New-look Cook thrives before heavens open

England 142-3 v South African XI

For a short while at least, England did something quite unfamiliar to them yesterday. They played a cricket match. It was only the third time in 22 days that they had been allowed to embark on something of this nature and there was the feeling that it might not last.

It did not last and 35 minutes after lunch the skies opened, the subsequent deluge topping up those which had preceded it in the past week and causing the abandonment of the first day's play of the first two-day match against a South African Invitation XI.

England were 142 for 3 from the 36 overs which had been bowled on a pitch here in East London made thoroughly sluggish by perpetual rain. It was a desultory day's play, if important in the context of the Test series which starts next week in the highveld 625 miles north.

Alastair Cook was unbeaten on 66, having shared an unbroken partnership of 51 from 79 balls – an electrifying pace on this surface – with Paul Collingwood, who was on 27. Cook had looked in good order against an undemanding attack, whose potency was enhanced by the conditions.

He has had more cricket than his colleagues, having been rerouted for a fortnight to the England Performance Programme after he suffered a prolapsed disc. He was quietly released from the one-day squad and recovered sufficiently to play in the EPP's four-day match last week, making 70 in the first innings and batting for around for around four hours in the match.

Cook has a remodelled stance, which will be evident to those who have not seen him since the fifth Test match of the Ashes series. He stands taller, has stopped the double movement as he waits to receive and has an earlier backlift. The presence with England of Graham Gooch, who helped on the reconstruction at Essex late in the summer, has delighted him. It worked well yesterday and Cook was pleased with his driving down the ground.

The captain, Andrew Strauss, went early, flirting outside the off stump, and Jonathan Trott, driving away from his body, was also caught behind. Kevin Pietersen was batting with some of the old assurance before he received a ball that stopped on him and offered David Wiese a return catch. England will be desperate for a full day's cricket today but nobody is expecting it.

*The Sri Lanka captain, Kumar Sangakkara, struck 78 off just 37 balls to help his side win the first Twenty20 international against India in Nagpur yesterday. The visitors amassed 215 for 5, which proved far too much for the Indians, who fell 29 runs short.

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