ALASTAIR COOK was powerless to prevent a record last-wicket stand, then registered another batting failure of his own, as the England captain’s fortunes steadfastly refused to improve.
Cook’s inventive field placings, on the slowest of international pitches for the first Investec Test at Trent Bridge, came to nothing as Bhuvneshwar Kumar (58) and Mohammed Shami (51 not out) shut England out for 38 overs.
England had previously induced a collapse of four wickets for two runs as India stumbled to 346 for nine, only for two maiden Test 50s to resuscitate the tourists on the way to 457 all out.
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The frustrations of a weary England attack were therefore multiplied, as doubtless were Cook’s when he lasted less than four overs of the reply.
The circumstances of his dismissal, for just five to extend his run without a century to 25 innings dating back more than a year, were cruel.
Cook got too far across his stumps in defence to Shami, but few would have noticed had the ball not freakishly deflected off the under-side of his thigh pad down on to leg-stump.
The only consolation was that, by the close of day two, his opening partner Sam Robson and Gary Ballance had guided England to 43 without further loss.
Kumar and Shami’s unexpected heroics meant that for the second time in successive summers at this ground, where Australia’s debutant number 11 Ashton Agar came within two runs of an Ashes hundred, England were the stooges as a record tenth-wicket partnership took hold.
Numbers nine and 11 were immovable in the highest last stand in any Test between these two countries.
They made a mockery of India’s earlier collapse, delaying tea and then returning to complete their 50s in successive balls – Shami’s with a six back over the head of England’s senior seamer James Anderson.
Number 11 Shami in particular excelled himself, ‘boasting’ a previous all-time high of 33 in his professional career and Test average of 3.33.
Murali Vijay (146) and Mahendra Singh Dhoni (82) completed their own century stand as just one wicket fell before lunch.
Cook had already exhausted the conventional captain’s manual to try to eke out wickets, and explored a new set of unlikely methods on another sunny morning.
They included an 8-1 offside field for Anderson (three for 123), and the abandonment of slip as a catching position in favour of four fielders on the drive.
There was an irony to Vijay’s departure, lbw on the back foot to a delivery from Anderson which simulation demonstrated – unlike so many on this surface – would have cleared the stumps.
But India, by their own unilateral volition, have no recourse to DRS – so Vijay’s 361-ball, near eight-hour vigil was over.
England had two other opportunities to make progress in the morning session.
The first came in only the third over when Dhoni, without addition to his overnight 50, was dropped by Matt Prior off Stuart Broad – a tough one-handed chance diving to his right.
Dhoni instead picked up two runs for the edged drive, his only scoring shot from the first 30 balls he faced on the resumption.
For all Cook’s continued plotting and his bowlers’ resolve, the nearest they came to a second morning wicket was when the India captain called Ravindra Jadeja for a single to the final ball of an Anderson over – only for Ben Stokes to miss his shy at the stumps from cover and concede four overthrows.
Jadeja made his way back on strike to Moeen Ali and desposited England’s sole spinner for two straight sixes in three balls.
If that was a break from preceding attrition, it was still more so when England started the afternoon with four wickets in 21 balls.
Jadeja edged behind chasing a short ball from Stokes and in the same bowler’s next over Dhoni pushed an attempted single to mid off and was run out by an athletic direct hit from Anderson, before debutant Stuart Binny speared a catch straight to point.
Broad had his second wicket when Ishant Sharma left a delivery that hit the top of off-stump, and it seeemed Cook’s men were suddenly on the fast track.
But Kumar and Shami had other ideas.
The two tailenders were conspicuously untroubled, and free-scoring, although Shami edged Liam Plunkett behind yet was reprieved on 37 when an entirely unconvincing appeal perhaps persuaded Bruce Oxenford notout was still in order.
It remained that way until Kumar got greedy and holed out at mid-on off Moeen.