He was beaten on the outside edge, top-edges kept falling in no-man's land and thick edges did not carry to slip. But, like a courageous captain, Alastair Cook put everything to battle on and steady the ship at the Wankhede Stadium on Saturday.
Riding on the opener's gritty, unbeaten 87 and Kevin Pietersen's polished unbeaten 62, England advanced to 178 for two at the end of day two. In the morning, their spinners continued the good work and restricted India to 327 with Monty Panesar finishing with five wickets and Graeme Swann four. Swann became the first England off-spinner to reach the 200-wicket mark and the first to dismiss Cheteshwar Pujara (135) in this series.
Neither team can claim to have taken control, but England would be happy with the position they are in, especially considering their issues against spin. A clearer picture of a momentum shift will emerge in the opening session on Sunday.
If Cook was all grit, Pietersen oozed class. It was a masterful exhibition of the art of playing on a turning track from them. That the Indian tweakers were rendered innocuous despite the turn and bounce on offer spoke volumes about their effort. Cook batted with the deftness of an experienced campaigner, employing simple methods to neutralise the threat posed by Ashwin & Co. He adjusted to the length, going forward only to the really full deliveries. Anything slightly short was played off the backfoot.
What frustrated India’s spin trio was how Cook turned the sweep into his bread and butter shot — something his batting guru Graham Gooch had done 25 years ago at Wankhede in the World Cup semi-final. The short-leg fielders were in his firing line. Pujara took a full-blooded shot on his back, and had to retire, and KP meted out the same treatment to substitute, Ajinkya Rahane.
It’s amazing what a clear mind can achieve. In Ahmedabad, Pietersen was clueless. And here, he was on top of his game from ball one. He caressed Harbhajan through cover to open his account. But, given his record against left-arm spinners, all eyes were on his battle with Ojha, who had got him in both innings in Ahmedabad. In a few overs, however, it must have been clear to the bowler that it was a different batsman he was dealing with.
With two quick wickets, Ojha had his tail up when Pietersen walked in. Soon, he was teasing him with flighted deliveries. This time there was no hesitation and the drives flowed from the batsman's broad blade. It was a disappointing show from India’s spinners. MS Dhoni must have been left wondering whether it was the same wicket on which Panesar wreaked havoc. He had reaped the rewards of making the ball rip off the wicket, but his Indian counterparts simply failed to settle into a rhythm.