A gutsy century from Gary Ballance rescued what could have been a calamitous day for England against India at Lord's on Friday. There was no respite for the beleaguered Alastair Cook though, who was caught behind by a diving MS Dhoni for just 10.
Ballance should have exited in exactly the same manner on 32 but the Yorkshireman's edge inexplicably flew between Dhoni and Shikhar Dhawan with neither getting even a paw on it. On such fine margins can careers change.
All of Ballance's first six dismissals in Test cricket were lbw or caught behind, suggesting a frailty against the moving ball. His technique would be tested on a second day Lord's pitch still offering assistance to anyone who bowled full and straight. The Indian seamers by and large did that, but Ballance passed his exam with flying colours.
The 24-year-old may not be the easiest batsman on the eye, but what he lacks in the elegance stakes, he more than makes up for with a nuggety determination. The Yorkshireman's knock was especially impressive considering the scrutiny he was under following his recent topless antics in Nottingham.
Quite ironic that Ballance Bats in a sweater in 90 degrees heat but takes his shirt off when having a pint.....— Michael Vaughan (@MichaelVaughan) July 18, 2014
As the Sky Sports wagon wheel shows, Ballance scored all round the wicket and was particularly harsh on anything short and wide.
For those that like a Wagon Wheel, check out Gary Ballance's splendid century. pic.twitter.com/fcrX1bxxyi— Sky Sports Cricket (@SkyCricket) July 18, 2014
It took a leg-side strangle to finally dismiss England's No. 3, but not before he had 110 runs to his name and brought his side back into contention.
In getting on the honours board for the second time in just two Test appearances at Lord's, Ballance joined a very exclusive club. Andrew Strauss and Jonathan Trott are the only other two England batsmen to have reached three figures in their first two matches at headquarters. England fans will no doubt be hoping he goes on to emulate the feats of his southern African-born predecessors.
Ballance has joined an exclusive club by scoring a 100 in his first two Lord's Test matches. pic.twitter.com/xWbxM7Tho1— Sky Sports Cricket (@SkyCricket) July 18, 2014
While Ballance made the most of his good fortune, Alastair Cook's woes at the top of the order continued. The England skipper looked solid early in his innings. His feet were moving positively and he was playing very straight.
An in-form Cook would have probably left the wide delivery from Bhuvneshwar Kumar that started the 11th over. Instead he nibbled, nicked it and watched helplessly as MS Dhoni took a sprawling catch.
The latest failure takes the number of innings since Cook reached a century to 26. In that time he's scored just 616 runs at an average of 23.79. The most recent stats make even more depressing reading, with Cook's last six Test innings bringing a paltry 93 runs.
As Australian skipper Mark Taylor showed, it's possible for a side to carry a captain if they're consistently victorious. Taylor failed to pass 50 in 21 successive innings between 1995 and 1997 but the Aussies carried on winning. There's no such luxury for a leader whose side have gone nine Tests without a win.
The calls for Cook to resign are getting louder. We've come to expect it from Kevin Pietersen, cheerleader-in-chief Piers Morgan and from Geoffrey Boycott. Now Nasser Hussain has questioned whether Cook can regain his form with the bat while leading England.
It will take something special for England to come out of this match with a win. When fortune smiled on Gary Ballance, he was adept enough to grab his opportunity. Alastair Cook meanwhile, must be wondering how many more chances he will get.
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