Fortune, Skill and Bravery Put Alastair Cook's England on Cusp of 1st Test Win

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Fortune, Skill and Bravery Put Alastair Cook's England on Cusp of 1st Test Win
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Afternoon Session, Day Four

Alastair Cook leaves the ball alone outside off stump.

Alastair Cook leaves the ball alone outside off stump.

Alastair Cook leaves the ball alone outside off stump. 

Social media often amplifies the dissenting voice of the minority, but as Alastair Cook leaves the ball alone outside off stump regularly and consistently during his 114-ball 70 not out, Twitter could explode. 

England have a first-innings lead of 239, they are 1-0 down in the series, and have the best part of two sessions to bat, declare and set a total for India—why was Cook batting so defensively?

And yet, and yet, when England declare on the stroke of tea, Cook, unbeaten on 70 with a strike-rate of 61 and with the proactive assistance of Gary Ballance, Ian Bell and Joe Root around him, has marshalled England to a total of 205-4 in 40.4 overs, setting India 445 to win the match and giving England 132 overs to take 10 wickets.

England have set India a huge total and are 10 good balls from victory—and no one knows quite how.

Morning Session, Day One

The ball from Pankaj Singh was quick and full and it found a thick edge on Cook's bat; from there it flew low, hard and fast into the hands of Ravi Jadeja at third slip.

And out on to the turf. Dropped.

Cook was on 15. He'd go on to score 95. And no one knows quite how.

Christopher Lee/Getty Images

Afternoon Session, Day Two

Jos Buttler walks off the ground to rapturous applause. He's hit three sixes and nine fours, but he's been dropped once, should have been stumped by a couple of metres and on nought was most probably caught in the slips but it was deemed not to have carried. 

Buttler has scored 85 off 83 balls, but no one knows quite how. 

Michael Steele/Getty Images

Afternoon Session, Day Three

The match is stagnating, Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma appear comfortable. England seem lost. The pitch is beating the players.

Mooen Ali tosses a ball up to Rohit who tentatively ventures from his crease like an animal emerging from hibernation. He's barely halfway to the pitch of the ball when, with the enthusiasm of a granny poking a bee hive with a walking stick, Sharma bunts the ball meekly into the hands of the fielder at mid-off. 

England have a wicket on the stroke of tea, India can't build partnerships. India are 210-5 and no one knows quite how. 

Stu Forster/Getty Images

Evening Session, Day Four

The new ball is losing its shine. Mural Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan are bedding in. The runs are beginning to flow and the bowlers' heads are dropping. 

Dhawan fends a short ball from Woakes away and calls Vijay through for a sharp single. But Vijay is slow to respond. The danger is clear, but he can pick up no pace. He's running in treacle.

Stuart Broad swoops athletically on the ball and diving, flicks it towards the stumps. It's close. It goes to the third umpire. It's out.

India have lost their first wicket, and no one knows quite how. 

Stu Forster/Getty Images

Evening Session, Day Four

Vijay is gone, but if anyone is going to save this match for India, it's Che Pujara. Pujara dreams of situations like these and could play second-rate spin from the womb.

Cook boldly turns to Ali in the 13th over of the innings. His second ball is dropped beautifully on a length; it tempts Pujara forward, who pokes, who prods, who edges. Chris Jordan snaps his hand down waspishly at first slip. He gets his fingers under the ball. He's caught it.

Pujara is shocked. Pujara is disgusted. Pujara is out. India are suddenly two down. Mooen Ali is breaking India. And no one knows quite how.

Stu Forster/Getty Images

There have been 12 sessions in this Test match, 12, and England have won every single one of them.

And yet the cricket has been tight, cagey, competitive and genuinely compelling at times. It's been an even contest. England have never been all over India and India have never looked totally out of their depth.

There have just been little moments, tiny moments that now, in hindsight, seem decisive. Dropped catches, missed stumpings, bold bowling changes. They don't amount to much. They don't amount to logical advantage. Or indeed understandable domination.

But England have the advantage. England have the domination. England are six wickets away from their first Test victory in almost a year—and no one knows quite how.

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