Panesar and Cook put England on front foot

Monty Panesar
Monty Panesar
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England are in good position in the second Test after another superb innings by captain Alastair Cook and the return to form of Kevin Pietersen.

The pair, undefeated at the close and each with a half-century, hold the key to England’s hopes of winning the match and levelling the series.

If they bat long into today and make big scores – “daddy hundreds” as batting coach Graham Gooch calls them – England should build up a decent lead of 100 runs or more.

Then it would be back over to the twirly men, Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann to winkle out the Indians – much as they did in the first innings.

One glance at the scorecard for this match reveals the naivety of England’s thinking in the first Test in Ahmedadbad, where they played three seamers.

So far in Mumbai, spin has claimed 11 of the 12 wickets to fall and India opened the bowling with spin from both ends.

Nearly all pitches in India demand a plethora of spinners, that is just the nature of cricket on the sub-continent.

Panesar, pictured, was particularly impressive for England, claiming a five-wicket haul which, with a bit of luck yesterday morning, could have been seven.

He was particularly effective against the Indian top order and any time that a bowler gets both Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar out cheaply, is real cause for celebration.

Panesar spun the ball, sometimes sharply and, because he is tall and sometimes his fingers roll over the top in his delivery, he extracts some steep bounce and top-spin.

Some improved catching in the slips would benefit him greatly. Jonathan Trott has moved into the grabbers and looks too slow and sluggish. He used to be a very good slipper at Warwickshire but, for the past few years, has been seen patrolling the boundary edge and signing autographs. Slip, especially with spinners bowling, is a hugely specialised position and one that James Anderson is good at. The thinking is the opening bowler needs a break from constant 
concentration but England are suffering at the moment because of this policy.

Swann also bowled very well in the morning and picked up four wickets including India’s new “Wall”, Cheteshwar Pujara.

The successor to the great Rahul Dravid certainly enjoys batting – as 334 runs in the series prove – and, a bit like Cook, plods on at his own tempo with a well considered plan.

Very little fazes him and, like most Indian batsmen, he has a beautiful turn of the wrist that allows him to manoeuvre the ball into gaps for singles.

He has been exceptional but it would be good to see him tested on bouncier and more seamer-friendly wickets around the world.

If he did well in such circumstances, it would prove that India have another magnificent artist at the top of the order.

It is England’s batsmen, however, who can dictate this match and that means pushing on to a score in excess of 450.

Is that realistic? Not if India make early breakthroughs today. If they can create a small schism and put pressure on any new men in with catchers hovering around the bat like vultures, it will be mighty difficult to get settled.

How would Jonny Bairstow and Samit Patel cope with the claustrophobic pressure and constant jabbering in Hindi while knowing that one small miscalculation and the ball would lob gently to be caught?

That is why Cook and Pietersen are so crucial. If they can survive India’s initial enthusiastic thrust and, in the case of Pietersen, disperse some of the close catchers with hard hitting, then the momentum will definitely be with England.

They have already had some luck with edges falling just short but they both played handsomely and complemented each other.

Left and right hand, one cautious and methodical, the other a little more daring but both very strong mentally.

It was an intriguing battle and one the English batters have won thus far. The fate of the Test match will depend on their performance today. They have given England a small hope, nothing more but, 
considering the thrashing at Ahmedabad it is wholly welcome. Are England strong enough to seize the smallest of opportunities?

Today we find out.