England captain Alastair Cook pulls one on way to hitting 95 on the first day of the third Test against India at Rose Bowl in Southampton on Sunday. PHOTO: REUTERS
England captain Alastair Cook was in sight of ending his barren run without a Test hundred as he continued to make India pay for dropping him in the third Test at Southampton on Monday.
At tea on the first day, England were 186 for one with Cook 82 not out and Gary Ballance 72 not out.
The left-handers' partnership was so far worth 131, with England yet to lose a wicket after lunch.
An India attack missing injured paceman Ishant Sharma, whose career-best seven for 74 sealed their 95-run win in the second Test at Lord's, was unable to pose much of a physical threat on a slow but evenly-paced pitch.
But if those circumstances were in Cook's favour, the fact was that prior to this match he had scored just 638 runs in 27 Test innings, at an average of 23.6, since the last of his England record 25 hundreds against New Zealand at Leeds in May last year.
Several ex-England skippers, the latest being Test exile Kevin Pietersen on Saturday, had called on Cook to quit the captaincy in a bid to rediscover his form with the bat.
But the undaunted Cook, despite his run drought and with England 1-0 down in the five-match series, opted to bat first on a green-tinged surface.
Cook edged the first ball of the match, from Bhuvneshwar Kumar, just short of the slips.
He then had a huge let-off when, on 15 and with England 25 without loss.
Cook opened the face when pushing out against 6ft 6in Test debutant Pankaj Singh, Ishant Sharma's replacement, and got a thick outside edge but Ravindra Jadeja dropped a seemingly simple catch at third slip.
But a first-wicket partnership worth 55 ended when Australia-born Sam Robson fell in familiar fashion.
Mohammed Shami squared up Robson with a delivery that cut away off the pitch and this time third slip Jadeja held the catch.
Shami also beat Cook outside off stump and next ball had the 29-year-old edging a drive through a vacant gully for four.
But two cut fours off spinners Rohit Sharma, recalled in place of dropped all-rounder Stuart Binny in the only other change to the India team, and Jadeja took Cook to 48 not out at lunch in a total of 78 for one.
Cook completed a 98-ball fifty with a pulled two off Shami as the crowd signalled its support with a standing ovation, an unusual accolade for a half-century as opposed to a hundred.
Two balls later, Cook pulled Shami for a resounding boundary only, when on 54, to be beaten by an excellent leg-cutter.
Meanwhile Ballance completed a 107-ball fifty including five fours.
It meant the Zimbabwe-born Ballance, who'd repeatedly come in with England in difficulty, had now scored two hundreds and two fifties in his six Tests.
England made three changes from the side beaten at Lord's, bringing in debutant wicketkeeper Jos Buttler for the injured Matt Prior while all-rounders Chris Jordan and Chris Woakes replaced fast bowler Liam Plunkett and Ben Stokes.