Mumbai: After 1016 minutes of frustration, England finally managed to dismiss Cheteshwar Pujara. And after restricting India to 327 in the morning session, they were indebted to contrasting innings from Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen for a promising position at stumps on the second day. Cook was on 87, in sight of another hundred, while Pietersen had progressed fairly untroubled to 62. India’s lead was 149.
Cook provided the rock-solid foundation yet again, and Pietersen gave India’s spin trio plenty to think about with a wonderful display of attacking batsmanship. There was certainly assistance for the slow bowlers, but Pietersen’s ability to pierce the inner ring often ensured that they couldn’t settle down enough to establish a stranglehold. (Also read: Day 2 in Mumbai, in stats)
India had wrested the initiative just before tea, with Mahendra Singh Dhoni bringing Pragyan Ojha back into the attack and being rewarded with two quick wickets. At that stage, the innings run rate was two. By the time Pietersen completed a 63-ball half-century, it was edging towards three. (Related read: Gavaskar feels Indian bowlers could have bowled better)
Cook did an excellent job of emulating Pujara, defending with composure and also putting away the bad balls. India’s cause wasn’t helped by injuries to both Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane, the substitute fielder, both of whom were hit by meaty sweeps as they fielded at short leg.
After the opening day’s play, R Ashwin had spoken of putting up a first innings total in the region of 350. That didn’t happen, with Graeme Swann taking three of the four wickets to fall as England applied the squeeze. Ashwin fell to Monty Panesar, given out leg-before to a ball that appeared to strike the flap of the pad just outside the line.
Harbhajan Singh, on his return to the side, struck a six over wide long-on and two fours, before moving too far across his stumps to Swann. That was perhaps the cue for Pujara, who had carried on in unhurried fashion, to try and up the ante a little. It cost him his wicket, as he stepped out to Swann and was smartly stumped off a delivery that barely turned.
Pujara batted just over seven and a half hours for his 135, facing 350 balls to add to the 440 he had rebuffed in Ahmedabad. With the pitch likely to deteriorate, it had the potential to be a match winning hand. (Related read: For Pujara, his knock is better than a double ton)
Zaheer Khan got a rough decision – given out caught at bad-pad after the ball seemed to hit pad and chest – and India were in the field with four overs still to be bowled before lunch.
Ashwin and Ojha opened the bowling, but England negotiated that passage of play without undue alarm, as they did the first 90 minutes after lunch. Nick Compton was as watchful as Cook and though the odd ball jumped up, there was nothing sinister in the pitch.
Harbhajan was brought on only in the 25th over, but it was Ojha that struck, inducing an edge to slip as Compton came forward. Jonathan Trott’s disappointing tour continued when he was pinned back in the crease and dismissed almost French-cricket style.
Having fallen twice to Ojha in Ahmedabad, all eyes were then on Pietersen. But if there were nerves, they didn’t show as he got going with a couple of pleasing drives. Unafraid to skip out to the pitch of the ball, Pietersen managed to scatter the close-in cordon.
There were a couple of edges that fell short of the slips and when Cook was on 85, a thick edge off Harbhajan struck Virender Sehwag’s boot at slip. But half-chances aside, it was a frustrating final session for the Indians. (Also read: Swann says lot of work left to win the Test)
Having put such faith in spin, there was little by way of Plan B for Dhoni to turn to. Zaheer bowled a couple of probing overs towards the end of the day, but by then, Cook and Pietersen had added 100 in just 162 balls. Pietersen’s contribution to that was 58. After the lows of Ahmedabad, England were finally giving as good as they got.