India v England, 2nd Test, Mumbai, 2nd day November 24, 2012

Pietersen and Cook set up solid platform

England 178 for 2 (Cook 87*, Pietersen 62*) trail India 327 (Pujara 135, Panesar 5-129) by 149 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

In England, it has become customary to look at Kevin Pietersen and see only a problem. In India, the talk is of his star quality. That unmistakeable batting talent was to the fore once more on a sweltering second day of the Mumbai Test as he began to put his tribulations behind him and rebuild an England career that he once imagined might be lost for ever.

Alastair Cook, the England captain who must manage Pietersen's maverick talents, must have looked down the pitch and concluded that this was a problem worth having. Cook, who in his worst moments must have imagined that India was becoming an insurmountable challenge, could spot an ally from 22 yards away. Between them, they stilled India's spin-bowling frenzy.

Cook was 13 runs short of another Test hundred at the close, another formidable innings in pressing circumstances. Alongside him, Pietersen had made an unbeaten 62 in enterprising fashion. Instead of talk of "reintegration," as formally laid down by the ECB, they chatted informally between overs of cricketing matters, of runs and wickets and ambitions to win a Test and square the series. It is far too premature to suggest that the good times were returning, but perhaps the deepest pain is behind them.

One bemused Indian pundit, observing Pietersen in full flow, suggested that he struggled to cope with the regimented ways of England, where people "liked to stand in queues." Well, they have certainly been queuing up in recent months to take a pop at Pietersen. He will hear little such criticism in Mumbai. It is perhaps no surprise that in the country which lavishes more affection on him than any other he began to rediscover his mojo.

Pietersen, lambasted for a frenzied approach in Ahmedabad, played confidently against India's spinners from the outset. He confidently despatched his first ball, from Harbhajan Singh, to the cover boundary. Another upbeat drive against Pragyan Ojha restated his well-being. His footwork was trim, his misjudgements were rare. There were times when his presence alone seemed enough to draw errors in length from the Indian spin attack.

Cook continued to unravel India's mysteries, a power to be reckoned with in all climes, on all surfaces. Twice he used his feet to Ojha, hitting him over mid-on for six and four, as he combated the bowler's leg-stump line, backed up by three close leg-side catchers. As his innings progressed, he swept as productively as at any time in his Test career. They were shots illustrative of a batsman carefully extending his range.

The sweep shot injured two India short legs in the process. Chesteshwar Pujara was struck in the ribs and left the field. The substitute, Ajinkya Rahane, emerged with more padding than a luxury sofa and pulled off some nerveless, agile stops - a sofa on casters - before he, too took a battering and withdrew from service. There was not a noticeable rush to take his place.

R Ashwin bowled the best over at Cook - a top-edged sweep, two play and misses and an edge short of slip reminding England that this test could swing India's way in a flash - but Harbhajan, returning from a 15-month absence for his 99th Test, found little to sustain him.

No Test side has opened with two spinners virtually since cricketing time began, but India did, confident of England's fallibility against spin. Cook built an opening stand of 66 in 31 overs with Nick Compton as India's slow bowlers initially struggled to find much purchase and, after England's miserable year, he must have found the relative calm of the Wankhede Stadium strangely eerie. Then it started again, a cacophony of shouts and cheers, as Compton and Jonathan Trott departed to Ohja to leave India buoyant at the end of an afternoon session where they had to work hard to make an impression.

Trott, so often the rock in England's better days, is looking more fallible by the moment on India's turning pitches and his footwork was uncertain as he edged back to the sixth ball he faced, from Ojha, to be plumb lbw. His expression looks stonier and stonier. As do his feet. Moments earlier, Compton's stubborn resistance ended when his defensive edge carried comfortably to Virender Sehwag at first slip. Compton has made a strikingly cautious start to his Test career - this latest vigil brought 29 from 90 deliveries but his defence has been sound and his commitment undeniable.

England have also found a way to dismiss Pujara in India. Shortly before lunch, Graeme Swann drifted one wide, drew him down the pitch and as Matt Prior removed the bails Pujara had been stumped for the first time in his first-class career. Simple. After around 17 hours in the series. He finished on 135, from 350 balls, to follow his unbeaten double hundred in the first Test in Ahmedabad and his thought processes remained crisp and logical to the end.

England's spinners again capitalised on helpful conditions as India added another 61 in 25.1 overs to their overnight 266 for 6. Monty Panesar ended Ashwin's reviving knock with a brisk arm ball and finished with 5 for 129 on his return to Test cricket. Graeme Swann took three of the last four wickets to fall to finish with 4 for 70, including his 200th Test scalp when he trapped Harbhajan lbw, and was also helped by an erroneous decision by umpire Aleem Dar when he gave out Zaheer Khan at short leg.

After his 34 overs on the first day, Panesar was a picture of concentration, his eyes set in a blank stare of concentration as if saying: "Processes for Mushy bhai, processes for Mushy bhai".

However, England's fielding lapses remain an everyday occurrence. Trott was the latest culprit, failing to lock on to Harbhajan's edge to his left at first slip. He was perhaps fleetingly unsighted by Prior's gloves, but Trott's starting position was poor and his reactions were lumbering. He has not fielded regularly at slip for some time and it showed.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments