England push India to brink

After tons from Pietersen and Cook, Panesar reduces hosts to a sorry 117/7

England push India to brink

Kevin Pietersen and Monty Panesar are entirely contrasting individuals, but they joined forces to put England on the verge of a famous victory on Sunday.

On the third day, both England and India have walked into the Wankhede stadium with equal chances of taking command over the second Test. After Kevin Pietersen (186) and Alastair Cook (122) had provided steam to the visitors’ march, Indian spinners hit back to restrict them to 413, also limiting their lead to 86.

The match still was on equal footing, but what followed in the last session was quite mindboggling. Indian top and middle order imploded in spectacular style against Panesar, who took five wickets to complete a wonderful 10-for in this Test, and Graeme Swann to return to their rooms with uneasy minds at 117 for seven.

The home side now leads by just 31 runs, and India will be hoping to rattle a few more runs through a solid-looking Gautam Gambhir (53 batting), and the tailenders. The images of defending a modest 106 against Australia at this venue in 2004 could be the ones offering crumbs of solace to them at the moment.

The reason for India slipping into this deadly, marshy situation is quite simple. Their much-vaunted line-up couldn’t find right solutions against England spinners, particularly Panesar, who bowled at a good pace to exploit the bite of the surface.

Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni and R Ashwin were Panesar’s five victims of the day, and barring Ashwin the other four worthies fell to classic left-arm spin bowling. Sehwag, Yuvraj and Dhoni paid the price of playing forward and feeling for the ball, while Tendulkar, who might have played his last Test innings in front of the home crowd, was trapped in front while trying to fend the ball off the back foot. It was a brilliant effort from a bowler who precisely knew what should be done to take advantage of a helpful surface.

But there was neither conviction nor confidence in the way Indian batsmen, touted as the finest set of players of turning ball, faced the English spinners. One batsman – Gambhir – showed them how the tweakers could be negated on a tough track, but there wasn’t much company for him on the day.

From a personal point of view, Gambhir has every reason to feel satisfied with his effort after a prolonged barren spell, and the knock also might have brushed away cobwebs of self-doubts from his mind.

But Gambhir was not the only batsman who eliminated a few demons of doubts from the mind. In the morning session Pietersen played one of the most memorable Test innings to hand England the advantage, though of slender nature at that moment.

Reintegrated into the England squad, Pietersen’s old failing against left-arm spin returned to haunt him, getting castled twice by Pragyan Ojha at Motera. However, Pietersen, overnight 62, blossomed in the company of his skipper Cook, who showed a Zen-monk-like patience to reach his 22nd Test hundred. It was the first instance that a skipper scored four hundreds in as many Tests.

But Pietersen was even more brilliant. The first session of the day was crucial for both India and England, the former in need to take early wickets and the latter in need to preserve them. Instead of getting baulked by the circumstances, Pietersen dictated the proceedings with archetypal arrogance. The Surrey right-hander amassed 36 runs in the first 30 minutes, and he never let the momentum slip away from him or England.

Pietersen reached his 22nd Test hundred with a reverse sweep of Harbhajan Singh, and the dismissal of Cook, caught behind by Dhoni off Ashwin, only spurred Pietersen to shoulder more responsibility.

He fell 14 runs short of what would have been a fantastic double hundred, and the importance of his innings was evident in the way the England late order collapsed against Indian spinners; Matt Prior’s run out triggering the procession.

That was not even remotely close the one Indians managed later in the day. Now, it will require a blunder of colossal proportions from England’s part for India to save this game. But, there’s no sign of such slip-up from them. At least for now!

Score board

INDIA (I Innings): 327
ENGLAND (I Innings, O/n: 178/2):
Cook c Dhoni b Ashwin    122
(336m, 270b, 13x4 1x6)
Compton c Sehwag b Ojha    29
(112m, 90b, 4x4)
Trott lbw Ojha    0
(10m, 6b)
Pietersen c Dhoni Ojha    186
(317m, 233b, 20x4, 4x6)
Bairstow c Gambhir b Ojha    9
(32m, 23b, 2x4)
Patel c Kohli b Ojha    26
(52m, 42b, 4x4, 1x6)
Prior (run out)    21
(46m, 34b, 3x4)
Broad c Pujara b Harbhajan    6
(32m, 20b)
Swann (not out)    1
(11m, 4b)
Anderson lbw Harbhajan    2
(4m, 5b)
Panesar c Zaheer b Ashwin    4
(3m, 2b, 1x4)
Extras (B-4, LB-2, W-1)    7
Total (all out, 121.3 overs)     413
Fall of wickets: 1-66 (Compton), 2-68 (Trott), 3-274 (Cook), 4-298 (Bairstow), 5-357 (Patel), 6-382 (Pietersen), 7-406 (Prior), 8-406 (Broad), 9-408 (Anderson).
Bowling: Ashwin 42.3-6-145-2, Ojha 40-6-143-5, Zaheer 15-4-37-0 (w-1), Harbhajan 21-1-74-2, Yuvraj 3-0-8-0.
INDIA (II Innings):
Gambhir (batting)    53
(139m, 109b, 5x4)
Sehwag c Swann b Panesar    9
(35m, 14b, 1x4)
Pujara c Bairstow b Swann    6
(6m, 5b, 1x4)
Tendulkar lbw Panesar    8
(28m, 19b, 2x4)
Kohli c sub (Root) b Swann    7
(16m, 13b, 1x4)
Yuvraj c Bairstow b Panesar    8
(11m, 8b, 1x4)
Dhoni c Trott b Panesar    6
(15m, 17b)
Ashwin c Patel b Panesar    11
(15m, 8b, 1x6)
Harbhajan (batting)    1
(6m, 1b)
Extras (B-6, LB-2)    8
Total (for 7 wkts, 33 overs)    117
Fall of wickets: 1-30 (Sehwag), 2-37 (Pujara), 3-52 (Tendulkar), 4-65 (Kohli), 5-78 (Yuvraj) 6-92 (Dhoni), 7-110 (Ashwin).
Bowling: Anderson 4-1-9-0, Panesar 16-2-61-5, Swann 13-4-39-2.

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