Having been pummeled in the first Test match in Ahmedabad, England’s cricketers can’t have been too hopeful coming into the second Test match at Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai. Not only was Kevin Pietersen, England’s most destructive batsman, utterly at sea against India’s spinners, Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha, but M. S. Dhoni, the Indian captain, had asked the groundsman to prepare a dry-and-dusty pitch to suit his spinners, which now included a third artist, the maestro himself, Harbhajan Singh. When Dhoni proceeded to win the toss and opted to bat first, England captain Alastair Cook must have thought that it was all over before a ball had been bowled.
A little time-out for the baseball fans among you who aren’t sure what’s just been said. One of the joys of cricket is that once the ball leaves the bowler’s/pitcher’s hand, it’s allowed to bounce before it reaches the batsman/batter. The distance between where the ball is thrown from and where the batter swings at it is 22 yards and is known as the pitch. It’s a hard patch of earth, and just how baked it is and how much grass is left on the surface by the groundskeeper will more-or-less determine how much the ball will turn off the pitch—even though a delight of cricket is that shaping the pitch to do what you want is an inexact, even completely unpredictable science. When Dhoni asked for a very baked pitch, he was trying to get one that would help spinners—those who rotate the ball through the air and make it bounce and turn off the pitch at about 45–60 m.p.h. As you might imagine, over the course of a game, a dry-and-dusty pitch is likely to wear—crack, slow, and have more uneven bounce, which will help the spinners even more. So, whoever gets to bat first would naturally have a truer pitch to bat on. That’s why when Dhoni won the toss (that’s how who gets to go first is decided in cricket), Cook was crestfallen. End of baseball time-out.
As it turned out, Dhoni’s error was to assume that (a) his batsmen would be able to play England’s spinners—Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar—better than the opposition’s batsmen would play his and (b) that Swann and Panesar would not have the wherewithal to exploit the conditions. He was wrong on both counts—at least partially. Swann and Panesar, bowling faster than the Indian spinning trio, were simply too much for the Indian batsmen, despite the heroics of India’s newest star, Cheteshwar Pujara. When it came for England to bat, most of the team couldn’t deal with the ferocious turn off the pitch, except the redoubtable Alastair Cook—who, unprecedentedly, scored his fourth century in four matches as captain—and Kevin Pietersen, who struck an impossibly magisterial 186. Because of Cook and Pietersen’s endeavors, which took them level with three greats as the leading century-makers in English Test history, England won by 10 wickets, which, given their loss in the first match, was a turnaround of phenomenal proportions.
Pietersen is the Gandalf of international cricket. Everyone knows he possesses magical powers and you emphatically want him on your side. Yet, every now and again, he disappears to fight his demons, and when he comes back you’re not sure whether he’s quite concentrating on the matter in hand. This time he was a changed man. He was as prudent, imperious, and emphatic in this match as he was rash, tentative, and indecisive in the one before. After this summer, when he got into all sorts of trouble with the English cricketing establishment and several of his teammates, the question being asked before this game was whether his skittishness was a consequence of his not being reintegrated into the team. After this performance, as wicketkeeper Matt Prior tweeted after the game, “reintegration” was “complete.”
In the clip below, Pietersen comes out to bat for Middle Earth—or Middle England at least.