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India hit back after Pietersen's century

England's biggest guns, Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff, boomed for two sessions and for the first time in this match they put India firmly on the back foot, reports Anand Vasu. See: Full Coverage | See pics | Full Scorecard

cricket Updated: Dec 21, 2008 21:12 IST
Anand Vasu

England's biggest guns, Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff, boomed for two sessions and for the first time in this match they put India firmly on the back foot. Mahendra Singh Dhoni's unflappable temperament was put under serious examination and only two late wickets restored the balance. At 282 for 6, still 171 runs behind, England find themselves in a position from which only a minor miracle can help them square the series.

When play began on yet another gloomy day, India began perfectly with Zaheer Khan catching Andrew Strauss in front of the stumps with a ball that was heading towards leg stump. Ishant Sharma then induced a lazy drive from Ian Bell and when the ball cannoned back into the stumps via the inside edge, England were 2 for 1 and looking down the barrel.

Dhoni then did his best to get under Pietersen's skin, throwing the ball to Yuvraj Singh. For six balls - really the only time in the day - Pietersen looked like he might do something silly and get himself out, having a slog at Yuvraj. Normalcy returned in the next over and from then on, all the Indians saw was the full face of Pietersen's broad blade.

Alastair Cook's effective resistance was cut off on an even 50 when Zaheer speared in a yorker that beat the batsman for pace. Paul Collingwood got a beauty from Amit Mishra that turned enough to induce the edge to the keeper and at 131 for 4, England were in danger of surrendering meekly.

But Pietersen is not one to roll over and play dead. He responded with a rollicking hundred that breathed life back into the game.

Fast bowlers and spinners alike were treated with utter disdain as Pietersen showed just why he is fast being considered a colossus among batsmen.

The runs came at a gallop and nothing the Indians did could stop that. When Harbhajan bowled to a packed legside field, Pietersen simply inverted his stance and switch-hit the ball for six. Repeatedly, Pietersen switch-hit the spinners, but for India's main spinner to be hit all the way, reverse, was a summation of Pietersen's domination.

Flintoff, who had said before this Test that he longed to play a proper innings, was clearly enjoying his captain's approach and did his bit to protect the partnership while playing forceful strokes.

Pietersen's century, amazingly his 15th in just 45 matches, also saw him go past 1000 runs for the third consecutive year. He became the first right-handed batsman to do so, joining three left-handers, Brian Lara, Matthew Hayden and Marcus Trescothick. When he fell on 144, perhaps a touch unlucky to be given out lbw to a ball that might have been slipping down leg, Flintoff and Pietersen had added 149 for the third wicket.

When Flintoff fell as the shadows lengthened, with nightwatchman James Anderson at the non-striker's end, India had come right back into the match.

A Mishra top-spinner induced a close-in catch. Flintoff had made 62, but the fall of his wicket meant that England's playmakers were all back in the pavilion. The remaining four batsmen will do their best to whittle down the lead, but to expect them to swing the game in England's favour might be asking too much.