• India v England, 2nd Test, Mumbai, 3rd day

Pietersen & Panesar put England on cusp of victory

The Report by David Hopps
November 25, 2012 « Metronomic McIlroy denies resurgent Rose | Chartbeat test »
India 327 and 117 for 7 (Gambhir 53*, Panesar 5-61) lead England 413 (Pietersen 186, Cook 122, Ojha 5-143) by 31 runs
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File photo: Kevin Pietersen followed Alastair Cook with his 22nd Test hundred (ESPN is not carrying images from the series due to restrictions on the media) © Getty Images
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Kevin Pietersen played one of the great Test innings to leave England scenting victory in the second Test during a day of high drama in Mumbai. Pietersen bestrode the first two sessions with a brilliant 186 and England's spinners did not waste the opportunity he had provided as Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar terrorised India's second innings in turn.

Rarely has a Test of any era had such an emphasis upon spin bowling, and the result has been a compelling contest. India will start the fourth day precariously placed with a 31-run lead and three second innings wickets remaining. Swann and Panesar, yet to win a Test in tandem for England in eight attempts, proved themselves at least the equals of India's spinners. However, there is just a glimmer of hope for India: England will not chase any fourth-innings total above 100 with certainty.

This was a historic day as Pietersen and Alastair Cook both equalled the record for most England Test centuries, it was an enthralling day of virtually perpetual spin, it even had an element of controversy in the dismissal of Jonny Bairstow, but it largely swooned in the presence of the batting genius of Pietersen, who unveiled one of his most exceptional innings for England, 186 from 233 balls on a wickedly turning pitch, an innings played with utter conviction, awash with moments of rare skill.

The quality of his innings - and, in a different key, that of Cook - was emphasised by what followed. England's tail collapsed in quick time and then India caved in turn, only Gautam Gambhir gamely assembling an unbeaten half-century as Panesar and Swann found fiercer turn than their India counterparts - or perhaps that was just a misconception caused by Pietersen's brilliance.

Nearly eight overs elapsed before England, holding a lead of 86, made an impression, Panesar drawing Virender Sehwag cagily forward and Swann taking a catch at gully. Cheteshwar Pujara, England's scourge, was caught at short leg off an inside edge as Swann followed suit in the next over.

The stage was set for what might prove to be Sachin Tendulkar's final Test innings in Mumbai, but there was no heroic script, no summoning of powers of old. Tendulkar survived a stumping appeal off Panesar by a whisker as his back foot momentarily lifted and was then late on his shot against Panesar to be lbw.

Was it the pressure, or merely carelessness, which then caused Virat Kohil to mistime a full toss from Swann horribly to mid-off where the substitute, Joe Root, held his nerve? Yuvraj Singh followed off the glove to short leg; MS Dhoni, a captain who had demanded turning surfaces to expose England, found himself exposed as he edged Panesar to slip. A breathless third day ended with R Ashwin's failed attempts at adventure and a skied catch to Samit Patel at extra cover.

Panesar has 10 wickets in the match to date, the first time an England spinner has done that since Hedley Verity in the 1930s.

But as the dust settled - and there was lots of it - the emphasis remained with Pietersen. This was an innings of daring and presumption, one that could only be played by a batsman of great talent and even greater ego. India's spinners waited for the storm to abate in the knowledge that only when it did normal life could be resumed.

Pietersen's hundred was achieved with a reverse sweep against Harbhajan Singh, outrageous, yes, but caressed with such composure there was not the merest hint of excess. For his 150, he performed an exceptional pick-up over midwicket off Pragyan Ojha. There was also an extraordinary loft over cover for six against Ojha, which he deposited there as if in a dream.

Ohja finally got his man, drawing a lavish drive which he nicked to the wicketkeeper, and when it was all over, and Pietersen fell, utterly fulfilled, England's last five wickets fell for 31 in nine overs as the spinners restored the natural order of things, just as houses and shops are repaired and reopened after a storm has left town.

England's collapse was quickened by the soft run out of Matt Prior, who half-attempted a stolen offside single and was then sent back by Stuart Broad, Dhoni's rapid retrieve and throw beating his desperate dive for the crease. The rest fell quickly, with Harbhajan nipping in for two tail-end wickets and Panesar slogging Ashwin to deep midwicket. Perhaps he was desperate to get the ball in his hands.

The stand of 206 in 53 overs between Pietersen and Cook moved them alongside Wally Hammond, Colin Cowdrey and Geoffrey Boycott with 22 Test hundreds. Even if one India fielder looking on, Tendulkar, had the right to remark that they had barely started, the sense of achievement was palpable in a year that has brought England little joy.

Such achievements are years in the making, and they have been reached by two very different individuals following two very different routes, but they came within two overs of each other on a sunny Sunday morning in Mumbai.

Cook reached his hundred with a perfectly fashioned off drive against Harbhajan, lips licked in anticipation as he leant into the shot with such poise that when his career ends a representation of the shot should rightly stand alongside Henry Moore's Old Flo. Pietersen would be better celebrated with a dance song, complete with laser show.

Cook, who continued his unparalleled record of hundreds in four successive Tests as captain, fell for 122, 35 minutes before lunch, caught at the wicket by Dhoni as Ashwin found turn and bounce. Cook and Pietersen, introvert and extrovert, loyalist and rebel, had been at the peak of their game.

India took the second new ball immediately upon Cook's dismissal and they struck again on the stroke of lunch as Bairstow, controversially, became Ojha's third victim as he tried to work him against the spin into the leg side and got a leading edge to Gambhir at silly point. England felt they had a case that Bairstow should have been reprieved on the grounds that the ball had struck the grille of Gambhir's helmet.

England's director of cricket, Andy Flower, approached the match referee, Roshan Mahanama, to ask for the decision to be reversed, but as Bairstow had left the field of play, the decision could only be withdrawn if India's captain, Dhoni, withdrew his appeal. Dhoni, with the support of his coach, Duncan Fletcher, chose not to do so. By the close of a remarkable day, it all seemed quite inconsequential.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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