Cook unbeaten as England make steady start to India finale

London (AFP) –


Alastair Cook held firm in his last Test to guide England to 68 for one at lunch on the first day of their series finale against India at The Oval on Friday.

Cook, England's all-time record Test run-scorer, was 37 not out -- his best score of the series -- in his final appearance before international retirement.

The 33-year-old left-handed opener has struggled for Test runs lately, and came into this match averaging under 19 for the calendar year.

Cook, extending his England appearance record to 161 Tests, was thrust straight into the action when Joe Root, his successor as England captain, opted to bat first after winning the toss.

England had already won this five-match series after a 60-run victory at Southampton, completed on Sunday, gave them an unassailable 3-1 lead.

Cook, who walked out to a guard of honour from the India team, was soon into his stride with two trademark boundaries off successive balls from fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah -- a square-cut followed by a pull.

Keaton Jennings, under pressure for his England place, had made just six when he was hit on the helmet after taking his eye off a short all from Ishant Sharma.

He nevertheless helped fellow left-hander Cook compile England's best opening stand of the series.

But when Jennings had made 23, with England 60 for one, Jennings carelessly turned left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja, recalled in place of the unfit Ravichandran Ashwin, straight to KL Rahul at leg-slip.

Moeen Ali, continuing at number three after batting there in the second innings at Southampton so Root could come in his favoured position of number four, was two not out at lunch.