Alastair Cook and Ravi Bopara hit well-constructed centuries at Chester-le-Street on Thursday, to secure a dominant England position of 302 for two at close of play on the first day of the 2nd Test against the Digicel-sponsored West Indies.
Opener Cook batted throughout the day for 126 not out off 262 balls in just over six hours. The spirited left-hander struck 14 fours.
Bopara, in contrasting style, lashed 13 fours and one six off 108 – his third century in successive Test innings following 104 at Kensington Oval in February and 143 last week at Lord’s.
The pair of 24-year-olds, who have been team-mates since their under-12 days in the Essex county system, nailed down England’s advantage with a 213-run stand for the second wicket.
The West Indies bowlers toiled hard after England, 1-0 up in this two-match series, won the toss in chilly conditions on an easy-paced pitch. Only captain Chris Gayle (one for 28) and pacer Lionel Baker (one for 60) reaped any reward.
Jerome Taylor and Fidel Edwards were a bit wayward with the new ball and Cook and his skipper Andrew Strauss gave their team a solid start of 69 for the first wicket. Gayle’s off-spin provided the breakthrough just as Strauss (26) was beginning to blossom. The England captain provided a juggled leg-side catch to wicket-keeper Denesh Ramdin as he gloved a sweep.
Cook and Bopara laid the early foundations of their partnership before taking lunch at 85 for one. Cook’s footwork began to grow in certainty and he arrived at fifty off 108 balls with a clip for three off Sulieman Benn.
Bopara, more assured from the start, also arrived at his milestone in the second session, off 106 deliveries as he tickled Benn fine for his seventh boundary.
The West Indies had a rare opportunity to separate the pair soon afterwards when another leg glance from Bopara burst past a diving Ramdin’s outstretched left glove on its way to the rope.
The right-hander, who had survived chances in both his previous centuries, was then 51 and the despairing bowler was Baker. That piece of ill fortune for the visitors also raised the century stand and the pair guided England to tea at 184 for one.
The final session offered little respite for the West Indies and Cook, in his 43rd Test, cruised to his ninth century 50 minutes after resumption. He brought it up in style, advancing down the pitch to slam Benn past midwicket for his 11th boundary and added a square cut for four next delivery as the bowler dropped short.
Bopara, too, motored to his landmark in confident fashion, lofting Benn straight for 4, 6, 4 to move from 84 to 98.
He then went full stretch to tap a wide Lendl Simmons delivery into the off side to reach three figures – only the fifth Englishman to do so in three consecutive innings (after legends Herbert Sutcliffe, Denis Compton, Geoff Boycott and Graham Gooch).
The West Indies enjoyed precious little encouragement during the day, with an early Cook edge off Gayle and Bopara’s under-edged cut off Benn after he reached 100 among the few genuine moments of uncertainty from the hosts.
The second new ball brought a late boost when Baker produced a fine inswinger which touched down on a good length and went through the gate to rock Bopara’s off stump.
Edwards seemed energized by the presence of nightwatchman James Anderson and shook him up with some short stuff. But he couldn’t produce another wicket and England ended the day well on top.