Mumbai: An obdurate century from Alastair Cook and one touched with genius from Kevin Pietersen propelled England to a position of strength, before Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann bowled them to within touching distance of victory on the third day at the Wankhede Stadium. At stumps, India were 117 for 7, only 31 ahead, on a surface that grew more and more spin-friendly as the day wore on.
There were few signs of the drama to come in an opening session that Pietersen and Cook dominated, but the game moved forward at breakneck speed in the afternoon. England lost their last four wickets for 13, and India were already five wickets down by the time they wiped out the deficit. (Also read: British press lavishes praise on team)
If the Indian spinners, Pragyan Ojha aside, were largely disappointing, their English counterparts were brilliant, extracting every bit of help from a friendly pitch. As in the first innings, it was Panesar who started the slide, having Virender Sehwag edge one to Swann at gully.
Cheteshwar Pujara was off the field for a large part of the England innings after being hit in the ribs, and there was no repeat performance after his first-innings hundred. He made just six before popping up a bat-pad catch to Jonny Bairstow at short leg.
Sachin Tendulkar, who hasn’t crossed 27 in ten Test innings, was plumb in front to a Panesar delivery that pitched on leg and middle and turned away, while Virat Kohli miscued a Swann full toss straight to Joe Root, fielding as substitute, at cover.
Yuvraj Singh gave Panesar his 150th Test wicket when he gloved to short leg and Dhoni made just six before edging the same bowler to Trott at slip. When Ashwin miscued a big heave to Samit Patel at cover, Panesar had 10 wickets for the match.
There were none for India in a frenetic opening hour that saw 78 scored in just 16 overs. Pietersen scored 51 of them, unsettling the bowlers by using the depth of his crease and unveiling a extensive repertoire of attacking strokes.
Both reached their 22nd Test centuries within minutes of each other. Cook did so with a cover-drive off Harbhajan, while Pietersen got to the landmark with a rather more audacious stroke, a reverse-sweep for four.
The partnership was worth 206 off just 318 balls when Cook was finally dismissed, getting a thin edge to an Ashwin delivery that turned and bounced as he fenced at it. Bairstow made just nine before playing Ojha to silly point, where Gambhir gathered the ball after a juggle or three. Bairstow turned and walked off and the umpires took lunch, though replays later showed that the ball had struck Gambhir’s helmet grille – making it a dead ball – before it was finally caught.
There was an attempt to reverse the decision before the players came back out, but unlike in the case of Ian Bell at Trent Bridge in 2011, India weren’t prepared to rewind. It didn’t stall England’s progress either, with Patel making a quick 26. He and Pietersen, who cleaved a couple of mighty sixes over midwicket, added 59 before Patel edged to gully.
Pietersen finally edged Ojha, his tormentor in Ahmedabad, behind after a 233-ball 186 and when Matt Prior was run out after being sent back by Stuart Broad, it triggered a collapse. As it turned out, it was nowhere near as damaging as the Indian house-of-cards trick later in the day.