Mumbai: During their last series here in 2006, Andrew Flintoff had called for a rousing rendition of Johnny Cash and June Carter’s 1963 hit Ring of Fire on the final day. The captain’s theme tune provided the perfect spring in their steps as they galloped to victory, their first in 21 years.
Six years on, they didn’t need to summon the spirit of Cash as Alastair Cook has proved to be the inspiration for a team battered and bruised in the first Test.
If the current England captain’s 176 in Ahmedabad wasn’t good enough, he stalled the Indian attack on a responsive Wankhede pitch for 251 minutes on the second day to remain undefeated on 87.
Kevin Pietersen proved to be the ideal foil, remaining unbeaten on 62, as the pair stitched together an unbroken 110-run stand in 186 balls, to keep England 149 runs adrift of India’s 327 at the close.
Pietersen, who had to face the music after his failure in the opener, did have a lengthy chat with Sunil Gavaskar during the warm-up session on Thursday.
It’s not known if the legend’s tips helped him, but he certainly showed more positive intent in his selection of shots during Saturday’s innings.
The first session has proved to be useful for the bowlers, and unless India pick early wickets on Sunday, England will only consolidate and look to pile on the pressure.
Cook and Nick Compton put on 66 in an opening partnership, but once the former nicked to Virender Sehwag at first slip and Jonathon Trott was trapped in front 19 balls later, it was back to square one for England. Cook and Pietersen then blunted the Indian attack with poise and courage.
You need clarity of thought, confidence and self-belief to survive in these conditions, virtues amply evident during Cheteshwar Pujara’s innings of 135. The England third-wicket pair showed all in abundance.
There were a few edges that flew wide of the fielders or landed in no-man’s land as India were left pondering over the ifs and buts… Ravichandran Ashwin was the worst sufferer and Alistair Cook the luckiest survivor when his inside edge twice landed just way off substitute Ajinkya Rahane at forward short leg.
Cook and Pietersen used their feet and employed the sweep against the spinners to nullify the turn.
The sweep also left two fielders injured at short leg. First, Pujara was struck on the ribs by Cook, forcing him to leave the field.
Substitute Ajinkya Rahane appeared bold, taking a few blows on his body. But he too withdrew from service after being struck on the left elbow by Pietersen.
Ojha once again achieved success picking both wickets, but Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh bowled well only in patches. During his seven-year reign as England coach, Duncan Fletcher had ensured that the lower-order contributed with the bat.
After Fletcher set out an insistence that he wouldn’t accept genuine rabbits in his batting line-up, it helped England secure some of their most famous victories. It’s no surprise then that he has maintained the same work ethics with the Indian tail in an effort to bring some sanity after the disasters in England and Australia.
England finally found a way to dismiss Pujara after almost 17 hours in the series. Graeme Swann forced him out of his crease with one that drifted away and Matt Prior dislodged the bails. Pujara’s 135 spanned 452 minutes and included 12 boundaries.
Pujara and Ashwin had set out mixing caution with aggression but Monty Panesar’s arm ball trapped the off-spinner plumb in front.
Panesar finished with five for 129 in his comeback innings while Swann picked up three more to take his tally to four.
The off-spinner also completed 200 wickets when he dismissed Harbhajan. Zaheer Khan though was mistakenly given caught at backward short leg by Aleem Dar when the ball had come off his pad and chest.