At Mumbai (Wankhede Stadium), November 23-26, 2012. England won by ten wickets. Toss: India.
When Cook lost what looked like a crucial toss, he gazed heavenwards in frustration. And well he might have looked away from the source of his expected chagrin - the roughened red Mumbai soil and a pitch, used for a Ranji Trophy match three weeks earlier, that Dhoni had demanded should spin like a waltzer from ball one. Less than ten sessions later, Cook could have been forgiven for falling jubilantly into the Wankhede's dusty embrace after England had completed a scarcely believable ten-wicket win. It not only dragged them level in the series, but was arguably one of their finest away victories in the 79 years since they had first played Test cricket on the subcontinent, a mile or so away along Marine Drive at the Bombay Gymkhana.
Instead, Cook wrapped his arms round fellow opener Compton, before whipping out three stumps and handing two of them on the dressing-room steps to the pair who had done most to make victory possible - Pietersen, the Man of the Match, and Panesar, a close runner-up. For India, it was only a second home defeat in 24 Tests. Gallingly, they had been trumped in conditions thought to be ideally suited to a three-pronged spin attack, with Harbhajan Singh replacing the injured fast bowler Umesh Yadav; not since India themselves hosted South Africa at Kanpur in 2004-05 had a team entered a Test with only one specialist seamer.
Cook's was a nice touch after his first victory as full-time captain, which arrested an alarming slide in fortunes since the turn of the year. The personal milestones were a bonus: both Cook and Pietersen equalled England's Test record of 22 centuries, while Panesar - who finished with a career-best 11 for 210 - shared 19 wickets with Swann, the best performance by English spinners in a Test since Tony Lock and Jim Laker, who also took 19, against New Zealand at Headingley in 1958.
The game had sparked into life immediately: Gambhir tucked Anderson's first ball through midwicket, then played fatally round the next. It may just have been the only delivery that swung all match, so it was a shame half the crowd were not there to witness it. Vigilant security is one thing, but an inadequate number of turnstiles, and a list of banned items that appeared to expand and contract on a daily whim, are quite another. Spectators eventually reaching the eye of the needle were told they could not bring in cameras, cigarettes, newspapers, water or food. No wonder Test attendances in India are a cause for concern: you are lucky to get in with the shirt on your back.
Latecomers were still settling into their seats when Sehwag departed just over an hour later, bowled in his 100th Test by a full-length delivery from Panesar as he aimed to leg. Included here after England admitted their mistake in leaving him out at Ahmedabad, Panesar struck again before lunch, ripping a left-arm spinner's dream past Tendulkar's forward prod and knocking back his off stump.
Yet if England were encouraged by two further wickets before tea, reducing India to 119 for five, their galloping enthusiasm had to be reined in, as Pujara - who completed his second hundred of the series after Anderson had missed a tough chance in the gully off Panesar when he had 60 - and Ashwin redressed the balance. A close-of-play score of 266 for six left England supporters, here in greater number than at Ahmedabad, fretful about the prospect of chasing too many batting last. And the momentum inched further in India's direction next morning, before Pujara finally ran out of patience and partners, stumped by Prior to exit for 135 - his third century in his seventh Test, and the end of 1,015 unbeaten minutes (nearly 17 hours) and 382 runs in two games; for India, only Tendulkar (1,224 minutes in 2003-04) and Rahul Dravid (1,145 minutes in 2000-01) had batted longer between Test dismissals.
Swann had already claimed his 200th Test wicket when Harbhajan walked casually across his stumps, but he was fortunate to add Zaheer Khan: even by the low umpiring standards set in this match by the normally excellent Aleem Dar, the decision to give Zaheer out caught at short leg off pad and chest took some explaining.
Cook and Compton began the reply to India's 327 with a solid 66, but Compton edged Ojha low to Sehwag at slip and, in Ojha's next over, Trott fell leg-before for a duck. For England, the portents looked ominous - misleadingly so, as Cook and Pietersen came together in a match-winning partnership that would not be broken until eight overs before lunch on the third day. By then, England's captain and their maverick - one steady, the other spectacular - had put on 206, breaking the ground's Test record for the third wicket of 194, set by Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli, a pair of Mumbaikars, against England in 1992-93. It was also the 48th century stand in Tests Cook had been involved in, breaking Geoff Boycott's English record.
This felt apt. A crisp drive wide of mid-off on the third morning had already taken him to his 22nd Test century, where he joined Wally Hammond, Colin Cowdrey and Boycott on England's top step; he also became the first player of any nationality to score hundreds in each of his first four Tests as captain. Twelve balls later, four made room for five as Pietersen reverse-swept the ineffectual Harbhajan, reaching three figures in 127 deliveries to Cook's 236. The Mumbai bus system can be even more maddening than London's but, 31 years after Boycott had equalled a record first set in 1939, England were suddenly celebrating two arrivals at once.
Cook eventually perished to the last turn of the old ball, edging Ashwin into Dhoni's gloves. And what ended up as the final delivery before lunch then accounted, in bizarre fashion, for Bairstow, handed his chance while Ian Bell spent time at home with his new son. Bairstow was given out caught at silly point as he pushed forward to Ojha, despite replays that showed the ball sticking briefly under the grille of Gambhir's helmet before dropping into his hands. Law 32.3(e) said this should have been not out, but both Gambhir and Bairstow later admitted they were unaware of it. Not until the local TV coverage replayed the incident less than ten minutes before the restart did England cotton on. In an uneasy echo of the tea time fiasco at Trent Bridge in July 2011, when Bell was given run out, then reprieved, team director Andy Flower quickly made representations to the umpires. Asked on the outfield moments before play resumed whether he wanted to withdraw his appeal, this time Dhoni declined - and he was well within his rights to do so.
Pietersen, meanwhile, batted on, moving to 150 with a cut for four off Ojha, then imperiously slog-sweeping the next ball for six. But, on 186, he deflected Ojha to Dhoni, ending a masterful display of violent intent that had lasted 233 balls. His runs - more than any England batsman had made at the Wankhede, surpassing Graeme Hick's 178 in 1992-93 - came out of 314 while he was at the wicket. He later called it his best innings, even if he had been helped by the tendency of India's spinners to drop short. Prior's careless run-out triggered a collapse which cost England their last four wickets in 13 deliveries, but their lead of 86 felt like decent ammunition for an assault with the ball.
Even so, no one could have predicted what happened next. In the 33 overs that remained on the third evening, India lost seven for 117, five to Panesar, whose extra pace through the air left the batsmen reluctant to commit to the front foot on a surface offering bounce; the demise of Tendulkar, trapped on the crease, was symptomatic. By stumps, India's scorecard resembled a half-decent poker hand: a pair of sixes, a pair of eights and the makings of a low straight flush. But their stakes were as good as lost. The last three fell in 45 minutes the following morning, when Gambhir's hopes of carrying his bat were thwarted by another umpiring error: Tony Hill failed to spot an inside edge. Panesar, though, had been denied the best Test figures by an English spinner in India when Dar contrived to miss Ojha's thick edge to backward short leg. That record remained with Hedley Verity, a fellow left-arm spinner, and his 11 for 153 at Madras in 1933-34, although Panesar could at least boast England's first ten-wicket haul in India since Neil Foster's 11 for 163, also at Madras, in 1984-85.
Regardless, all 28 wickets to fall to bowlers following Gambhir's removal in the game's first over had now gone to spin. Perhaps determined not to add to the tally, England's openers knocked off the runs in under ten overs. India looked ashen-faced. From nowhere, the series had come alive.
Man of the Match: K. P. Pietersen.
Close of play: first day, India 266-6 (Pujara 114, Ashwin 60); second day, England 178-2 (Cook 87, Pietersen 62); third day, India 117-7 (Gambhir 53, Harbhajan Singh 1).