Peerless Pietersen powers England
Kevin Pietersen was back to his scintillating best as he struck a third Test double hundred to put England in command against India at Lord’s following a hard-fought second day.
Injuries and poor form have combined to hamper Pietersen’s performances in England recently but, having battled admirably in difficult conditions yesterday, he cashed in to the tune of a first century on home soil in three years.
The outpouring of emotion he displayed upon reaching three figures suggested the onlookers in the press box were not the only ones that knew he had not achieved such feats in England since his 100 against South Africa in 2008.
It was about to get a lot better, though, with the crowd then treated to a display of dominance which belied Pietersen’s early struggles.
Upon their number four reaching his double century, England declared on 474 for eight before bowling six overs, from which India were 17 without loss.
Pietersen was far from being at his fluent best at the start of his innings, but the character he showed will arguably have pleased team director Andy Flower more than if he had dominated from the off.
His initially subdued approach was illustrated by his half-century spanning 134 balls – his slowest effort in Test cricket – while his hundred came off 216 deliveries.
Contrastingly, his acceleration was also clear with his second hundred occupying just 110 balls, 25 of which were used compiling his final 50 runs.
As expected, India were without Zaheer Khan, who strained his hamstring yesterday, although the left-arm seamer is expected to bowl in the hosts’ second innings.
Should that prove the case, it will be a huge relief for the tourists with many believing his participation in the remainder of the four-match npower series may have been in doubt.
Praveen Kumar filled the void left by Zaheer with aplomb today, though, removing Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell, Eoin Morgan, Matt Prior and Stuart Broad to record his first Test five-wicket haul.
It was a thoroughly impressive display from the seamer as he gave an exhibition of controlling the swinging ball.
Despite Praveen’s heroics, England remain in the box seat after Pietersen’s masterclass.
Trott, unbeaten on 58, quickly picked up where he left off last evening, leaning into a gorgeous cover drive off Praveen for the day’s first boundary.
Pietersen, meanwhile, was looking considerably more authoritative than yesterday, illustrated by two crunching straight-driven fours.
But, with batting seemingly becoming easier, Trott was trapped leg before by a clever Praveen inswinger for 70.
Pietersen then endured a scare as he clipped Praveen into the hands of Rahul Dravid at leg-slip, only for the replays to prove inconclusive as to whether the ball carried.
To add insult to injury for the tourists, he brought up his half-century soon after with a trademark clip through midwicket.
Bell, meanwhile, was looking positive – particularly against Harbhajan Singh, who he struck for a glorious slog-swept four.
Dravid left the pavilion with the wicketkeeper’s gloves on after lunch in order to allow Mahendra Singh Dhoni to bowl.
India’s skipper nearly enjoyed a dream result as Pietersen was given out caught behind following a huge appeal.
However, the batsman was reprieved as HotSpot showed no mark on the edge with replays suggesting his bat flicked the pad.
As time wore on, Pietersen also became increasingly unruffled by Dhoni, with a straight-driven four unsurprisingly heralding the arrival off the new ball – seven overs after it was originally available.
The 100-run stand came up courtesy of a well-timed pull for one from Bell but there was a more significant milestone in the offing.
The expectant crowd did not have to wait long to see it, Pietersen moving to his 18th Test ton - and fifth at Lord's - courtesy of a sumptuous straight-driven four.
Jubilation soon turned to despair for the hosts, though, as a Praveen's double strike rocked them.
Having seen Bell – looking well set on 45 – nick a regulation outswinger to Dhoni, who was back behind the stumps, the seamer was celebrating moments later after sending Morgan back.
The left-hander was adjudged to have inside-edged a delivery through to Dhoni, yet replays suggested he had not, prompting uncertainty over why he did not call for the review.
Prior, though, was on hand to provide a counter-attack, playing with typical freedom through the off side.
Pietersen was quickly into his stride again after the interval, fiercely cutting Suresh Raina for four.
He and Prior were providing the perfect example of applying pressure with excellent running before cashing in fully on the odd bad ball.
A crisp pull over mid-on moved Prior on to a half century – from just 72 balls – with the century stand quickly following.
Following the drinks break, the duo showed further intent, epitomised by two inventive Prior boundaries off a Harbhajan over.
The wicketkeeper-batsman’s aggression proved his undoing, though, as he attempted to cut a ball that was too straight and nicked Praveen to Dhoni for 71.
Broad, batting at the ground where he struck his only Test hundred against Pakistan last year, did not last long, trapped lbw first ball to leave Praveen on a hat-trick.
Swann safely negotiated that delivery and was soon embracing his partner after Pietersen brought up his 150 with a gorgeous boundary through midwicket.
Once again, the centurion noticeably changed gear after that, hitting Ishant’s ensuing over for 16, including three glorious fours, while Swann took 14 from Harbhajan in the next.
Boundaries continued to flow for Pietersen and, after Swann was bowled by Raina, attention turned to whether he could reach 200 before the close, provided he was not dismissed.
The crowd need not have worried, for Pietersen continued to dismantle the attack with a straight four off Raina followed up by his first six of the innings from the next ball.
An authoritative cut to the point boundary two balls later ensured him a third Test double century, following scores of 226 and 227 against West Indies and Australia respectively.
That boundary took Pietersen to 202 from 326, including 21 fours and a six, and signalled England’s declaration.
India openers Gautam Gambhir and Abhinav Mukund negotiated their way to stumps, although Chris Tremlett could have trapped the latter in front had his delivery not been a no-ball.