India fail maintain advantage as Bell and Pietersen cash in
Tea: Fourth Test, day two, The Oval
Match score: England 296-2 (Bell 114*, Pietersen 98*) Full scorecard
Session score: England 170-0 England win
It’s the little things that often indicate the bigger picture. Off the last ball of the third over after lunch Ian Bell pushed the legspinner Amit Mishra for an easy single to long off. It was such an easy single that Kevin Pietersen walked every one of the 22 yards (maybe 20 if you want to be pedantic) from the non-striker’s end.
India hadn’t done anything especially wrong but it was indicative of the post-lunch tone which bore no relation to the dour tension of the morning.
In the fifth over after lunch, Pietersen heaved Mishra inelegantly over midwicket for four – “good mowage,” said Phil Tufnell on TMS.
In the next over Sachin Tendulkar bungled the ball over the boundary at deep square leg in a dreadful piece of old-man fielding.
Ten minutes before tea Pietersen hoisted Suresh Raina to long off where RP Singh rain in but then made no effort to go for a difficult catch. In the next over he managed to walk past a sweep from Pietersen off Tendulkar.
There was none of the sustained pressure that had been brought to bear with the new ball in the morning. It was as if the lunchtime buffet had been left out: Pietersen and Bell just helped themselves.
The Oval was where it all started for Bell in 2004, a Test in which England sealed a 4-0 clean sweep over West Indies and their seventh successive win of a golden summer.
Bell, in the side for the injured Graham Thorpe, made a gutsy 70 in which he was hit on the shoulder by Fidel Edwards. It was an innings that boded well but his has not been a journey without obstacles.
When he drove Raina for four off the back foot to reach his 16th Test century his celebration was Tendulkar-like: arms outstretched, eyes to the heavens. The gesture was surely an appreciation of his mentor Neal Abberley who died just before the Edgbaston Test.
By his own admission Bell has been over-coached (not that that is a criticism of Abberley), a product of a system that was all about technique and not enough about temperament.
But thankfully he arrived at his expected destination, a bit later than hoped and despite being almost lost on the way. He makes batting look so easy and today it probably has been.
John Stern is a former editor of The Cricketer
Follow him on Twitter @Cricketer_John