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Wafer-thin at Wankhede

- India stare at defeat as Monty Panesar’s spin is a superhit, again

Mumbai: Minutes after being dismissed as the last English batsman, Monty Panesar was back on the field with spin bowling coach Mushtaq Ahmed. While his teammates stayed indoors at the tea break, the left-arm spinner focused on his responsibilities and was sorting out his strategy.

A session later, his master-plan had again worked to perfection as the Indian batsmen caved in, with England in sight of a series equalling victory. Like in the first innings, Panesar was leaping with popped-out eyes, the high fives representing what Shane Warne prefers to call the “new Gangnam dance”.

If Kevin Pietersen’s incredible 186 and his 206-run partnership with Alastair Cook had motivated Panesar, he must have never imagined in his wildest dreams that the Indians would hand it over on a platter.

It does sound strange, but what was supposed to be a cakewalk for the Indians in their quest for a 2-0 lead, considering a designer pitch was offered in keeping with Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s wishes, has blown up on their face.

Bowling unchanged, Panesar’s five for 61 coupled with Graeme Swann’s two for 39 left India ignominiously placed at 117 for seven at the close, a slender lead of 31 to survive on, with Gautam Gambhir as the only recognised batsman at the crease.

So what made the English spinners so threatening when the Indians didn’t look so convincing? “The pace at which they bowl,” feels Pietersen.

Even if their pace did help on this bouncy turning track, credit should also be given to them for sticking to the basics and not trying too many things. While the trio of Indian spinners struggled with their line and often bowled short, both Panesar and Swann concentrated on an off stump line and bowled a much fuller length which made a big difference.

Add to it, the Indians’ inability to instil discipline in their batting. Virender Sehwag, Cheteshwar Pujara and Dhoni were done in by the turn, Virat Kohli hit a full toss straight to extra cover, Yuvraj Singh offered short leg a simple catch and Ravichandran Ashwin’s audacious hitting wasn’t the right medicine for survival on this surface.

Sachin Tendulkar endured a harrowing few balls from Panesar in the over he walked in. He then survived a close stumping appeal with the TV umpire’s verdict going in favour of the batsman. Finally, he was plumb to one from Panesar that didn’t turn, the second time he has got The Master after the classic dismissal in the first innings.

What will Dhoni do next? Having sought a turner from Day I, his plans have now backfired. The English spinners have proved to be more effective and seeking a green wicket will only spell fresh trouble. Curator Prabir Mukherjee will have a tough task at hand at the Eden.

The demon in the wicket had vanished when Cook and Pietersen were batting in the morning. Such was their authority and brilliance that the Indians were back to their profligate and unprofitable ways. Rather than devising plans to make things happen, they were waiting for something to happen. Defensive field sets along with no definite plans made the task of both batsmen easier.

Only when Pragyan Ojha and Ashwin concentrated on pitching on the rough, rather than aiming at a leg stump-line in the second session, did they achieve success. England finally folded up for 413. While Ojha finished with five wickets, Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh claimed two each.

Even if Panesar hogged the limelight in the end, it was Pietersen and Cook, particularly the former on the third day, who showed them the way forward. The former captain was in control of the circumstances, and destroyed whatever the bowlers threw at him.

Both reached their 22nd Test centuries and equalled other greats on the list of England batsmen with most centuries. A tired Cook departed when he edged Ashwin behind the stumps. The 336 minutes at the crease had produced 122 runs with 13 boundaries and a six.

But how does one solve a problem like Pietersen? Mired in a texting controversy and Twitter rants ahead of the series, endless backroom negotiations saw him back in the side. After failing to come good in the first Test, he has proved why including him in the team was worth the fuss and effort.

His former Hampshire teammate Shane Warne recently went on to reveal that Pietersen had told him his mind ‘was a bit of scramble’ but all that was never on display as he batted with clear vision. His controlled destruction foiled India’s hopes. Twenty boundaries and four sixes confirmed his flamboyant approach.

There couldn’t have been a better example of Test batting than watching the way Pietersen went about his task during his 317 minutes. It was intimidating, and above all, he forced the attack into submission. There was not a wrong stroke attempted, as he batted like a man possessed.