Alastair Cook finally reached his 20th Test century as bat dominated ball on the opening day of the first Test between England and South Africa at the Oval today.
Cook had gone 16 innings since turning his 19th century into a career-best 294 at Edgbaston last August, but made 114 not out as England reached 267-3 on a slow pitch.
The knock moved Cook level with his Essex mentor and England batting coach Graham Gooch as well as team-mate Kevin Pietersen in fifth place in his country’s list of most prolific centurions.
Cook has faltered on 94 twice in the last 12 months but he made no mistake this time, pushing an undemonstrative single to cover off leg-spinner Imran Tahir to complete his five-hour hundred in 222 balls – having hit 11 fours and one six.
Cook missed few opportunities to score either, though, as he and Jonathan Trott recovered so impressively from the shock of Andrew Strauss’ departure to only the fourth ball of this three-match series.
England chose to bat first on a cloudy morning – and after a rogue shower delayed the start by 15 minutes and Strauss lasted barely a couple more, the second-wicket pair shut out South Africa’s much-hyped attack for more than two sessions.
World number one fast bowler Dale Steyn was off the pitch for treatment to an ankle injury during a much brighter afternoon, but still got through 21 overs to no avail by stumps.
England’s day could hardly have started any worse when Strauss was lbw to Morne Morkel, via DRS for a duck.
Cook and Trott then played patiently, but when South Africa dropped short they began to pick up boundaries across the never-ending Oval square.
For good measure, Cook also counted a six with mis-hook at Steyn into the stand at long-leg – only the sixth six of his Test career.
When Cook passed his 50 in mid-afternoon, he also brought up his and Trott’s seventh century stand together. On 71, Trott edged a drive behind to give Morkel his second wicket.
His determined innings set the stage not just for Cook to continue but Pietersen to up the ante with his range of strokes.
Pietersen, though, was caught behind for 42, aiming a pull at Jacques Kallis, who ended a stand of 81 runs. (Sky)