ALASTAIR Cook fell five agonising runs short of a long-overdue Test century, but still put his team in a highly advantageous position against India at the Ageas Bowl.
England’s most prolific centurion had luck on his side in the third Test, and appeared set to make it count by taking his career tally to 26 hundreds – 14 months and 28 innings after his 25th.
He answered his many critics with a fine hand at the top of the order, but the century was not to be as Ravindra Jadeja – the man who dropped Essex player Cook on 15 – eventually got him caught-behind down the leg-side from a bottom-edged pull 80 runs later.
Cook followed his and Sam Robson’s first half-century opening stand together, at the eighth attempt, by adding another 158 with Gary Ballance (86no) as England reached the dominance of 213 for two.
His personal reward was within touching distance after almost five hours at the crease only for him to fall midway through the evening session, to the 231st ball he faced.
The England captain, under intense pressure as his team try to arrest a run of seven defeats in nine matches, might easily have gone much more cheaply after winning the toss on a bright but cloudy morning.
He survived when he poked out at a Pankaj Singh delivery from round the wicket and should have become the debutant’s maiden Test victim only for Jadeja to put down a straightforward chance at third slip.
He nonetheless went past first Kevin Pietersen and then, after lunch, David Gower to move up to third in England’s list of all-time Test runscorers as England closed on 247-2.