Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen took the fourth and final test out of India’s grasp on Friday, guiding England to a commanding 457-3 at the close of day two at The Oval. The tourists dismissed both openers early to reduce England to 97-2 but Bell hit 181 not out and Pietersen 175 in a partnership of 350 — the highest third-wicket stand by any team in 131 years of test cricket at the south London ground. England has now passed 400 for the fourth time in six innings and stands on the verge of a 4-0 series sweep against the side it has deposed as test cricket’s No. 1.
England rolled on past landmark after landmark as Bell and Pietersen shared a 485-ball stand that was also England’s highest for any wicket against India, beating the 308 put on by Graham Gooch and Allan Lamb in 1990. England has now scored 2,675 runs in the series to 1,461 by India, averaging 60.79 per wicket to 24.35 for the tourists. Bell’s fifth century of the year left him just 31 runs short of Alastair Cook as test cricket’s leading scorer for 2011, while Pietersen took his average above 50 for the first time in two years.
Pietersen now has 533 for the series — more than Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman combined. After a lackadaisical performance in Thursday’s rain-hit opening day, India was again culpable in its undoing. India’s performance deteriorated through the day with Sreesanth comically following up his unchallenging medium-pace deliveries by continually trying to throw down the stumps. Dhoni’s withdrawal of the threatening Ishant Sharma from the attack for nine overs after lunch relieved what little pressure had been put on by the dismissal of Cook and Andrew Strauss.
Amit Mishra and Sreesanth conceded 50 runs from those nine overs and the batsmen were set. Bell and Pietersen put on 170 in the afternoon session before the first ball after tea brought up Pietersen’s 19th test century, the 200 partnership and England’s 300. Bell even struck out with successive sixes off Mishra shortly before the close, hammering home England’s utter superiority. It wasn’t a chanceless innings by Pietersen, but the tourists’ shortcomings prevented them taking advantage before Suresh Raina took a catch off his own bowling to make it 447-3.
Pietersen reached his ton with a sweet pull to the midwicket boundary but was almost out next ball when he tried to repeat the shot and Gautam Gambhir reached above his head to pluck the ball out of the air, spilling it as he tumbled to the ground. But Bell was at his serene best, displaying the strokeplay that makes him England’s most technically pure batsman since David Gower. With Sharma cooling his heels in the field, Bell brought up his half century with his fourth four from five deliveries off the wayward Sreesanth and reached his 16th test ton from 181 balls with a back-foot stroke to the boundary.
It was Bell’s fifth century in 11 innings this year but first at The Oval, a ground at which he had failed to reach double figures in six of 11 previous innings. He finished the day with 17 fours, having faced 304 balls. With Pietersen finally out after hitting 27 fours from 232 deliveries and shadows lengthening across the field, England prompted jeers from the crowd by bizarrely opting to send in James Anderson as nightwatchman.
But that was a rare moment of disquiet from the jubilant home fans, who again got the chance to cheer some sloppy Indian fielding. Tendulkar raced around to intercept a shot at the boundary and instead toe-poked it over the rope for four, while RP Singh also let a reverse sweep by Pietersen off the bowling of Tendulkar through his hands for a boundary. Things had looked much better for India when Sharma lured Cook into an attempted drive off the fifth ball of the day for an edge to Virender Sehwag at slip, the opener departing without adding to his overnight score.
Strauss then contributed just two runs in an hour to a 22-run partnership with Bell before he nicked a slightly wide delivery from the unthreatening Sreesanth to wicketkeeper Dhoni. Strauss and the injured Jonathan Trott are the only members of England’s regular top seven batsmen not to score a century in the series. But that was as good as it got and India soon looked almost as abject as it did before the arrival of heavy rain had washed out the final two sessions with England at 75-0 at lunch on the opening day. Khaleejtimes