England’s best batsmen — Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen — came up with an outstanding display to dominate the second day of the second Test here on Saturday.
It was yet another monumental demonstration of calmness by the England captain and brilliant return to form of a batsman under scrutiny in the last three months on the count of his loyalty to the team.
Cook — who has now batted for 16 hours in three innings — lifted his game up a few notches by tactical deployment of the sweep and danced down the pitch to deal with the left-arm spin of Pragyan Ojha initially.
It was hard work for R. Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh too on a surface that had offered much purchase to Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar.
Pietersen used his height and reach and with excellent footwork executed full-blooded shots against the spinners.
After the loss of opener Nick Compton who showed character to keep the Indian attack at bay initially and Johnathan Trott who was stranded on his backfoot, England recovered remarkably well to win the big points for the first time in the series.
During the course of the England reply that started 10 minutes before lunch, the odd ball from the spinners did jump and turn, but the century-plus stand that Cook and Pietersen raised reflected the supremacy the pair enjoyed and the haplessness of the home team.
It was a vital second day of the second Test, and the series perhaps, at the Wankhede Stadium for England, as a decline in the first innings could have made its position vulnerable.
But Cook’s exhibition of defiance, defence and attack and Pietersen’s powerful shots and authority from the time he executed a crisp off-drive, lunging forward off Harbhajan saved it the day. They took England from 68 to 178 for two on a wicket Cheteshwar Pujara said seemed to have eased a bit.
India, ahead by 149 runs, must be hoping for a fresh and forceful start on Sunday and to make inroads to wrest the initiative.
Change in approach
Cook’s refreshing change in approach from the innings he played at Motera — stepping out to play the lofted shot against Ojha with the spin and pouncing on anything short to sweep and cut — put Ojha under pressure straightaway.
A double-spin attack start saw Ashwin giving nothing away in his first spell of 13 overs, but he must have felt extremely frustrated returning wicketless to the dressing room at the end of the day.
At the other end, Pietersen looked in total command sending the ball racing to the fence with hard cuts and forcing backfoot shots to reach his half-century off 63 balls.
He was deliberately watchful against Ojha, who bowled him in both the innings at Ahmedabad.
Pujara and his substitute Ajinkya Rahane took blows at short-leg from hard sweep shots by Cook and Pietersen. “My back is a bit sore, I am okay and Ajinkya is also fine,” said Pujara.
There was a bit of excitement in the stands when Harbhajan was called to bowl before tea and understandably so.
The off-spinner was back after a gap of sixteen months but it was a tough situation to come on as Cook had already settled down and Pietersen was beginning to find his touch.
Earlier in the morning, India added 61 to its overnight score of 266. Ashwin became Panesar’s fifth victim to an arm-ball and Swann picked up three more and crossed the 200-wicket mark in his 48th Test.
Swann had Pujara stumped with a classic off-break that curled away, dragged the batsman out of his crease and beat the outside edge for Matt Prior to flick the bails.
When Ashwin and Harbhajan were in action, nothing of this sort happened.
There were a few edges that did not carry like the one Cook nicked off Zaheer Khan and landed short of slip.