Alastair Cook marked his 291st and final Test innings in fairytale fashion with a memorable century as England built a 404-run lead over India at tea on the fourth day of the fifth Test on Monday.
England’s most-capped Test player and record run scorer began the day 46 not out and rolled back the years as he cruised to a 33rd Test century before lunch.
He was finally out for 147, caught behind off the bowling of spinner Hanuma Vihari.
Joe Root had departed the ball before for 125, top-edging Vihari to deep mid-wicket to end a third-wicket partnership of 259 with the man he replaced as captain last year.
It was a welcome return to form for Root who had gone a year without a Test century and eight innings without a half century.
Cook’s exit prompted a flurry of wickets with Mohammed Shami bowling Jonny Bairstow for 18 and Jos Buttler lobbing up a catch to Shami off Ravindra Jadeja for a duck.
Ben Stokes (13) and Sam Curran (7) took England’s lead beyond 400 with a declaration imminent.
England took an unassailable 3-1 lead against the top-ranked Test nation with victory in Southampton so the series climax became the Alastair Cook show following his decision to call time on his 12-year international career.
Tickets for Cook’s final bow in his 161st Test match were being snapped up outside the historic south London ground on Monday.
The sizeable fourth day crowd, the vast majority in their seats before the start, were not to be disappointed.
Just as on Friday when Cook made 71 the 33-year-old was treated to a succession of rousing standing ovations -- seven in total on a day that will go down in English cricket folklore.
The first greeted his arrival at the crease, another broke out when he reached 50 with a trademark boundary nudged off his legs and another arrived when he got to 76 to move past Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara into fifth on the all-time list of Test run scorers and become the highest-scoring Test left-hander.
The loudest and most prolonged, however, was reserved for the special moment Cook reached his 33rd Test century, albeit in farcical circumstances.
On 96 he worked spinner Jadeja for a comfortable single but Jasprit Bumrah’s wild throw in from the outfield went skidding through for four overthrows.
Cook’s face broke into a broad smile and he removed his helmet, raising his bat to acknowledge the crowd before getting a hearty hug from Root.
The nervous tension disappeared after lunch as Cook and Root piled on the misery for a flagging Indian attack.
With 218 runs in his 161st match Cook guaranteed he will retire with a Test average of 45.
And fittingly his final contribution for his country with the bat was a century against India -- the team he scored a debut century against 12 years ago in Nagpur.
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