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Cook: England went off the boil

By Rory Dollard

Published 07/01/2016

Leading men: England skipper Alastair Cook shakes hands with Hashim Amla after the South African revealed he would be standing down as skipper following the draw at Newlands
Leading men: England skipper Alastair Cook shakes hands with Hashim Amla after the South African revealed he would be standing down as skipper following the draw at Newlands

Alastair Cook accepts dropped catches cost England the chance to win the drawn second Test against South Africa and contributed to a nervy final day.

A first-innings total of 629 declared, reached in quick time thanks to Ben Stokes' phenomenal double century, positioned the tourists for a victory push in Cape Town and an unassailable 2-0 series lead.

But after numerous chances and half-chances went begging - seven, of varying difficulty, went in and out of the hands - South Africa eventually ended their own innings just two runs behind.

A shaky display with the bat on day five briefly raised hopes of an unlikely home win but, speaking before South Africa's Hashim Amla resigned as captain of his side, Cook insisted his real frustrations lay with the fielding, not the mini-collapse.

"Over the five days I was pretty happy with our performance but clearly the chances we missed cost us the victory," said Cook. "You need to take your chances. We practice hard and it seemed to be one of those games where we couldn't take them.

"It was frustrating and the game would have looked very different if we could have managed to do that. We tried everything, we just couldn't cling on to those chances."

Cook was first man out on the fifth morning, feathering his second ball to the wicketkeeper, and watched uneasily from the balcony as wickets continued to tumble.

At one stage his side seemed genuinely vulnerable at 116 for six, but Jonny Bairstow (30 not out) and Moeen Ali eased the score to 159 for six before bad light stopped play.

"It was a nervous day, when you nick off down leg side and then sit and watch it's not a particularly enjoyable day as captain," Cook reflected.

"I thought Jonny and Mo calmed a few nerves and we always seemed in a good position to save the game. We'd like to have done it two or three down but that never is the English way is it?

"It's 1-0 and we've played really good cricket on tour. This was a disappointing day but it doesn't really count for anything when we go to Johannesburg."

Cook's highlight from an eventful week at Newlands will be shared by those fans lucky enough to be in the stadium on day two when Stokes and Bairstow rewrote the history books with a brutal 399 stand.

Stokes reeled off the fastest 250 in Test history and Bairstow recorded an emotional maiden hundred in a stand that will linger long in the memory.

"The partnership between Bluey (Bairstow) and Stokesy, the 400 off about 300 balls (351), accelerated the game really quickly and it was an outstanding partnership," Cook added. "It was a pleasure and a privilege to watch."

Amla, meanwhile, promised a smooth transition to his immediate replacement AB de Villiers.

Amla intends to focus on his own batting, which had been in the doldrums in 2015, but there is a certain irony in the fact that he bows out having just scored a double century in Cape Town.

The 32-year-old became his country's first non-white Test skipper in mid-2014 after the retirement of Graeme Smith and leaves having overseen four wins, four losses and six draws.

"This decision was not an easy one to make but I felt I needed to be true to myself," he said.

"I am deeply grateful and privileged to have been the Test captain. But I feel there is a greater need to work on my own game.

"AB is very able and a brilliant captain. It doesn't matter if it's me pulling the rope or if it's AB, as long as we're all pulling in the right direction."

Belfast Telegraph

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