Cook and Bopara prosper on placid track
England 302 for 2 (Cook 126*, Anderson 4*) v West Indies
Scorecard and ball-by-ball commentary
Ravi Bopara became the first England batsman to score three Test centuries in consecutive innings since his hero and mentor Graham Gooch in 1990, while another of Gooch's protégés, Alastair Cook, made an unbeaten 126, as West Indies were made to toil with minimum reward on the first day of the second Test at Chester-le-Street.
By the close, England had moved effortlessly along to 302 for 2, with Cook still in situ at the close, his ninth hundred and first at home for two years. He and Bopara came together half-an-hour before lunch following the demise of Andrew Strauss, caught-behind for 26, and were not separated until five overs before the close, when Bopara was bowled through the gate by Lionel Baker for 108 by one of the few deliveries that moved off the seam all day.
Under an improbably cloudless Northern sky, the scenario was reminiscent of England's recent tour of the Caribbean, especially as England have now batted first in all seven of their Tests since February. Faced once again with a flat and lifeless surface, West Indies' pacemen lacked both inspiration and drive, with even Fidel Edwards failing to raise his game, or his pace, until the arrival of the nightwatchman, James Anderson. Anderson survived, however, and even found time to carve a four through the covers to bring up England's 300 and escape a duck for the 48th consecutive time in Test cricket.
Today, however, was all about the Essex boys. Cook and Bopara may share a county, but they have little else in common as batsmen. Cook's style is obdurate and awkward, dealing in shovels and drives and substance over style; Bopara is flashy and flamboyant, and his innings became increasingly showmanlike as he moved through the gears. West Indies found an answer for neither approach, as they ground through their overs in front of a sparse and soporific crowd, hoping against hope for inspiration to slap them in the face.
Though Bopara took the plaudits, Cook deserved the credit. In Trinidad in March, he ended a run of more than 15 months without a century, and now made it two in three matches with a performance that was more effective than it was pretty. It was clear from his body language that all is still not right with his game, but the mental toughness was plain for all to see. He enjoyed a measure of good fortune on 23 when he inside-edged Baker past his off stump and away to the boundary, and he later fenced Chris Gayle just short of Devon Smith at slip. But after a sticky start Cook's driving came out of its shell, and when he stepped down the track to belt Sulieman Benn through midwicket to reach three figures, England's balcony erupted in appreciation of one very tough cookie indeed.
Bopara, by contrast, had no technical concerns to distract him. Two years ago in Sri Lanka he completed an ignominious debut series with three Test ducks in a row. Now, in his next three visits to the crease, he has passed three figures each time, and his performances have grown in lustre with every passing shot.
Fresh from his 143 in the first Test at Lord's, Bopara a moment of alarm in the final over before lunch when he almost yorked himself while coming forward to Benn, whom he had just carved off the back foot for his first boundary of the day. But thereafter he was watchfulness personified against the spinner, who had come close to dismissing him lbw in the Lord's Test as well, as he forced himself forward and watched every ball onto the middle of the bat.
Bopara survived a couple of hairy moments against Baker, whom he clipped inches short of Shivnarine Chanderpaul at midwicket before being dropped down the leg-side on 51 by Ramdin. But on a blameless surface and with his concentration still intact, Bopara really showed his full range as the century loomed into view. At Lord's he had been content to potter through the nineties, daydreaming about his celebration. This time he decided to take the Kevin Pietersen route. On 84, he laid into Benn, with four, six, four from consecutive blows, the last of which fizzed through the bowler's fingers as he attempted a return catch. Two quick singles later, he punched the air in triumph, with another sizeable feather in his cap.
Not for the first time, however, Bopara's concentration faltered after reaching three figures. At Lord's he was dropped twice on 100; this time he survived one tough caught-behind chance off Benn on 104, before Baker, who endured an erratic day, produced a pearler to peg back his off stump.
Prior to that triumph, West Indies' only uplifting moment came when Chris Gayle, under the cosh for his pre-match comments about the future of Test cricket, emerged with the scalp of Strauss, with whom he had been drawn into an unlikely war of words. Spearing down his off-darts having already sized up the surface, he tempted Strauss into a full-blooded slog-sweep, and a thin deflection off the gloves ended up in the gloves of Denesh Ramdin.
There was little for West Indies to savour in the day, however, as England pushed themselves into a position from which to post a massive first-innings total and ensure that the Wisden Trophy, lost in the Caribbean over the course of five arduous Tests, returns home at the earliest and easiest opportunity.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo