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December 9, 2007
Pietersen faced just five deliveries in his controversial innings, and succumbed to a hard-handed drive that - regardless of the legitimacy of the catch - deserved to result in his dismissal. Alastair Cook, on the other hand, battled and struggled and laid his soul bare for 234 tortuous deliveries, only to be sent on his way by a howler of an lbw decision.
Cook was never comfortable during his five-hour stay at the crease, but it was his dismissal, not Pietersen's, that turned England's day from one of respectability to one of peril. The ball that did for him was full and fast and would have missed leg stump; the ball that did for the next man in, Ravi Bopara, was a brute of a yorker to receive first-up, but a well-set batsman like Cook would surely have dug it out. Three wickets became five in the blink of an eye, and all the day's good work looked like coming to nought.
It's incredible to realise that Cook is only 22. He notches up another year on Christmas Day itself, but today's epic of self-denial was the sort of innings one would expect from a man of twice his age and experience. It is one thing to be a batting prodigy (and Cook is undoubtedly that; had he reached the century he deserved today, he would have had three more innings in which to equal Sachin Tendulkar's tally of eight before the age of 23), it is quite another to be such an old head on young shoulders.
Cook entered this match with the memory of his first Test duck still fresh in his mind. He lasted all of seven deliveries in two innings at Kandy, for the grand total of four runs, and for the whole of the first session, he seemed to be a wicket waiting to happen. Chaminda Vaas tortured him with the new ball before Muttiah Muralitharan spun him to a standstill, and if that was not frustrating enough, he had the sight of his captain, Michael Vaughan, at the other end, scattering fielders like confetti in the most free-flowing performance of England's tour to date.
More impetuous youths would have felt the need to compete. Cook, however, took his blows and rode his one moment of good fortune when, on 8 from 38 balls, he edged between first and second slip and watched Mahela Jayawardene make a mess of a diving chance. Slowly the timing returned to his game - he dispatched Murali for two boundaries in an over and hammered a Malinga no-ball through midwicket - but by and large he settled for survival as a first and last resort.
It wasn't a pretty innings, but it was precisely what the needs of the hour dictated. Cook never came close to matching Vaughan's fluency, but he was still every bit as responsible for England's first century opening stand since Headingley 2006. "Cooky did what he does best and it was a great effort," said Vaughan. "Four hundred-plus is a par score on that wicket, so we're one partnership away from where we want to be."
England's buzzword on this trip has been "gameplans". In the past in Sri Lanka, the team was required to adopt the same formula for success - usually a ruthlessly focussed and attritional formula. On this trip it's all been a little more fluid; Pietersen's been encouraged to go for broke every bit as much as Cook has been applauded for batting within his boundaries. But it was patience that Vaughan appealed for in the aftermath of the Kandy defeat, and so far in this innings, Cook is the only man who has responded to the call.
Others may yet follow suit. Paul Collingwood is one run shy of his half-century and Matt Prior is back in form after his efforts in the Kandy rearguard. But Cook showed England how it should have been done today. Once he'd made the crease his home, the only thing that could extract him was ill fortune, and that is the mark of a true Test cricketer.
Plays of the Day from the second ODI between England and India, in Cardiff
Plays of the day from the third ODI between England and India at Trent Bridge