Playing in his 161st and final test match, Cook scored his 33rd test century on Monday before India slumped to 58-3 on Day 4 of the fifth test at the Oval, chasing 463 runs to win and leaving England seven wickets away from extending its 3-1 series lead.
"It's just been the most surreal four days of my life really," Cook said. "I suppose if she (Cook's wife) goes into labor tonight that will probably top it off." Cook and his successor as captain, Joe Root, both struck centuries in a 259-run third-wicket partnership, allowing England to declare on 423-8 and set India an imposing last innings target.
James Anderson then almost created some history of his own as he took two quick wickets to move level with Glenn McGrath as the fourth highest wicket taker, and most successful fast-bowler, in test history.
However, Anderson was left to wait another day for his moment, leaving the spotlight firmly on England's all-time leading test run-scorer. Cook received a series of ovations throughout the day, the first when he walked out at the start of the day with England on 114-2, and him on 46 after surviving in tough conditions on Sunday evening.
He didn't have to wait long for the next, as a flick into the leg side for four brought up his half century, and guaranteed him a career average of above 45. Just 26 runs later, the 19,000-strong Oval crowd rose to their feet once more as Cook passed Sri Lanka's Kumar Sangakkara as the fifth highest test run-scorer of all time, and leading left-handed batsman.
He then brought up the landmark he and the crowd wanted most in the strangest of circumstances, as what appeared to be a single to take him to 97 became five as Jasprit Bumrah's throw to the non-striker's end went for four overthrows, taking Cook to 101 from 210 balls.
"I remember cutting it for 97 and thinking 'that's probably three more to go,' and then just as he let it go I thought 'hang on a minute, he's launched that pretty hard,'" Cook said. "And then as soon as I saw Ravi (Jadeja) not anywhere near it. I thought 'hang on a minute,' and then obviously just kind of erupted."
The rapturous ovation went on for so long that Cook had to attempt to quiet the crowd, so that Root could focus on bringing up a century of his own. "The ovation was just incredible," Cook said. "That's probably the only one I've really taken in and just thought 'wow'."
Helped by two dropped catches, Root eventually reached his first test century in more than a year, by which point India seemed to be awaiting an England declaration. Debutant Hanuma Vihari then claimed his first test wickets by removing Root — for 125 — and having Cook caught behind with consecutive deliveries, with the latter dismissal prompting a string of congratulatory handshakes from the Indian team.
Tributes also came from off the field, as British Prime Minister Theresa May tweeted her congratulations, as did well-known cricket fan Mick Jagger. The Rolling Stones singer had pledged to donate £20,000 ($26,000) to a UK cricket charity for every century made in the match.
Root finally declared with a lead of 463 when Sam Curran (21) holed out to give Vihari (3-37) a third wicket. Anderson then quickly removed Shikhar Dhawan (1) and Cheteshwar Pujara for a duck — both leg before wicket — in the same over.
Stuart Broad had India captain Virat Kohli caught behind first ball to leave India in disarray at 2-3, but Lokesh Rahul (46 not out) and Ajinkya Rahane (10 not out) put on a spirited 56-run partnership to hang on until the close, leaving Anderson to hunt for his landmark wicket on Tuesday.
Appropriately, it was Cook — whose name had been sung by the crowd for the final minutes of play — who fielded the last ball of the day at short leg, and was invited by the Indian batsmen to lead the players off the field — and receive one more ovation.
"For that all to happen today and every reception I've had over the last four days," Cook said. "It's just been incredible. Even just that last couple of overs when the whole crowd was singing my barmy army song was incredibly special."
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