Alastair Cook signed off in style with a 33rd Test hundred in his final innings in international cricket on a remarkable day at The Oval today.
It began with Cook’s fairytale farewell and ended with James Anderson (2-23) moving level with Glenn McGrath on 563 Test wickets, the record among fast bowlers.
The day though was about Cook, who played with greater fluency than at any point in the series and earned a rapturous and heartfelt ovation as he brought up his hundred just before lunch and went on to make 147 before leaving the field to further acclaim.
Joe Root (125) also reached three figures, ending a run of 11 unconverted fifties in Tests, in a partnership of 259 with Cook setting England up to declare on 423-8 – at which point Anderson took over.
The Lancastrian had Shikhar Dhawan and Cheteshwar Pujara lbw in the space of four balls to match McGrath and, after Stuart Broad (1-17) nicked out Virat Kohli for a golden duck, India were floundering at 2-3 before recovering to 58-3 by the close in their pursuit of 464 for a most improbable victory.
The day started with the crowd on their feet to welcome Cook to the crease for the last time in an England shirt and they were standing again a few moments later as the opener clipped the ball off his hip to the boundary to bring up his fifty.
By the end of the day, some might be forgiven for thinking it would have been easier to remain standing such was the regularity with which they were brought to their feet.
Root reached his fifty having survived on 46 when Ajinkya Rahane was unable to cling on to a very tough chance at slip off Ravindra Jadeja (3-179), but the moment everyone inside The Oval had been waiting for came 15 minutes before lunch.
Cook, on 96 and having already passed Kumar Sangakkara to move fifth in the all-time list of Test run-scorers, dabbed the ball behind square on the offside and ambled through for a comfortable single.
However, Jasprit Bumrah flung the ball towards the stumps looking for a run out that was never on and with nobody backing up the throw, it ran away to the fence – a farewell hundred brought up with a five.
The crowd rose as one to salute Cook, his third standing ovation of the day, as Anderson jumped up in celebration and the rest of the England players banged on the dressing room window.
The applause continued for a number of minutes, holding up the restart for a short while as Cook smiled sheepishly at the non-striker’s end, having become just the fifth player to score a century in both their first and last Test.
Soon after lunch, the crowd were up again, this time for Root, who scampered through for a single to complete his 14th Test hundred, and a first for 13 months, having been given another reprieve on 94 when Pujara shelled a regulation chance at first slip off the unlucky Mohammed Shami (2-110).
Cook and Root were in complete control and it came as something of a surprise when they fell in successive balls to Hanuma Vihari (3-37); Root holed out to deep midwicket before Cook was caught behind on the cut.
It was another memorable moment as Cook left the field, adoration radiating from the crowd and the respect total from India’s fielders as, to a man, they made a beeline towards the departing England batsmen to shake his hand.
With a lead of more than 360 by the time Cook departed, England went into all-out attack mode, losing a further four wickets either side of tea before Root called them in.
England were left with 19 overs to get stuck into the Indian top order and by the end of the fourth they had dismantled it.
Anderson pinned the left-handed Dhawan (1) in front from around the wicket and then repeated the trick from over the wicket to oust Pujara (0).
Two balls later, India’s talisman, Kohli, was on his way back to join them in the dressing room after prodding loosely outside off and edging Broad behind.
KL Rahul (46 not out), who had watched the wickets fall from the other end, was joined by Rahane (10 not out) and together they got India through to stumps.