Alastair Cook put in much of the spadework himself to help level the Test series against India, but he knows who did even more to turn an “incredible” contest England’s way.
Captain Cook and ‘game-changer’ Kevin Pietersen are both on a par with three greats of English cricket as their country’s most prolific centurions after their innings in the second Test in Mumbai.
On the back of Pietersen’s brilliant 186 and Cook’s fourth successive century in as many matches as England Test captain, Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann exploited a spinners’ pitch expertly for a 10-wicket victory in little more than three days at the Wankhede Stadium.
Panesar finished with a career-best 11 wickets in the match, and Swann eight, as India were bowled out for 142 yesterday morning despite Gautam Gambhir’s determined 65.
The left-handed opener’s innings was one of only two double-figure scores in the hosts’ second innings as slow left-armer Panesar (6-81) and off-spinner Swann (4-43) decimated India to make it 1-1 with two to play.
Their contributions earned the captain’s praise and gratitude, but there was no question it was Pietersen who altered the direction of the match with his supreme batsmanship in a double-century stand with Cook on days two and three.
In conditions which allowed spinners to take 28 of the 30 wickets to fall – there was one for James Anderson, with the second ball of the match, and Matt Prior was run out – Pietersen not only kept India’s three slow bowlers at bay but dominated them in one of his best innings.
“There are not many people in the world who could do what Kev did,” Cook said.
“It was the difference between the two teams. He took the game away from India.”
Without Pietersen England might easily have lost, even accounting for Cook’s admirable contribution as each took his century tally to 22.
Cook, however, also emphasised collective resilience – after England’s emphatic defeat in Ahmedabad last week – as a telling factor.
“It’s been an incredible three-and-a-half days from the lads with the character we have shown from last week.
“We could have let our heads drop down but we came here, worked as hard as we could in the nets and we took that belief and form we needed into the game.
“That is as good a game as I have been involved in for England.”
If Pietersen and Cook outbatted their opponents, Panesar in particular outbowled India.
“The way Swanny and Monty bowled, under pressure to perform, was fantastic – especially because we didn’t want to be chasing a lot on that wicket,” said Cook, who was joined by Nick Compton to knock off the 57 runs England needed in under 10 overs.
England have demonstrated, after a series of hapless innings against sub-continental spin, that they can deal with it after all.
“It was a tough dressing room to be in, with people talking about us playing spin, but to turn it around so quickly proves the work we have done is the right work,” Cook said.
“It is not going to be perfect every time.
“I said before the game we need to take the work we have done in the nets out in the middle and perform and that is what we did.
“We are not perfect – we are nowhere near that – but it is encouraging that the stuff we are doing has born fruit this week.”
Cook was visibly frustrated after losing the toss and being asked to bowl, and he said: “It was an important toss but the way we bowled that first day was fantastic. And the way Kevin batted, the way he took the game away from India – to get an 80-odd run lead was vital on that wicket. It was a fantastic innings, great to watch from the other end. We could have got more of a lead in the end.”
Man of the match Pietersen endorsed his captain’s mid-tour analysis of one job well done, but insisted much more was still needed.
“Any Test victory is huge, but we are not going to get ahead of ourselves, for sure,” he said. “Last week we got hammered but this week turned up. The important thing is not scoring runs in the nets – it is scoring runs in the middle. I thought our spinners were exceptional in this Test match.
“It is special to be part of this team. The dressing room is united. It is fun, and we are having a great time on this trip.”
Home captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni faced an unenviable task trying to stop Pietersen, but a significantly easier one identifying the scourges of India here.
“Pietersen and Cook batted really well. But apart from that, both the scorecards resembled the same – two big innings and the rest were phone numbers.
“In this Test match, Monty was different to all the other bowlers.
“All the other bowlers were getting enough bounce and turn, but Monty was bowling at pace – close to 90-95kmh – and was still able to get some turn.
“If you compare all the other bowlers, most of them they got wickets but they never looked to bother the batsmen as much as Monty did.”