The spectre of defeat is looming large on India after the third day of the second Test against England at Wankhede Stadium on Sunday. First Alastair Cook (122; 270b, 336m, 13x4, 1x6) and Kevin Pietersen (186; 233b, 317m, 20x4, 4x6) with their game-changing 206-run stand put England in a position of strength. Then the hosts had a bitter taste of their own medicine when Monty Panesar (5 for 61) and Graeme Swann (2 for 39) made the Indian batsmen dance to their tune to put England on top.
Posting 413 and taking 86-run lead, England spun a web around the Indian batsmen on a wicket that turned and bounced to leave them reeling at 117 for 7. The home team is ahead by just 31 runs with only Gautam Gambhir (53 batting; 136m, 105b, 5x4) standing between England and defeat. It was Gambhir’s first half century since he made a 83 against Australia in the 2nd Test in Sydney.
India started their second innings on a gingerly note with Panesar, who bowled a mesmerising spell, striking in the eighth over to have a tentative Virender Sehwag caught at second slip by Swann. There was more shock in the next over. This time Cheteshwar Pujara, who has been the backbone of Indian batting, did not stay long. He lasted for five deliveries before succumbing to off-spinner Swann, falling to bat and pad catch. Then there was stunned silence in the 16th over. Sachin Tendulkar’s nightmare with the bat continued. Panesar flummoxed him again with a ball that dipped in to have him lbw. Virat Kohli was the next to go, dismissed for six by Swann.
There was more disaster waiting for India as Yuvraj Singh played an awkward defensive shot off Panesar to be caught at short leg and Mahendra Singh Dhoni was gobbled up at slip, off the same bowler. India were tottering at 92 for six, just managing to wipe off the first innings deficit. R Ashwin gifted his wicket to give Panesar another five-wicket haul in the match.
When the third day’s play started, Cook needed 13 while Pietersen required 38 to complete their 22nd Test centuries. The left-hander was the first to get it by cover driving Harbhajan Singh and 12 deliveries later, Pietersen joined his skipper in celebrating his century with a powerful reverse sweep off Pragyan Ojha. The duo, who have enjoyed each other’s company with 11 century partnership, gathered runs in contrasting styles.
Cook was rock solid and played the waiting game to perfection while Pietersen was the aggressor. With his long strides, Pietersen toyed with the Indian bowling which began to wilt. Dhoni rotated the bowlers but could not stop the run flow. Cook and Pietersen, in the process, recorded the best England partnership for the third wicket in India, going past Allan Lamb and Mike Gatting’s of 144 that was scored in 1984-85 series at Chennai. Incidentally this was the third time this pair had put on 100 runs partnership against India.
The partnership looked ominous as the two had added 206 but Dhoni finally found a saviour in Ashwin. The off-spinner, who either bowled a wrong line or bowled short, got a perfect delivery that spun across Cook’s defensive bat en-route to Dhoni, who accepted the catch. It was Cook’s second successive century in this series and was patted on the back by Sehwag.
The morning session belonged to England, particularly to Pietersen, who scored 120 in 29.3 overs. Pietersen was in no mood to relent. He hit audacious shots, smacking boundaries to different parts of the field. There was some bounce and turn but that did not matter for Pietersen, who was particularly harsh on Ojha. He slammed him for three huge sixes of the four he hit. But Ojha finally had his revenge by getting him out when the batsmen got a thin edge while going for a cut shot. It was yet another five-wicket haul for Ojha, who had earlier removed Samit Patel (26). Pietersen got a standing ovation from the Sunday crowd, including the Indian players.
Indian bowlers ran through the rest of the English team. Harbhajan tasted success in his 21st over when he had left-hander Chris Broad and Jimmy Anderson. England were all out eight minutes before tea.