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Cook: Our challenge is, can we finish the job?

August 14, 2014

LONDON (AP) — Just two tests ago, six former England cricket captains were leading the call for incumbent Alastair Cook’s head and doubting the durability of fast bowlers James Anderson and Stuart Broad.

The criticism was justified, and the defiant Cook called it his darkest time.

Then he, Anderson and Broad helped England to crush India at the Rose Bowl and Old Trafford, and set up an incredible chance to win the five-test series at the Oval on Friday.

It’s a chance England can’t afford to waste, Cook said on Thursday.

“We have made a big stride forward the last few weeks as a side,” he said. “This is another little challenge for us - how do you cope when you are up in the series? Can we finish the job?”

With Cook (and Ian Bell) scoring again, the attention is on his bowlers. Anderson is eight wickets away from becoming England’s all-time leading test wicket-taker (Ian Botham holds the record with 383), Moeen Ali has emerged as a serious attacking option as a spinner with an impressive 19 wickets in his second series, and Broad should play with a nose broken by a Varun Aaron bouncer in the fourth test.

Broad, man-of-the-match in the fourth test, practiced on Thursday with a splint over his nose. Cook was unsure if he will wear it during the test, but said he expects him to be “absolutely fine” to start.

Momentum was with England, having forged a stunning 2-1 lead in the series. A draw would be enough to take the series and complete a remarkable turnaround from 1-0 down after going 10 tests without a win.

“Broady said to me this morning, it doesn’t seem a year ago since we were lifting up the Ashes,” Cook said. “I said, ‘Yeah, it might not to you, but it does to me.’ A lot happened over that next year and that is, I suppose, the beauty of sport, that you don’t know what is going to happen.”

That unpredictability encourages India, which can save face and tie the series with a second win after prevailing at Lord’s.

Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni wants his side to focus session by session.

“It is never that the result is more important than the process,” Dhoni said. “It is always the process that will be the key because that puts less pressure on the team. It is a very important test match but at the same time, it is a breaking up of the sessions that will really give us an advantage.”

Dhoni still does not know if Ishant Sharma will be available for the final test. The fast bowler has not played since taking test-best figures of 7-74 at Lord’s to give India a lead in the series because of a leg injury.

He reiterated his desire to see his top-order batsmen contribute, after criticizing them at the end of the fourth test, where his side was bowled out for 152 and 161.

“We all know if we win this test match, what impact it will have on the series,” Dhoni said. “The batsmen have been working with their technique, and it is a matter of time before it starts showing. Because of not getting good opening partnerships, we have been exposing the No. 3 batsman. Cheteshwar Pujara (averaging 25) has had to face that pressure all the time. It doesn’t matter if it is the No. 1 or the No. 2 who gets out, the one thing for sure is it is the No. 3 who goes in.”

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