|Fourth Ashes Test, Melbourne Cricket Ground (day three of five)|
|Australia 327: Warner 103, Smith 76|
|England 491-9: Cook 244*, Root 61, Broad 56|
|England lead by 164 runs|
England batsman Alastair Cook believes he could have been dropped for the final Ashes Test had he not returned to form in Melbourne.
Cook had managed only 83 runs in six innings before making 244 not out on the third day of the fourth Test.
“I always feel I have the backing of the selectors, but you have to deliver the goods,” said the 33-year-old.
“I hadn’t done that on this tour. I would have been entitled to be dropped,” he added.
The opener, England’s all-time highest run scorer in Test cricket, had gone 10 innings without passing 50 since making a double century against West Indies in August.
His 244 not out is the highest score by a visiting batsman at the MCG.
He reached a century in the final over of the second day and followed up by batting throughout Thursday to lead England to 491-9, an advantage of 164 runs over Australia.
“On Wednesday night, it felt like one of the more emotional hundreds I have made, especially from where I’d been on this tour,” said Cook, who has made 32 Test tons.
“It meant a lot, then today I was quite proud to back it up. To get a real big one for the team was very important.”
The tourists surrendered the Ashes in the third Test in Perth, the same match in which Cook became the first England player to reach 150 caps.
Before the game at the Waca, the former captain said he had made no decisions on how long he would keep playing, while afterwards he admitted to being “embarrassed” by his form.
In Melbourne, he reversed his fortunes through 10 and a half hours at the crease, registering his fifth Test double century – only Wally Hammond has more for England.
“A few times in your career you get into a rhythm where time flies by,” said Cook.
“This tour, batting for half an hour has felt like two hours. [But] for some reason, the last 10 hours have gone quickly.”
He also climbed above West Indies great Brian Lara into sixth on the all-time list of Test run scorers, taking his tally to 11,948.
“I feel a bit sorry for Brian Lara,” joked the Essex left-hander. “It’s a special moment to see your name up there.”
England have already surrendered the Ashes after losing the first three Tests. In each match, they have been in strong positions, only to end up well beaten.
On day three in Melbourne, they slipped to 307-6 and were in danger of handing the initiative to Australia, before Cook shared 59 with Chris Woakes and an entertaining partnership of 100 with Stuart Broad.
“In all three games we have put Australia under pressure in two or three sessions and we haven’t been able to back it up,” said Cook. “Here we were in danger of only getting a 60-run lead and I thought we needed more than that.
“Broady played really well. It was good to have bit of a partnership to get us up to a good lead.”
England now have an excellent opportunity to end an eight-Test losing streak in Australia.
And home coach Darren Lehmann admitted that his side’s chances of earning a second successive home Ashes whitewash have evaporated.
“We’re 164 runs behind, we’d have to get 450 in a day,” he said. “How could we do that? Slog? We have to worry about batting well. We’ll hopefully bat the day out and reassess after the fourth day.
“We didn’t go into the game looking far enough ahead to think about a whitewash. England have taken that opportunity away from us at the moment.”
Former England batsman Nick Compton, who played 16 Tests with Cook, speaking to BBC Radio 5 live
Cook is one of those players that as soon as he got to 30 or 40, you knew he was on for a hundred.
For me, having batted with him and seen what he does, it wasn’t much of a surprise.
It comes from sheer determination and an ability to dig deep when you need it most. That’s what great openers do.