Pietersen, Panesar put England on victory course

Monday, 26 November 2012 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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 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, 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 Kohli 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; M.S. 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.