Alastair Cook delighted The Oval crowd with a fairytale century in his final Test innings for England on a remarkable day of career landmarks.
Cook’s 33rd Test hundred, replete with nine standing ovations from the 19,300 fans enticed to witness his historic last hurrah, preceded a late bid for a share of the glory from fellow England record-breaker James Anderson.
After Cook (147) and Joe Root (125) helped England pile up 423 for eight declared on day four of the fifth Specsavers Test, Anderson then equalled Glenn McGrath’s all-time world record of 563 wickets for any pace bowler. The upshot was a near hopeless position for India.
Thanks to Anderson, and Stuart Broad, the tourists lurched to two for three before recovering to 58 without further loss in notional pursuit of 464 for victory.
This was billed as an occasion all about Cook – unbeaten on 46 at the start of play, while for good measure his wife Alice reached her due date to give birth to their third child.
The 33-year-old opener, England’s all-time record runscorer, became only the fifth batsman to bookend his career with a century in his first and last Test as he and Root shared a mammoth third-wicket stand of 259.
Cook, nicknamed “Chef” by his team-mates, belied his stoic reputation as he rapidly ticked off the milestones.
His first standing ovation came for merely walking out to resume his innings, and he needed just two deliveries to complete his half-century.
Next up was Kumar Sangakkara’s mark of 12,400 Test runs, taking Cook up to fifth in the global list. That did not escape the attention of the PA announcer and the Monday crowd, warming to the ‘I was there’ experience, lapped it all up again.
The big moment came with an element of surprise thanks to Jasprit Bumrah’s four overthrows. The bonus runs took Cook from 97, after a back-cut single off Hanuma Vihari, to 101. For once, it seemed, the most self-contained of sportsmen did not know quite what to do with himself.
He waved his bat to all four corners of the ground then exchanged handshakes with his own captain and India’s Virat Kohli, and cupped his ear to the heavens – the unexplained personal gesture he has made on reaching each of his Test centuries.
At the other end, Root’s 14th century was nonetheless significant as his first not just of the year, like Cook’s, but also in 28 innings since Edgbaston 13 months ago. Root was twice dropped at slip, on 46 by Ajinkya Rahane off Ravindra Jadeja and 94 by Cheteshwar Pujara off the luckless Mohammed Shami.
England were utterly dominant by the time Root and Cook were both suddenly dismissed in the blink of an eye as debutant Vihari, a part-time off-spinner, put himself on a hat-trick.
Root picked out sub fielder Hardik Pandya with a slog-sweep; then, barely after his due appreciation had died down, Cook edged a cut behind to end his near six-and-a-half-hour stay.
He made his way off, to more vociferous approval of course, twice allowing himself a turn to drink in what he was leaving behind.
Root insisted on more swishing from the middle order and tail until, after a relative rush of wickets, he declared with 18 overs left in the day.
Anderson answered the call in style, with enough movement to have both Shikhar Dhawan and Pujara lbw in his second over.
Kohli’s prized wicket has evaded Anderson all summer, and it did again because Broad instead had him caught-behind for a golden duck, pushing away from his body, before KL Rahul and Rahane quelled the storm.