England are hoping Alastair Cook can ride the wave of public adulation and reward supporters by completing a farewell hundred in his final Test innings at The Oval.
Cook could be excused for being distracted in the 161st Test of his record-breaking career by the due date for his and wife Alice’s third child on day four against India.
But by close of play on day three in this fifth Specsavers Test, the stoic opener was showing no signs of anything but his famed determination as he dug out an unbeaten 46 in a second-innings 114 for two, which gave England a lead of 154.
At the prospect of veteran Cook matching his age with a 33rd Test century, assistant coach Paul Farbrace said: “It’d be fantastic, wouldn’t it?” he said. “It’d be absolutely brilliant. I think he’s just enjoying milking all the applause he’s getting. I think it’s just driving him on to bat as long as he possibly can.”
Cook, who made a century on Test debut 12 years ago and has since become England’s all-time record run-scorer, has already banked five standing ovations this week and is assured of at least two more on his way into bat and back out, whatever he achieves in between.
Farbrace added: “He’s shown everything that he’s about so far in this game.
“He’s just got stuck in, and it’s not easy out there, but he looks as though he’s really enjoying the scrap.”
With Cook, Farbrace knows there will be no loss of concentration. “He’s been pretty calm,” he said. “I’d imagine the reception he got when he went out to bat probably moved him – it moved everybody else in our dressing-room, the fantastic support he’s had.
“He just seems to cope with everything that’s in front of him. As much as we’re going to miss his runs and his catches, I think the calming influence he has among the team, the staff, everybody, is something we’ll all miss.”
That will kick in when England begin their Test tour of Sri Lanka this autumn – one for which Farbrace expects both Cook’s opening partner Keaton Jennings and senior pace pair James Anderson and Stuart Broad all to be selected.
Asked how much Cook, left, will be missed, he said: “Hugely. He seems to have the respect of everybody, and everyone is very comfortable talking to him.
“I think that’s something that, come Sri Lanka, there will be a lot of people looking round and realising what an impact he’s had on them and us as a team. He’s just a very caring bloke, and someone you can talk to about anything and everything.”
England’s advantage here was cut by an enterprising seventh-wicket stand of 77 between Ravindra Jadeja (86no), in his first Test of the series, and debutant Hanuma Vihari (56) – then another for the tenth, after Jennings dropped number 11 Jasprit Bumrah on nought.
“It was very frustrating,” said Farbrace. “But, to be fair to Jadeja, he played magnificently well. I think he’s an exceptional cricketer, a dangerous cricketer, and I think we would probably be reasonably happy that he’s only just played in that last game.”
Jadeja himself said: “You can’t ask for tougher batting [than] in English conditions, with clouds and Anderson and Broad bowling.
“They bowled very well, swinging it both ways, so I was just looking to carry on for as long as I could.”