James Lawton: Marathon man goes from lambs to a slaughter

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The story of Alastair Cook's latest massive contribution to the England cause will always be accompanied by a torrent of eye-catching little numbers like 12 hours at the crease and 33 fours and a total of runs just six short of 300.

But if these particular statistics hardly lie, nor do they tell the whole story. They perhaps do not explain the essential Cook, who in the spring delivers lambs at the farm of his girlfriend's family, which is perhaps some kind of break from slaughtering the psyche of some of the world's best bowlers.

Some of that core of Cook did emerge when England for a third successive day stretched India to the the point of collapse.

Between 11.03 yesterday morning and 3.15 in the afternoon Cook amassed the miserly total of two fours. Neither was a thing of beauty.

The second was in fact rather ugly, a scoop of a mishit through the off side that might have been delivered as well with an old iron ladle as something shaped and pressed from the finest willow.

However, this is Cook. He is not an aesthetic experience, and some might say that a few minutes of Kevin Pietersen – who was in such breathtaking form when England began on Thursday evening their latest manhandling of the Indian Test team formerly known as the best in the world – is worth all the hours Cook put into his latest marathon score.

But then it depends on your perspective. If you want to enjoy the most exciting rhythms of cricket you opt for someone like the big man from South Africa.

If you are England captain Andrew Strauss and coach Andy Flower and you want to rule the world, and believe one sure-fire way of doing it is working a little "mental disintegration" on the opposition, Cook, the batting star of Bedford School who has become the most resilient pillar of England, is most assuredly your man. At his very best Cook can muster an impressively brisk functionalism. He doesn't dissect, he infiltrates, pushing along the score with a nurdling application enlivened from time to time with a splendidly efficient square cut.

For a little while yesterday Cook was comprehensively outshone by Eoin Morgan. The Irishman's century was a vital contribution to England's tactics on the third day of a Test which seemed so certain to follow the pattern of the first two at Lord's and Trent Bridge.

He came, he sparkled and he went. Cook, naturally, continued to plod along. And with each of his steps England became a little more impregnable, despite losing Ravi Bopara – the haunted batsman fighting desperately to regain a toe-hold in Test cricket – and the recently insatiable run-getter Matt Prior.

Cook made still another alliance, this time with the battle-hardened Tim Bresnan, and proved once again the strength of his instinct for survival. When he came back from Down Under at the start of this year after his gluttonous assault on Aussie bowlers he acknowledged that he was just one innings away from perhaps permanent failure last summer.

He went to The Oval against Pakistan needing a significant score. He produced a century and later recalled, "No one said it was my last chance but I felt the pressure because you know no one is going to waltz up and say you're one innings away from being dropped."

It was not said to Ravi Bopara last night, of course, but Bopara still had to suffer alone.

It is the way of the highest level of sport of sport, one that Cook has travelled along with extraordinary nerve. For him at least, yesterday was a celebration party somewhere around the top of the world.