SOUTHAMPTON, July 27 (IANS): Captain Alastair Cook and Gary Ballance's 158-run second wicket stand took England to 247 for two, putting them in a strong position at the end of the opening day of the third Test against India at The Rose Bowl here Sunday.
Ballance's 104 not out and Cook's gritty 95 gave England the initiative on a testing day for the batsmen. Ian Bell was lucky to be unbeaten on 16. Indian debutant Pankaj Singh's brilliant swinging delivery had him plumb in front of the wicket but Australian umpire Rod Tucker had other ideas.
India, to their credit, did well to restrict the English batsmen from scoring freely, bowling in good areas and causing more than a few problems.
The English batsmen were very disciplined and their shot selection was right on the mark.
Ballance, though, didn't have it all easy and was made to work hard for his runs. He was beaten outside his off-stump by the Indian pacers on multiple occasions but luck seemed to be on his side as he survived the rough patch. The Zimbabwe-born batman stroked 15 boundaries on way to his third century in six matches.
Ravindra Jadeja finally dismissed Cook, five short of a deserved century, to give India some respite.
Earlier, electing to bat, Cook and opening partner Sam Robson (26) frustrated the Indians with a slow and patient 55-run stand for the first wicket before the latter fell to pacer Mohammed Shami.
India largely stuck to good lengths and sneaked in the odd bouncer, but were left aggrieved with the odd ball that strayed down leg or the short ones that helped Cook keep himself out of pressure.
Experts had predicted the pitch to be fast and bouncy but on the very first morning of the Test match, two-three edges falling short.
The Indian pace attack seemed to lack aggression in the absence of injured Ishant Sharma, who took seven wickets in the second innings at the Lord's.
Ishant suffered an ankle injury ahead of the toss paving the way for Rajasthan pacer Pankaj Singh getting his first Test cap.
Rohit Sharma was also drafted into the Indian side with all-rounder Stuart Binny being left out.
England too made changes to their line-up bringing in Chris Woakes for out-of-form Ben Stokes while Liam Plunkett made way for Chris Jordan. Rookie wicketkeeper Jos Buttler replaced Matt Prior, who opted out of the series due to bad form.
The hosts, who were 78 for one at lunch, scored 108 runs in the second session without losing any wicket.
Cook, who has been woefully out of form and his captaincy credentials questioned, sought to answer his critics with a gritty innings.
The Indians bowled without much luck and captain's Mahendra Singh Dhoni's decision to go in with six batsmen and a bowler short might come back to haunt him later in the match.
After Indian frontline bowlers failed to find a breakthrough, Dhoni resorted to part spinners in the shape of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma but that too wasn't enough as Cook and Ballance went on with their merry making.