Alastair Cook battled hard with an innings of 96 off 233 balls on Day 3 at Lord's © Getty Images
Alastair Cook battled hard with an innings of 96 off 233 balls on Day 3 at Lord’s © Getty Images

Alastair Cook was under tremendous pressure few months ago, having not scored any Test ton for about two years. He ended the drought in the West Indies and has not looked back. At Lord’s in the ongoing second Ashes 2015 Test, Cook missed out on his 28th Test ton but he importantly played out time, which was the need of the hour for England. Nikhil Popat feels this could well be the difference going further into the Ashes 2015.

Alastair Cook returned to form with a fine century against West Indies, it also came in tougher times, England were reduced to 38 for three. He got little support from players at other end but he continued to fight on his way to his 27th Test ton. He could only manage to get  105 and England went on to lose the game to West Indies. With New Zealand coming, he knew he would be tested. He came good at Lord’s, scored a brilliant 162 to set up a win for England against New Zealand. READ: Australia lead by 362 runs at stumps;in complete control of 2nd Ashes Test at Lord’s

He did not have a good first Test against Australia at Cardiff. He was caught off the bowling of Lyon in the first innings for a score of 20 and in the next one, Mitchell Starc had him caught at backward point by Lyon for 12. At Lord’s, Cook was not happy when England lost the toss and they had to field for he knew the conditions were good for batting and Australia piled up 566 for eight declared. READ: Australia bowl England out for 312; gain lead of 254 runs in 2nd Ashes 2015 Test at Lord’s

When Australia declared just moments after Tea, Cook would have been looking forward to batting at a place he has last scored a ton but he had more to take into account apart from himself.  He saw wickets fall like nine pins at the other end and in no time England were four down for a score of just 30. Staying at the crease was the need of the hour and it was right up Cook’s basic game of leaving the ball well. He was calm, and did not worry about the scorecard as Stokes was doing more than enough at the other end to keep the runs coming. SCORECARD: England vs Australia 2nd Test at Lord’s

On Day Three, he started in similar manner, content on leaving balls outside off, putting the odd ball away to the fence. He was particularly severe on anything short and was pulling the ball well. When Lyon came on to bowl, he beat him on the first ball, he defended the second and third ball, down came Cook and slammed Lyon over mid off for a boundary. This is not the way Cook plays but here he knew he had to, at times, show the intent to get the deficit down England were chasing a huge score.

He brought up his fifty with a neat clip through mid-wicket for a triple, his 43rd Test half-century but he knew the job was far from done.  He then saw Mitchell Marsh get rid of Ben Stokes who was nearing his fourth Test ton, Stokes had taken up the mantle of scoring runs while Cook had dropped anchor already and was happy to bat out time.

He was on 63 when Cook got a short one on the middle, he went for the pull, he connected well but there was Steven Smith stationed there, he shelved the chance. It probably came quicker to Smith than he expected but it gave Cook life and suddenly it looked him Cook was on the move. He hit three fours in the next 11 balls to go into the seventies.

He was on 77, another short ball, he pulled it to fine leg fence with ease, 83, another short ball outside off, Cook cut it to perfection as the ball raced away to the point fence. Cook was starting to go after the bowling a bit as Australians lost their lines a bit. He was on 87, a number that worked for Australia before when Stokes got out, Cook was not going to give in that easily, he pulled the next ball which was short too and got a single to retain the strike. He was not going to give Australia any inch of him.

Even Johnson tried to put him off, he was batting on 89 off 223 balls but Johnson had a few words to say. Cook’s response was calm yet very dismissive. He did not even move a muscle in response to Johnson’s sledge and it reflected how strong Cook is as a captain, player, individual.

On 90, he saw Marsh come back into the attack, he did not lose any momentum and hit one on his pads to the fence for a boundary. The next over, Marsh bowled one outside off, Cook had been leaving well all the while but was sucked into playing this one, result, an inside edge that cannoned into the stumps.

A hundred at home, an Ashes hundred at home missed. Cook sat down in despair, this was not Cook who played that shot, and the need of the hour got the better of him.

But Cook had done his job the best he could, he was quiet when needed and attacked Australia when he thought that was needed, the new aggression cost him a ton. He has four Ashes Test tons but none in England, it might not be something that would give him sleepless nights but with his 96, he showed his own teammates, that the pitch did not have that many demons but it was on mental part, and they had to apply themselves. They will need more of that going into the last couple of days as they attempt to defy Australia a win at the ‘Home of cricket’.

(Nikhil Popat is a cricket lover and a PotterHead. He can be followed on Twitter @CricCrazyNIKS)