sport

Duo boost England's chances

Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen's unbroken century partnership put England in a decent position on day two of the second Test in India.

Cook (87no) and Pietersen (62no) joined forces at a critical point in an intriguing contest, on this spinners' pitch at the Wankhede Stadium, after England had lost two wickets for as many runs to Pragyan Ojha.

From 68 for two shortly before tea, in reply to 327 all out, they then saw out the day to the tune of 178 without further loss - and England's prospects of battling back here after their nine-wicket defeat in the first Test of four were significantly bolstered.

There was an England all-time record-equalling 22nd Test century on offer as extra motivation for each of the third-wicket pair.

But it was the opportunity to be associated with a famous victory here which had to be the principal guiding force.

England fared well almost throughout, save the setbacks of losing Nick Compton and Jonathan Trott in such quick succession.

After Monty Panesar completed his five-wicket haul, and Graeme Swann finally shifted Cheteshwar Pujara (135), openers Cook and Compton shared an encouraging stand of 66.

Cook was less crease-bound than in his heroic but vain 176 in Ahmedabad - and after the captain had twice hit Ojha over the top, once for six over long-on, Compton too was emboldened to use his feet against India's three-strong specialist spin attack.

It was only when slow left-armer Ojha returned for his second spell that Compton was undone, caught at slip off a full ball which turned enough to take the edge of his forward-defence.

Then Trott went fatally back, as he has tended to on this tour, and was stone-dead lbw for his second duck in three Test innings in India.

Ojha, Ravichandran Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh had conditions in their favour.

But Cook and Pietersen answered every question, in their contrasting styles, each needing a little luck as well as plenty of skill as edges were controlled short of slip and the line of the stumps protected when sharp turn often beat the bat.

Pietersen began with a cover-driven four off Harbhajan, and reached his 63-ball 50 with a back-foot stroke in the same direction for his eighth boundary off Ashwin.

Cook's tempo was slower, but his presence equally assured, taking more than twice as many deliveries to reach his half-century but hitting six fours and that six along the way.

Only when he escaped a sharp chance to Virender Sehwag, on 85, in the last over of the day from Harbhajan did he make a notable mistake.

Panesar and Swann had combined well too this morning, to take India's last four wickets for 61 runs. By the time Swann had Pujara stumped half an hour before lunch, the near immovable India number three had batted for almost 18 hours without being dismissed in the series since first taking guard at the Sardar Patel Stadium last week.

He underpinned a total which had appeared highly unlikely when the hosts stumbled to 119 for five yesterday, and his stand of 111 with Ashwin (68) was a source of particular frustration for England. Ashwin had hardly batted like a number eight, since his arrival at the crease last night.

But he was deceived by Panesar (five for 129), who followed a series of stock balls with one that hurried on to hit the back pad just on off-stump and win an lbw as Ashwin picked the wrong one to cut.

Harbhajan survived on one when an outside-edge off Panesar flew between wicketkeeper and first slip for four, and clubbed the slow left-armer for a six wide of long-on before Swann (four for 70) ended his fun - lbw walking across his stumps.

England's off-spinner then achieved what no one else had since this series started - getting Pujara up the wicket and missing on the forward-defence as an arm ball slid past the outside edge for Matt Prior to complete a routine stumping.

It was an underwhelming way for the new 'Wall' to fall at last, in an India innings which closed soon afterwards when Swann had Zaheer Khan caught at short-leg - off pad and shirt, on replay evidence, but to England's relief nonetheless.

By close of play, thanks to Cook and Pietersen, the visitors' dressing-room was doubtless an altogether more optimistic place.