England hit back with a vengeance on Sunday, and is all set to settle scores in this Test series.

At stumps on the third day, the lone source of cheer for the Indian dressing room was Gautam Gambhir bringing up his half century — but the hosts are just 31 runs ahead, with Harbhajan Singh at the other end and just Pragyan Ojha and Zaheer Khan to come.

Any hope of the fourth innings being a tussle faded as Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann put up a superb exhibition of teasing finger spin, and with men stationed around, and picked off the batsmen as India’s top and middle order floundered — including Sachin Tendulkar who took a leg-middle stump guard and was still trapped in front by a delivery from Panesar that straightened.

What would make the impending defeat to the home team more galling is England outclassing it in the spin department on a helpful wicket.

England’s batting frailty showed after the longer interval as eight wickets fell for 134 runs in under 35 overs after captain Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen had put up a commanding show with the bat.

Cook’s and Pietersen’s handling of the Indian spinners was of master-class quality — the latter was especially brilliant, a six over cover off Ojha was as stunning as his two slog-swept sixes off R. Ashwin.

The partnership of 206 for the third wicket between the indefatigable and steadfast England captain and the dynamic Pietersen set the tone for a strong fight-back.

The Cook-Pietersen partnership has been one of the feature of England’s rise to the top of the ICC Test ranking list.

The two have had an aggregate of 2,548 runs in 39 matches, with 10 centuries and 12 half centuries, contributing close to 63 per cent to the England totals.

As expected, Cook was the first to match England’s century aggregate record of 22 held jointly by Wally Hammond, Colin Cowdrey and Geoffrey Boycott.

The left-hander reached his ton with a cover-drive off Harbhajan, and thereafter Pietersen’s explosive batsmanship brought him level with the foursome, with powerful sweep and cuts off the three spinners.

Pietersen actually brought up his century with a reverse sweep off Harbhajan.

It was almost half an hour before lunch and in his 186th ball that Ashwin managed to separate the pair, curling the ball from around the wicket and close to the return crease.

He had been working on the line for some time before forcing a nick from Cook.

The two teams adjourned for lunch soon at the fall of Jonny Bairstow who walked assuming that his was a straight forward dismissal — caught by Gambhir at silly point off Ojha.

The replay pictures however raised questions as to the legality of the catch.

This was the sequence of the ‘catch’: The ball came of the bat of the right-hander, made contact with Gambhir’s hands, with his chest and then hit a part of the helmet grille before lodging into the hands of Gambhir again.

According to an explanatory note in Laws of Cricket 32.3: “The act of making the catch shall start from the time when the ball in flight comes into contact with some part of a fielder’s person other than a protective helmet, and shall end when a fielder obtains complete control both over the ball and over his own movement.”

The Indian spinners then took control, ending the England innings quickly after that.

But little would they have anticipated Panesar and Swann would turn the tables on them in the last session, leaving England on the path to victory.

Scoreboard

India — 1st Innings: 327

England — 1st Innings: A. Cook c Dhoni b Ashwin 122 (270b, 13x4, 1x6), N. Compton c Sehwag b Ojha 29 (90b, 4x4), J. Trott lbw b Ojha 0 (6b), K. Pietersen c Dhoni b Ojha 186 (233b, 20x4, 4x6), J. Bairstow c Gambhir b Ojha 9 (23b, 2x4), S. Patel c Kohli b Ojha 26 (42b, 4x4, 1x6), M. Prior run out 21 (34b, 3x4), S. Broad c Pujara b Harbhajan 6 (20b), G. Swann (not out) 1 (4b), J. Anderson lbw b Harbhajan 2 (5b), M. Panesar c Khan b Ashwin 4 (2b, 1x4), Extras (b-4, lb-2, w-1) 7; Total (121.3 overs) 413.

Fall of wickets: 1-66, 2-68, 3-274, 4-298, 5-357, 6-382, 7-406, 8-406, 9-408.

India bowling: Ashwin 42.3-6-145-2, Ojha 40-6-143-5, Zaheer 15-4-37-0, Harbhajan 21-1-74-2, Yuvraj 3-0-8-0.

India — 2nd Innings: G. Gambhir (batting) 53 (109b, 5x4), V. Sehwag c Swann b Panesar 9 (14b, 1x4), C. Pujara c Bairstow b Swann 6 (5b , 1x4), S. Tendulkar lbw b Panesar 8 (19b, 2x4), V. Kohli c sub b Swann 7 (13b, 1x4), Yuvraj Singh c Bairstow b Panesar 8 (10b, 1x4), M.S. Dhoni, c Trott b Panesar 6 (17b), R. Ashwin c Patel b Panesar 11 (10b, 1x6), Harbhajan Singh (batting) 1 (1b), Extras (b-6, lb-2) 8; Total (for 7 wkts. in 33 overs) 117.

Fall of wickets: 1-30, 2-37, 3-53, 4-65, 5-78, 6-92, 7-110.

England bowling: Anderson 4-1-9-0, Panesar 16-2-61-5, Swann 13-4-39-2.

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