I never used to think much of Alastair Cook. And by that I mean I hardly gave him any thought, because while a technically gifted batsman and a natural run-getter, he just seemed rather bland. Boring press conferences, knocks fading from memory as soon as they were over, pretty face under the helmet.
And then Ahmedabad happened, and I finally saw a facial expression other than his usual unfazed nonchalance. It was rage. Utter fury. I thought his chiseled jaw was going to shatter he was clenching it that hard, as he watched his fellow batsmen tumble around him.
The two months before this Test saw Cook deal with all manner of off-field drama, mostly to do with getting Kevin Pietersen back in the side without anyone causing a riot/penning a tell-all book. Then half his bowling attack got injured, he had to blood a new opening partner, and hope his middle order fired.
Batting in his inaugural Test as permanent skipper, chasing a massive score, the pressure was on him. Could he lead from the front, usher Nick Compton to glory, and hand England a rare win on the sub-continent? Turns out he couldn't, but not for lack of trying on his part.
In the first innings, he made 41, using 109 balls to do so, and watched helplessly as Ravi Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha dismantled his side. His face, when Ian Bell hit that utterly ridiculous shot to get out first ball, was worth the entire internet's words. It said, quite simply, "What the actual *@#& was that?" Rage.
His second innings knock, following on after being 191 all out, showed why Cook took over from Andrew Strauss. He was determined, unyielding and composed for 556 very long minutes, defying the spin twins and giving England a semblance of pride at the fact that the game did not end on day three.
In his 176, his second ton of the tour if you count the India A game, was memorable for it's sheer determination. It's like he was saying, "No! We're not going to lose by an innings! I refuse to let the spinners, the media, the fans rejoice in my humiliation."
It was only his second Test century this year, and it was in vain in the end, but it was excellent. Of course, he won't feel great about it now, being the team player he is. What's the use of a great knock if you lose by nine wickets?
But it showed his character, and what he can do on the rest of the tour if England want to avoid a series defeat. Now it's up to the rest of his batting order to follow his example.
Honourable mentions: Cheteshwar Pujara for his 206 not out, which gave India the massive platform from which to launch their attack. He's a real star of the future, the India number three. And then, Pragyan Ojha for his nine England scalps, including the middle stump of KP (twice).
And finally, Sri Lanka spinner Rangana Herath, who took 11 wickets against New Zealand to become the top Test wicket-take this year, and send the Black Caps to a massive 10-wicket defeat.
Lindsay du Plessis