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Report: England vs India, 3rd Test - Day 1

England on top after Ballance and Cook shine bright on first day

England were comfortably placed on 247/2 at stumps on Day 1 of the third Test against India in Southampton. Alastair Cook and Gary Ballance had put the hosts in a position of advantage with a 158-run stand for the second wicket at the end of day’s play.

While Ballance posted a watchful hundred, Cook capitalised on the reprieve he had received when he was batting on 15 and made 95 to end his poor run with the bat. When play ended on Sunday evening, Ballance was batting on 104 with Ian Bell on 16.

Earlier, on a sunny morning at The Rose Bowl, Cook opted to bat and came out to kick off the day’s proceedings with Robson. India were without the services of Ishant Sharma owing to an injury and his replacement Pankaj Singh created the first opportunity for a breakthrough for the tourists. The debutant, coming in first change after a short and expensive spell by Mohammed Shami, bent his back to keep the batsmen on their toes. He would have had the wicket of the England captain had Ravindra Jadeja at third slip held on to the edge offered by Cook.

The debutant hit the deck hard and swung the ball as he toiled to create more opportunities. Getting the ball to come in to Cook, Singh tied down the left-handed batsman. Bhuvneshwar Kumar bowled full and kept the flow of runs in check with an economical first spell.

The England openers garnered runs after a watchful start until Shami ended the opening stand for 55. In his second spell from the opposite end, he got the outside edge of Robson’s bat with a delivery swerving away from the opener and this time Jadeja held on to the catch at slips. The England skipper was also beaten on a couple of occasions by Shami even as he continued to add on to the tally with Gary Ballance.

Post Lunch, Cook pulled Shami through mid-wicket in the second over to reach his half century. As the innings progressed, the opener looked in good nick while he kept the Indian bowlers at bay. Ballance played the perfect foil to his captain as the pair maintained a good hold on the game.

While the bowlers had kept the flow of runs in check, they weren’t able to trouble the English batsmen. The Indian seamers’ efforts didn’t yield the intended results as the Cook-Ballance partnership took the home team past the three-figure mark and began to take shape. They left the probing deliveries on the off-stump, ran the ones and twos, and found the odd boundary as they carried the innings forward.

As the bowlers toiled on a track which had little to offer for them, MS Dhoni had Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan bowl while Ravindra Jadeja bowled his slow left-arm spin as India looked for a breakthrough.

Ballance then brought up a carefully crafted half-century as the session neared its end as England stayed in the driver’s seat. Having added 108 runs in the second session, the left-handed batting pair’s partnership was worth 131 at the end of the afternoon session.

Resuming in the last session, Cook and Ballance batting on 82 and 72 respectively continued from where they had left. Having blunted the Indian attack, both batsmen looked set for their respective tons. However, while on 95, a Jadeja delivery going down the leg side took the edge off Cook’s bat and Dhoni took the catch to give India a key wicket.

Bell then joined Ballance in the middle who was inching towards his century. The top-order batsman brought up the three-figure mark with a boundary off Shami. The seamers ran in hard with the second new ball without much result as the England batsmen continued to pile on the runs.

Dhoni had used as many as six bowling options through the day in an effort to break the rhythm of the England batsmen and create a breakthrough.

Debut: Pankaj Singh for India; came in for Ishant Sharma and Jos Buttler replaced Matt Prior in the England team.

Other changes in playing eleven: Rohit Sharma in place of Stuart Binny for India, Chris Woakes and Chris Jordon for Liam Plunkett and Ben Stokes for England.

Brief scores:

Day 1:
England 1st inn 247/2 in 90 overs (G Ballance 104*, A Cook 95, I Bell 16*)

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Not stepping down from captaincy: Cook

Beleaguered England skipper determined to stand his ground

Alastair Cook has been under the pump for a while now, owing to the lack of runs from his bat and his team’s run of defeats. He was faced with similar questions ahead of the third Test against India in Southampton and he steadfastly stated that he has no intention of stepping down from England captaincy despite his and the team’s woes.

"As I keep saying in every press conference, I'm desperate to carry on - because I love being England captain. It's a huge honour,” Cook said.

"I said when I first took over, 'I just want to throw everything into it' - and until that time where I don't feel as if I can carry on doing it or someone taps me on the shoulder, then that's what I'm going to do."

About his team’s poor recent record, Cook said the most frustrating aspect is not finishing off games from positions of strength.

"The frustrating thing has been that we've been getting ourselves into situations, especially in the four Test matches where we're ahead of the game by quite a long way and haven't been able to force that result.

"We must be doing a lot of things really well. But at the crucial sessions, when we need to stamp our authority to get that win, we haven't managed to take (that chance). It's bubbling under but the longer it goes without a win it becomes harder and harder,” he said.

About his own lack of form, Cook said, “History suggests when I score runs England have a really good chance of winning games of cricket. That is exciting – I love that. There is nothing worse when you don’t score runs than walking back in and feeling you have let the other 10 guys because that is your job as an opening batter – to score runs and set up games. I haven’t been doing that and that is frustrating.”

He said he has been putting in extra time and effort in his batting. “The other day I came down early and had a two-hour hit with Mooresy (Peter Moores) and I was in early today so I am putting in the hard yards and sometimes you don’t feel as if you are getting rewards.

That is why it is such a hard game at the top of the order against quality bowlers –that is why it is Test cricket. Nothing will give me more satisfaction than if I do pull through and score runs because I know how much effort and blood, sweat and tears have gone into it.”

He said he has been hitting the ball well in the nets and now it’s all about transforming that in the performance on the field.

“The last two or three weeks – I know it is just a net – but the ball has been hitting the middle of the bat, the ball is going where I want the ball to be going, I feel as if I am moving well. At Lord’s I battled hard and the two mistakes I made I got out. To me it is not that far away – I just can’t keep saying it – everyone will laugh until I get results.”