Ian Bell’s purple patch continued with an unbeaten century against India that left England well placed on 296 for two at tea on the second day of the fourth and final Test at The Oval.
Bell was 114 not out and Kevin Pietersen not far off his 19th Test century on an unbeaten 98.
England’s third-wicket pair had so far added 199 following a session where the hosts did not lose a batsman.
It was just what England, who replaced India as the world’s top Test side after their innings-and-242-run victory at Edgbaston last week, wanted as they pursued a 4-0 series whitewash. India had produced a much-improved bowling performance to remove England openers Alastair Cook and captain Andrew Strauss before lunch and leave the home side on 126 for two, with Bell 29 not out and Pietersen unbeaten on 18.
But in near ideal batting conditions, the England duo upped the run-rate. Pietersen was the initial aggressor, turning leg-spinner Amit Mishra through square for four and down to long-on for another boundary.
Bell then started a sequence of four boundaries in five balls with the aid of a rare misfield by Sachin Tendulkar at deep square leg. Meanwhile, Pietersen somehow swatted Mishra straight down the ground on his way to making fifty in just 62 balls.
Singh, in for the injured Praveen Kumar - one of India’s few successes this tour - suffered at Bell’s hands again when eased for four through the covers off the back foot, a shot that owed everything to the classic virtues of timing and placement, rather than power.
Rare breakthroughs for India
Earlier, Ishant Sharma needed just five balls to reduce England to 75 for one when he had Cook caught by Virender Sehwag as the hosts failed to add to their overnight score following a first day where rain meant there was no play after lunch.
Strauss, Cook’s fellow left-hander, struggled as India’s bowlers performed with much greater discipline than on Thursday. But it was in chasing a wide-half volley from Sreesanth that he was caught behind by India captain and wicket-keeper MS Dhoni.
But despite the early losses, the day very much belonged to the hosts.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2011.