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The best of the best

The best of the best.

Mentally I have run out of superlatives for the manner of the England fight back and final victory over India in the 2nd Test in Mumbai. The skill levels with both bat and ball were sky high and all against the odds. Wow! what a match.

When Cook lost the toss for the second time running, giving India first use of a pitch which everyone predicted, and rightly, would give the spinners much help, the outlook was bleak indeed. Including Monty Panesar was a given, though it seemed unreasonable at the time to expect too much of him on his sudden recall to the colours. Once again the selectors missed a trick by including Broad who cannot buy a wicket or a run at the moment. With Bell away on "maternity leave" there was every reason to play Morgan as an extra batsman - but it was not to be.

After a decent first day in the field, with the ball already turning sharply enough, the second day partnership between Pujara and Ashwin seemed to have tilted the scales heavily towards India. Then when Compton and Trott went cheaply, all, and I mean all, the match, the series, his personal credibility etc etc rested on the shoulders of Kevin Pietersen.

Typically he hit his very first ball for four. Soon enough he was hitting over the top. Next he was jumping away to leg to hit the short stuff and one could begin to dream of some kind of England recovery. Meanwhile Cook was at his clinical best, sweeping the left armer remorselessly from outside his off stump and rotating the strike in text book fashion.

I have watched England play for nearly fifty years since I retired and I put this batting partnership as a clear number one. A measure of the effect of Pietersen's brilliance at one end and Cook's clear headed assurance at the other was that the Indian spinners were never allowed to bowl to their own plan. It was the England pair calling the tune and by the third morning, you could say that Ashwin, Ojha and even the experienced Harbhajan were reduced to bowling rank badly.

I watched in admiration until Pietersen reached 150 but then had to drag myself away from the TV for a long standing appointment - surprise, surprise, on the golf course. I told my playing partners of the wonderful happenings in Mumbai and reckoned that if Pietersen managed to reach 200, then England would have a fair chance of winning. In the event 186 turned out to be more than enough.

I had rung Susan on my way home to get the score and heard that we led by 80 or so but that the Indians had not lost a wicket. By the time I was settled in front of the box it was time for the highlights and it was scarcely believable the way the Indian batting crumbled away. We had thought that the admirable Pujara and the potential brilliance of Kohle was compensating for the loss of the retired greats Laxman and Dravid. But with Tendulkar possibly on the wane, there were a few cracks showing which England exploited fully.

So we come to the prizegiving! Pietersen takes the top spot but the 11 wickets of Panesar made it a very close run thing. As the match progressed his accuracy made batting against him a real problem and to see the bowler's intensity and involvement was something to relish and remember.

It was a classic Test match with tremendous credit due to the whole England team and their many support staff. It will be a happy dressing room for the Third Test in Kolkata - and I will be there.!!


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