Bell and Pietersen give Oval full house a memorable day in the sun
Close: Fourth Test, day two, The Oval
Match score: England 457-3 (Bell 181*, Anderson 3*, Pietersen 175) Full scorecard
Session score: England 161-1 England win
Forty years ago this week, on this very ground, India won their first Test in England, a victory crafted by the fingers, wrists and wisdom of three legendary spin bowlers.
Just one of Bishan Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar or Erapalli Prasanna would have done for India today as they endured another tormenting day in the field. But the legspinner Amit Mishra and the part-time offie Suresh Raina are such unworthy successors it is questionable even to suggest they are practitioners of the same art.
The full toss from Mishra that Ian Bell smashed back over his head into the pavilion was the sort of filth that club bowlers would be embarrassed to send down.
Nor is it too harsh to say that Raina was the only fielder on the Indian side who could have taken the caught and bowled chance that Kevin Pietersen offered him on 175. He was a smart catch, two-handed diving to his left after Pietersen had mistimed a drive as he advanced down the pitch.
There was a vague plan for Mishra to keep a lid on it by bowling round the wicket into the rough to a 6-3 leg-side field but he simply didn’t have the control to pull it off. Nor was MS Dhoni’s wicketkeeping good enough to stop balls disappearing for byes down the leg side.
Bell’s and Pietersen’s stand of 350, which is England’s second best for the third wicket, missed by one run the second-wicket partnership here between Graham Gooch and David Gower when the very moderate Australians were flayed mercilessly on a sun-kissed day in 1985. It felt a very similar day.
A few years ago I played cricket with an itinerant Australian gap-year student whose response to any request or suggestion was: “Too easy, mate.” It wasn’t antipodean arrogance, it was just a twist on the “no worries” cliché.
There’s no better way to describe England’s dominance at The Oval. It was simply too easy.
Not that it wasn’t good to watch. Quite the opposite. Whereas the third day at Edgbaston, when Alastair Cook batted forever, was tedious this was a joyful celebration of England’s dominance and No.1 status.
After lunch England scored 331 runs for one wicket in 72 overs and yet the morning session had promised something different.
But as they showed at Lord’s and on the first day at Trent Bridge India have only limited capacity for the fight. There isn’t enough fuel for a sustained campaign and both teams, by this stage of the series, know it all too well. So once the second new ball had been negotiated – and Sreesanth bowled pretty well with it – it was time to cash in.
Bell’s innings was chanceless, Pietersen offered one just after reaching his hundred. He had just pulled Ishant Sharma for four and tried the same shot next ball but top-edged it towards mid-on where Gautam Gambhir ran back, stumbled, fell backwards and although the ball was in his hands he couldn’t hold on. He banged his head on the ground to add injury to insult.
Shortly after 6pm the anoraks were off and the stats party got started: both batsmen passed 150 within minutes of each other and then the 300 stand came up. And then Pietersen’s party-piece, a switch-hit smearing Mishra to the square-leg (or is it cover point?) boundary.
When Pietersen was out and replaced by the nightwatchman Jimmy Anderson, many well-refreshed and sun-burnt punters had seen enough. Anderson was even booed to the crease. Bell is still there though and if he can negotiate the early overs with a newish ball, a maiden Test double hundred – and then some – is there for the taking.
Shot of the day: Take your pick from a highlights reel of Bell’s cover drives off Sreesanth but even better, for astonishing timing, was his back-foot extra-cover drive off RP Singh.
Ball of the day: Fewer candidates for this accolade: Singh’s perfect away-swinger to pass Andrew Strauss’s bat in the fourth over of the day.
Exhibit of the day: Andrew Strauss’s helmet (youth size – he’s got a small head) broken on day one by an Ishant Sharma bouncer which has been signed and his being auctioned for charity.
Prime Ministerial Colemanballs of the day (1): “I feel slightly robbed,” said David Cameron to Jonathan Agnew referring to their tea-time interview not being conducted in the TMS commentary box.
Prime Ministerial Colemanballs of the day (2): “I’ve probably cost a few people their jobs”, as punters around where Cameron was sitting in the stands were spotted on TV.
Commentary banter of the day: Simon Mann on TMS about India’s morning fightback: “You can’t take anything for granted in cricket.” Tufnell: “Or in life, Simon.” Mann: “You are one of the great philosophers.”
John Stern is a former editor of The Cricketer
Follow him on Twitter @Cricketer_John