both senior internationals and Dane Paterson boasting a fine first-class record.

It is not inconceivable that at least one, possibly De Lange, will feature in the Test series but England did nothing to boost the trio’s credentials.

They resumed on 64 for nought in reply to their hosts’ meagre 136 all out and both openers passed 50 with minimal fuss.

Cook did so first and quickest, in 82 balls compared to Hales’ 86. But the Nottinghamshire man batted with real purpose to double his overnight total of 28 and will regret his decision to leave a Paterson delivery that pegged back his off stump.

It was his second such misjudgement in three innings and, while the likes of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel will have taken note, England may be more pleased with his first meaningful runs on the trip than concerned about the manner of his exit.

Cook played safely but was ready to attack, cutting and pulling when the length allowed, before slog-sweeping spinner Keshav Maharaj for six. Either side of lunch he shared a stand of 66 in 20 overs with Nick Compton, before the No 3 was out to a soft 
lbw against spinner Keshav Maharaj.

Cook’s hundred came in style, picking up De Lange’s short ball early and pulling powerfully over the midwicket ropes.

Two sweetly-timed cuts for four followed close behind and, by the time he departed to Maharaj’s gentle left-arm spin, he had lasted almost 68 overs and seen enough.

Root willingly took charge once Cook left, scoring with efficient regularity and no shortage of panache against Maharaj, off whom the Yorkshireman scored 69 of his runs. He survived a couple of thick edges when De Lange took the new ball but soon regained control.

Maharaj added a third wicket when James Taylor fed him a return catch but that brought Stokes to the crease and he was at his bullying best in a century stand over only 15.1 overs. Stokes imposed his power on a drained attack with eight boundaries and two sixes.

De Lange, having been launched over midwicket for the second time in the innings, eventually had Stokes caught in the deep, but it was a hollow victory. So, too, Maharaj’s fourth wicket, Root top-edging a pull to bring about the declaration.

That left England with 11 overs, enough to see off both openers. Stephen Cookwas trapped lbw by Stuart Broad and Reeza Hendricks was bowled by Moeen Ali.

An innings victory on the third and final day is now the realistic aim.