Cricket, the great leveller

Alastair Cook walks back after missing out on a well-deserved 300 Getty Images

Having batted for almost 13 hours, making his highest score in any form of cricket and virtually ending India's chances of staying alive in this series, the first question Alastair Cook was asked was whether he had felt satisfaction or disappointment. "It's mad, isn't it, how you can still be disappointed when you score 290-odd," he said. "I suppose only cricket can do that to you."

Every cricketer understands, knows and senses this; this game produces strange, twisted events in the careers of men. "Tell me about it", several of the Indians might well respond as they nurse aching limbs. For all the usual merits of his carefree cricket, Virender Sehwag will be one of them; his Test series has so far involved fielding for 12 hours and 47 minutes, batting for precisely eight minutes and receiving, for all his labour, the first king pair of his Test career.

In the space of two balls, Sehwag has gone from being the turbo-engine the Indian team needed to get moving, to an advertisement about how not to approach any series in England, never mind the one that has been labelled 'marquee', 'big ticket' or 'clash of the titans'.

Sachin Tendulkar's first ever non-injury-related break from Test cricket has turned into an extended wait for the richness of form that would give his team the meat its middle-order now badly needs in the series, and along with it, the now unmentionable hundred for the history books.

Within four months of winning the World Cup, MS Dhoni's No. 1 India are being skewered for their lack of intensity, and in the two completed Tests of this series, have scored ten runs less than Bangladesh did in their two Tests in England last year. Bangladesh scrapped to a tally of 1003, compared to India's 993. The scoreline after two Tests: 0-2. Same difference?

Only cricket can do that to you.

India have the personnel to kick off the turnaround but it will have to - as it should have at the start, as it always did - begin with the batsmen. Cook's innings marked a grim day of struggle in the field, but one in which England played exactly as they intended. They put as much distance as they could between themselves and the Indian first-innings total and used up the scads of time available in the game, given that India's first innings folded in just over two sessions. It required, as Cook described, batting that was essentially "grinding out a day".

To save themselves, India will have to do that for about as long as Cook did. As he walked off the field, six runs short of becoming the first triple-centurion from England in two decades, he was patted on the back by the bowler, Ishant Sharma, who'd taken his wicket. One by one, Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Suresh Raina came across to shake his hand. Gautam Gambhir, who had sprinted to the pavilion to prepare to go out and bat again, did so at the end of the day's play.

Cook was of the opinion that the wicket at Edgbaston, which is often called a batsman's track, was playing well. "You can see that when people got in, a lot of people got in, so it can't be that bad a wicket," he said. The wicket had begun to turn but that should not be a dark art for the Indian batsmen to tackle. It is surviving the onslaught of the England seamers that has given them the most grief in this series, and India's top four need to make it through 50-odd overs to give themselves a chance to bat with freedom, confidence and flair.

India first four wickets were gone by the 56th and the 50th over at Lord's, the 51st and the 16th over at Trent Bridge and within the first 27 overs here at Edgbaston, in the first innings. India were supposed to be slow starters but on this tour it has not been a long-distance race, it has been quicksand.

In his very candid media conference on Thursday, Gambhir remembered that he batted for 11 hours to save a Test in New Zealand. It was a different situation, against a very different attack but it is times like these that cricketers draw solace and strength from. After all, who knows what else cricket can do?