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Kevin Pietersen tames pitch in innings to remember

Monday, 26 November 2012 - 8:46am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: The Daily Telegraph
The batsman's brilliant 186 and second five-wicket haul for Panesar put England in total control of second Test.

The reintegration of Kevin Pietersen was a word waiting for a deed to seal it on Sunday, in some of the trickiest batting conditions of the year, it came, with a century of utter brilliance.

Pietersen's 186, along with a fine 122 from Alastair Cook, enabled England to make 413 and take an 86-run lead, a telling advantage on a turning pitch that had moved towards game, set and match by the close of day three after Monty Panesar had ripped India's second innings apart with his second five-wicket haul of the match.

Their three-pronged assault made it one of England's finest days of Test cricket in living memory and it left India, 117 for seven and just 31 runs ahead by the close, reeling under the effects of defiant bat and spinning ball. India captain MS Dhoni had demanded a pitch that turned from the outset, though he probably had not banked on events turning out like this.

Although not the only centurion for England, after Cook repeated his feat from Ahmedabad, Pietersen's hundred was the standout innings, if that is not being too unkind to Cook. With 22 Test hundreds each, the pair join Wally Hammond, Colin Cowdrey and Geoff Boycott as England most prolific century-makers in Tests.

England's captain was superb, a paragon of application and shot selection as he made it four hundreds from his four Tests in charge. But Pietersen possesses the vision and the nerve to see and then do the outrageous, and that adds the kind of veneer which separates a glass of Chateau Lafite from one of Leoville-Las Cases, fine and reliable wine though the second is.

On a pitch turning sharply and, occasionally, bouncing awkwardly, Pietersen defended resolutely, took the singles when they were on offer and played his big shots with the conviction of a man who knows the sun is coming up tomorrow. There was the odd miscue but, with his risk assessment spot on, they did not jeopardise him as in the past, when his ego pressed for him to be over-dominant.

Even the left-arm spinner, so often his nemesis early in an innings, was despatched with disdain, Pragyan Ojha being slog-swept for two sixes over midwicket while a third was stroked over extra cover.

It would have been hailed a brilliant knock on a featherbed but this was a spiteful pitch, and that raised it to the realms of genius, a claim thrown into instant relief by the struggles of every other batsman bar Cook and Cheteshwar Pujara, although even he did not last long second time around.

India's spinners were not on top of their craft, despite the pitch being tailored deliberately to them, though whether this was a factor in Pietersen's dominance, or caused by it, will not be known until the psychologists conduct their debriefs.

Like the pitch in Ahmedabad, this one also has periods where it appears to go to sleep. Either that or the spinners tense up, something Ravichandran Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh certainly looked guilty of. Indeed, all three have so far struggled to find the optimum pace for this surface in order to maximise its awkwardness (a combination of spin and the time a batsman has to react), and it was noticeable that Panesar's extra height and pace on the ball got it to bite into the pitch more readily.

On another day, Cook's innings would have deserved to hog the headlines. Before play, Graham Gooch had said it was the best he had seen Cook play which, given his success across all conditions, shows how difficult Gooch felt the pitch was.

Cook and Pietersen had added 206 before Ashwin turned one just enough to find the edge of the England captain's bat. The wicket saw India's confidence surge, which allowed them to get Jonny Bairstow just before lunch, though under the laws of the game he should have been given not out after Gautam Gambhir had grabbed the catch at silly point only after it had first brushed his helmet.

Most of the umpiring errors in the series would have been resolved by the Decision Review System, had it been in place, but it was not needed for Samit Patel's dismissal by Ojha, caught at gully after a 59-run partnership with Pietersen. Ojha then got Pietersen, who was now playing almost a shot a ball, the end coming when he edged an attempted drive on the up through the covers.

Ojha punched the air in celebration and while England's tail did their best to salve his and the other Indian spinner's figures by losing their last five wickets for 31 runs in 53 balls, his five for 143 was put quickly into perspective when Panesar bowled.

Delivering what is known in the trade as a heavy ball, Panesar had Virender Sehwag caught by Graeme Swann off an outside edge in his fourth over. Sehwag was the man who floored England with a counter-attack in Chennai three years ago when they were on top there and his dismissal this time immediately raised spirits.

Swann took the next, having the near indomitable Pujara well caught by Bairstow at short leg, before Panesar completed the double of twice dismissing Sachin Tendulkar in what is likely to be his last Test on his home ground.

With Tendulkar gone, playing across a quicker one, only Gambhir looked determined enough to keep Panesar and Swann at bay. As the pair tightened the screws, Virat Kohli fell swatting a full toss from Swann to mid-off, Yuvraj Singh gloved one to short leg, Dhoni edged to slip and Ashwin skied a slog to cap a day of cricketing nirvana for England.




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