It was to be a fascinating contest; the World Champions against some upstarts with the potential to overwhelm weaker opposition, but not yet tested against the best. Surely England were still a couple of series from being the real thing?
Yesterday, in the fourth encounter this summer between England and India, and after a first day’s play circumcised by rain, the home side’s openers were removed in a blink of still waking eye to full length deliveries.
However, the next two batsmen like supermodels parading down the Oval catwalk in a record breaking partnership totalling 350 made it another long uphill day for India.
This Oval wicket is without its characteristic pace but possesses the character of a crumbly cheese already offering enough turn to discourage any side from volunteering to nibble it last.
Shortly before close of play Pietersen was back in the changing room for 175 from 232 balls. Bell is still strutting his stuff on 181 from 304 balls. Test centurions Morgan, Bopara, Prior and Broad have yet to step forward.
Frankly, in the field, India are not fit to play Test cricket – that is not fit physically or mentally.
On this historic ground that has provided a stage for great cricketing deeds since the 1840s, India’s aging batsmen are a liability in the field. The younger ones, perhaps emulating their elders, have absented themselves from effort and struggle.
Catches are being dropped and, worse still, catches are being jibbed. The derision of the crowd was not without justification.
There will be better (and much fitter) bowlers operating in club cricket this afternoon. There will be far better fielding sides.
Sharma (1/81 in 27), the best on offer, is five or six miles an hour off the pace that he should be able to operate at and, significantly, the movement is all one way – that is, ‘in’ to the right handers who are at liberty to step across and play him freely to the on side. It is all corridor, and no uncertainty.
Sreesanth (1/95 in 23) is also ‘off the pace’ and, with a ball and conditions that during this entire series have consistently helped the swing bowler, his movement begins from the hand and ends in the middle of the bat.
In truth, ECB will have provided India with better net bowlers for morning practice than the out-of-condition RP Singh (0/96 in 30) who Bell and Pietersen milked with the care of ethical farmers practicing sustainable agriculture.
Mishra (o/129 in 29) looked as menacing as a particularly somnambulant sloth, his variations offering no alarm, his turn serving monotonous defence rather than attack.
As Bell and Pietersen treated the crowd to an exhibition of batting, it was difficult for spectators not to snooze and dream they were watching May and Cowdrey against Ramadhin and Valentine.
Bell modelling the high elbow of haute couture, Pietersen fashioning his revolutionary ‘New Look’ before their eyes; just as W.G. Grace had paraded his radicalism in an innings of 224 not out on his debut here in 1866, and just as John Small a century before that at Broadhalfpenny Down for Hambledon against Kent had broken new ground with a straight bat and innovative technique to tame the new length bowling in a huge innings of 140 runs.
Then, awakening from such revelry, the spectator remembered the quality of the opposition. Pietersen is still providing a window on the future, but this was nowhere as important an innings as the one he played here against the Australians in 2005.
At 457 for 3, England will endeavour to add enough runs today to ensure they do not have to bat again. Then the great batsmen of India will have one last chance to shine and Swann the opportunity to play his part in a series that is, like a Christmas dinner, fast demonstrating that too much can be as debilitating as too little.