By hook or by Cook: England claw back into Abu Dhabi Test on another day dominated by batsmen

Osman Samiuddin reflects on Day 3 of the Abu Dhabi Test, another day in which the batsmen continued to dominate.

England captain Alastair Cook, left, standing next to teammate Ian Bell, waves his bat after reaching a century during Day 3 of the first Test against Pakistan at Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi. Hafsal Ahmed / AP Photo
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ABU DHABI // Ian Bell was not saving a Test. He can do that and he has done it in the past. On Thursday, Ian Bell was saving himself.

OK, so that sounds a little bit much.

England were hardly going to drop him after a failure in the first innings of the series. But given his own ambivalence about continuing his career before this series, the form he was in and the small matter of two dropped chances in the first innings, well, this mattered.

It mattered enough for the surface, and its placidity, not to ultimately matter.

The way he began, in actual fact, it seemed as if he was playing on a different pitch to the one the Test had hitherto been played on. In a mini-session leading up to lunch, he played with all the weight of a man on his last chance.

He could have been out several times and he should have been out once when Shan Masood dropped him at silly point off Zulfiqar Babar.

Bell was on one at the time and it was a measure of his situation that he stayed on that score for 32 deliveries — this, one of the most fluent, modern English batsman.

“Your first period when you start isn’t easy,” he said.

“It gets easier the longer you are out there so it was tricky to start. Pakistan were very accurate, they made us work hard for the runs.” In truth, he never moved out of that gear, even if he started looking far less likely to get out after lunch.

Gone were the easy dabs to third man, the clips through the leg-side and the photographer’s dream of a drive; it was replaced by the bigger pay-off of him just being there.

His 63 was the fourth-slowest innings of 50-plus he has played but the far more important fact is that it was 12 runs more than he scored in the entire 2011/12 series in the UAE.

It was the kind of innings which would not have been out of place in the canon of his partner yesterday.

Being an unobtrusive but permanent presence at the crease is what Alastair Cook does.

As ever, only a handful of Cook’s strokes in his unbeaten 168 will stick in the memory, even for a little while.

Maybe that cover drive to bring up his 28th Test hundred and his eighth in Asia, the most by an overseas batsman, or a short-arm jab off Wahab Riaz, or a couple of unusually efficient sweeps. The money shots were those that nobody will remember: a nurdle here, a nudge there, a clip through midwicket. It was the best kind of anonymous batting.

“He is so organised,” Bell said. “When I watch him against spin, his defence is incredible really.

“The angles he works on in the nets, and he executed the sweep as well as I’ve ever seen him do through a day’s Test cricket. It was a bit of a masterclass today in how to defend, how to come down the wicket or sweep from a good length.”

It was fitting that they shared the day’s definitive stand.

Bell should have been the greatest English batsman of his generation. But for most of the day, here he was batting with the man who probably is the greatest English batsman in the modern age.