Kevin Pietersen scored a magnificent 144 and Freddie Flintoff provided solid support to him as England rattled India for the first time with the bat on the tour. Pietersen unleashed a series of switch-hits and sweep shots that made the Indian spin threat look impotent. However, it was India that is still sitting strongly in this Mohali Test having taken the wickets of these two dangerous batsmen in the fag end of play on Day 3 to have England trail by 171 runs with just another 4 wickets left. Some shrewd defensive tactics from the Indian Captain MS Dhoni ensured that his team put the brakes to a racy 5th wicket partnership between KP and Flintoff.
Morning Session: Pacers take two early wickets to have England shivering
The start of play on Day 3 was delayed by an hour and a half due to heavy fog which left just the one hour of play in the morning session. England which had started off their first innings fresh today at 10:30 AM was in deep trouble losing the wickets of opener Andrew Strauss (0 from 3 balls, lbw to a full delivery that swung back to beat his flick from Zaheer) and Ian Bell (1 from 3 balls, got his middle stump cleaned up by a full length inswinger from Ishant that went through the gate) in the opening two overs! Kevin Pietersen walked in with his side walked in at 1 for 2 and to his surprise had to face his nemesis with the ball – Yuvraj Singh, who shockingly replaced Zaheer Khan in the 3rd over! Pietersen tried his best to put away Yuvraj for a boundary each ball but kept on hitting the fielders; he even drove a couple dangerously in the air but escaped losing his wicket. Dhoni after that one over experiment with Yuvraj reverted back to his two pacers who were keen on pitching the ball up in the prevailing heavy conditions.
The third wicket pair of Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen took charge of the situation through some positive strokeplay to defy India till lunch successfully. England got 57 runs quickly in 12 overs with Cook timing his pushes sweetly to move onto 25 while KP was shuffling across and flicking his way to 28.
Afternoon Session: KP plunders a century but England loses two more wickets
After lunch, the pair of Cook and KP continued batting positively and the two batsmen completed their respective half centuries quite effortlessly. But the third wicket partnership didn’t go the distance as Cook played right across a swnging yorker from Zaheer to be dead infront of the stumps. The left hander fell after making a fluent 50 from just 67 balls with 8 fours. He put on 103 with Pietersen. Last match centurion Paul Collingwood began his innings well but was forced to edge a magic leg break from Amit Mishra which pitched on middle and turned almost square. The right hander made 11 from 30 balls and his dismissal put England in further trouble at 131 for 4.
The Indian spinners were expected to clean up the rest of the English batting with Flintoff not having a great reputation against them. Pietersen was there at the other end playing a breezy knock which seems to have been inspired by his constant banter with Yuvraj Singh. Flintoff came as a big surprise with the bat as he kept playing late and solidly in his defence to counter any lbw or bat pad chances. Freddie used his feet beautifully to Mishra’s flighted leg breaks to rotate the strike. Meanwhile Pietersen took Harbhajan Singh out of the attack with his switch hits and the sweeps. The Turbanator looked very flat as his off break didn’t turn and bounce at all! It was in the 40th over that KP brought up the shot of the series, when he turned around to the other side like a left hander while changing the grip on the bat to sweep Harbhajan Singh over cover point for an unbelievable six!
By Tea, England had raced away to 211 for 4 in just 48 overs with KP notching up his 15th test hundred and Flintoff on 36. It was a two and a half hour post lunch session which ended at 2:40. England had blasted 154 runs in 36 overs losing two wickets in that session.
Final Session: KP, Freddie continue their show but India claw back
After Tea, MS Dhoni used the combination of Amit Mishra and Zaheer Khan to stifle the run flow. Mishra kept bowling outside the leg stump from round the sticks and Zaheer was bowling to the keeper and not to the batsmen outside the off stump. The two bowlers succeeded in putting the speed breakers to the English innings as India conceded 40 runs in 14 overs in the hour after Tea. Pietersen and Flintoff took their time and were good enough to put away the ball balls for runs.
The KP and Flintoff partnership continued almost till the end but for a late bowling change from MS Dhoni when he brought back Harbhajan Singh. Dhoni had infact lost faith in the off spinner as he kept him out of the attack for a long time. It was against the run of play that Harbhajan Singh provided a breakthrough by getting KP lbw to a doosra from round the sticks which pitched in line and straightened just enough to beat a soft flick shot off the frontfoot. Asad Rauf, the Umpire knew exactly how the bowler had trapped Pietersen, who wasn’t convinced at all but had to walk back having made a stupendous 144 with 17 fours and a six from 201 balls. The English Skipper batted like an Emperor with the bowlers being at his mercy! His partnership with Freddie was worth 149 in around 40 overs!
England received a major setback in the very next over after KP’s dismissal which also turned out to be the final over of the day’s play when Flintoff got an inside edge off the pad to a googly from Mishra that was brilliantly held by short leg. Gautam Gambhir it was taking a superb one handed forward diving catch that hurt England very badly to 282 for 6 in 73 overs. Flintoff contributed 62 with 6 fours in a patient innings of 132 balls. England had sent in James Anderson as night watchman who survived some really quick deliveries from Harbhajan in the penultimate over.