LONDON, (Reuters) – Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen shared a record partnership of 350 yesterday as England ruthlessly dissected an inadequate India attack on the second day of the fourth and final test at the Oval.
At the close of a prolonged day after two sessions were lost to rain on Thursday, England were 457 for three with a 4-0 series whitewash in their sights.
The home team took top place in the world rankings from India with their innings victory in the third test at Edgbaston.
Bell (181 not out) and Pietersen (175) each completed their second centuries of the series on Friday and the third-wicket stand exceeded the previous England best for any wicket against India, 308 by current batting coach Graham Gooch and Allan Lamb at Lord’s in 1990.
“If anybody had said I would score 175 this morning I would have taken it,” Pietersen told Sky Sports.
A sunny day began deceptively well for India, who accounted for openers Andrew Strauss (40) and Alastair Cook (34) after the pair had resumed on 75 for no wicket.
Cook, whose test average had briefly crept over 50, fenced at the fourth ball of Ishant Sharma’s opening over from the Vauxhall End and was beaten outside the off stump.
The next ball, a fuller delivery, drew the batsman forward in an attempted drive which flew off the edge to Virender Sehwag at first slip.
Strauss scored only two runs in the opening hour and then threw away his wicket when he chased a wide delivery from Shanthakumaran Sreesanth and was caught behind by Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Bell, whose first boundary was a delightful late cut off RP Singh, and Pietersen took England to lunch at 126 for two.
Pietersen flicked the final ball before the interval off Sharma to Suresh Raina at leg-slip who dived forward to gather the ball but then indicated the catch had not carried.
Although Sharma was again the pick of the bowlers, Dhoni opted to start with the unthreatening Sreesanth partnered by Amit Mishra’s gentle leg-spin when play resumed after the interval.
Bell took successive leg-side fours off Sreesanth, the first going through the usually safe hands of Sachin Tendulkar at deep square-leg, and Pietersen struck Mishra for a straight four with a shot which owed more to hockey than cricket.
England number three Bell then unfurled two glorious fours through the covers off consecutive balls from the hapless Sreesanth, the batsman striking four boundaries in five balls.
Sharma made a belated appearance but the batsmen were well set and Pietersen whipped the paceman to leg for a four and then moved across his stumps to glance another boundary.
Bell was now in prime form in an extended afternoon session, gliding Singh through the off side twice for fours to move into the 80s.
He reached his 16th test century, his fifth of the year and his first at the Oval, by punching Raina through the off side for a 12th boundary.
Pietersen completed his 19th test century, and his fourth at the ground where his maiden test hundred in 2005 ensured England won the Ashes, by pulling the first delivery after tea off Sharma to the boundary.
He skied the next ball to mid-on where Gautam Gambhir, running backwards, spilled the chance as he tumbled to the ground.
The runs continued to flow, even though Mishra resorted to bowling at the leg stump from around the wicket with six fielders on the on-side.
He still conceded 15 off one over with Pietersen helping himself to three fours.
Sreesanth enlivened proceedings in his role of pantomime villain by twice hurling the ball at Pietersen’s stumps in his follow through, exchanging words with the batsman on the second occasion.
Although he employed all the mannerisms of a demon quickie he was bowling no more than medium pace and Pietersen moved down the pitch to on-drive a boundary and also hooked the next delivery contemptuously for another four.
Bell joined in the fun with successive straight sixes off Mishra before Pietersen finally departed, caught and bowled by Raina shortly before the close. His 27 boundaries included one four from an audacious switch hit.
“I don’t think it’s a risky shot,” he said. “I play it a lot, I practise it a lot.”