The late and contentious dismissals of Kevin Pietersen for a superb 144 and Andrew Flintoff for 62 all but ensured this England touring team will leave India with far less to show for their effort than many of their predecessors. But the combative way in which they continue to play means they should return home on Christmas Eve having made an extremely positive impression on the subcontinent.
The credibility of Pietersen and his under-prepared side rose the moment they decided to revisit India, and their ability to counter difficult situations in the two-Test series continues to win admiration. On Saturday India, in the form of Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid, were in danger of making England look foolish.
The pair had taken their team to the dominant position of 320-1 and England looked beaten. But rather than accept their fate, Pietersen's side responded strongly, taking India's last nine wickets for 133 runs.
It was the same yesterday. When Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell were dismissed in the opening seven balls of England's innings similar sentiments could have emerged. But again Pietersen's troops reacted proudly, initially through the captain and Alastair Cook, and then through himself and Flintoff.
Pietersen's innings began in remarkable style. It is doubtful any Test captain has replaced one of his opening bowlers immediately after taking a wicket in the first over of an innings, but Mahendra Singh Dhoni did just that. The reason for the Indian captain's decision was to get under the skin of his opposite number. Yuvraj Singh, the bowler brought in to the attack, and Pietersen do not get on and the spinner had dismissed his opponent cheaply in the first Test.
The tactic nearly worked. With England on 2-2, Pietersen had a hack at Yuvraj's first ball and nearly played on. Aggressive strokes were played at three further deliveries, with the last of the over being chipped just out of the reach of VVS Laxman at short extra cover.
It was a disconcerting reaction from Pietersen because he was doing what a batsman should avoid – he was playing the man, not the ball. The reaction did nothing to remove the fear the captaincy – Pietersen scored four and one in Chennai – was affecting his form with the bat.
The reservations did not last long as Pietersen set about taking the game to the opposition. Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan were clobbered to the boundary and Pietersen was away. The normally watchful Cook batted adventurously too, playing several delightful shots as England raced to 50.
Flintoff joined Pietersen with England once again in trouble but the pair continued to bat positively. Between lunch and tea England played like a team trying to win rather than save a Test, scoring 154 runs in 36 overs. The approach worried India.
Flintoff smashed Harbhajan Singh over his head for six but it was Pietersen who left a reasonable-sized crowd dumbfounded when he moved to 87 with a switch-hitting six off the same bowler.
Pietersen has played the shot before in Test cricket, when he whacked Muttiah Muralitharan over extra cover for six at Edgbaston in 2006, and he repeated the shot twice against New Zealand's Scott Styris during last summer's one-dayers. This, however, was the biggest and best. The ball carried at least 85 metres before landing in the crowd.
Pietersen reached his 15th Test hundred with a swept single, and shortly after he became the joint-third fastest England batsman to amass 4,000 runs. Herbert Sutcliffe and Len Hutton reached the milestone in their 43rd and 44th Tests respectively, Pietersen is playing in his 45th – as Jack Hobbs was when he hit the landmark.
England's bold approach forced India to adopt negative tactics after tea. Amit Mishra, who had earlier dismissed Paul Collingwood with a beautiful leg-break, bowled round the wicket and in to the foot-holes created by the fast bowlers, whereas Zaheer and Sharma bowled wide of off-stump to a 7-2 off-side field.
The strategy, along with a slow over-rate, worked. Flintoff reached 50 for the first time since 2 January 2007 but the venom had been taken out of England's batting. Then, with Pietersen and Flintoff playing for the close, India struck.
Pietersen fell first, pushing limply forward to Harbhajan and being given out lbw. And Flintoff followed in the next over when, with the light fading, he edged a Mishra top spinner on to his pad and was caught at short leg.
Flintoff was livid as he walked off. Earlier in the over he had complained to the umpires about the light. Whether Flintoff should have been on strike was debatable too. James Anderson had been sent in as nightwatchman when Pietersen was out and he pushed a single midway through what proved to be the final over. Normally it is the nightwatchman's job to see out the over. Flintoff and England's mood was compounded when the umpires immediately ended play.
A pea soup fog greeted both teams when they arrived at the Punjab Cricket Association Ground, and it caused a 90-minute delay to the start of play. Strauss scored a century in each innings in Chennai but he missed the third ball of the day and was rightly given out. Bell followed four balls later when he played all round a nip-backer from Sharma and lost his middle stump.
Bell's inconsistent form must be a concern to the selectors as they contemplate their squad for January's tour of the Caribbean. England's number three played an awful shot, lurching forward from the crease as though he had tripped on a kerb.
The stroke means he has now scored just 158 runs at an average of 17.7 since his 199 against South Africa in July. It is a year today since Cook scored his last Test hundred, a match-saving 118 against Sri Lanka in Galle, but nobody is questioning his place in the team, and rightly so.
Shot of the day
Which one of Kevin Pietersen's do you want? A straight drive off Zaheer Khan was as good as any.
Ball of the day
Zaheer Khan continues to show what an outstanding bowler he is; the yorker that trapped Alastair Cook would have got most left-handers out.
Moment of the day
Kevin Pietersen's amazing reaction to Yuvraj Singh being invited to bowl the third over of England's innings. Pietersen said it did not affect him but it did.
Second and third days of five; India won toss
India – First Innings
(Friday: 179 for 1)
G Gambhir c Cook b Swann 179
463 min, 348 balls, 25 fours, 1 six
R Dravid c Panesar b Swann 136
472 min, 328 balls, 19 fours
S R Tendulkar lbw b Swann 11
47 min, 26 balls, 1 four
V V S Laxman lbw b Flintoff 0
36 min, 24 balls
Yuvraj Singh c Prior b Panesar 27
84 min, 66 balls, 3 fours, 1 six
*†M S Dhoni c sub (O A Shah) b Anderson 29
103 min, 73 balls, 3 fours
Harbhajan Singh c Swann b Panesar 24
32 min, 21 balls, 2 fours, 1 six
Zaheer Khan b Flintoff 7
38 min, 21 balls, 1 four
A Mishra b Flintoff 23
48 min, 31 balls, 1 four, 1 six
I Sharma not out 1
15 min, 15 balls
Extras (b5 lb5 nb6) 16
Total (678 min, 158.2 overs) 453
Fall: 1-6 (Sehwag) 2-320 (Gambhir) 3-329 (Dravid) 4-337 (Tendulkar) 5-339 (Laxman) 6-379 (Yuvraj Singh) 7-418 (Dhoni) 8-418 (Harbhajan Singh) 9-446 (Zaheer Khan) 10-453 (Mishra).
Bowling: Anderson 32-5-84-1 (nb2) (5-0-10-0, 2-0-6-0, 5-2-10-0, 3-1-3-0, 7-0-25-0, 6-1-15-0, 4-1-15-1); Broad 26-9-84-1 (7-3-17-1, 5-2-17-0, 2-1-5-0, 2-1-6-0, 3-1-5-0, 2-0-14-0, 2-0-11-0, 3-1-9-0); Flintoff 30.2-10-54-3 (nb4) (5-1-7-0, 3-1-11-0, 5-0-13-0, 3-2-4-0, 5-2-8-0, 6-3-3-1, 1-0-6-0, 2.2-1-2-2); Panesar 23-2-89-2 (8-0-30-0, 5-2-11-0, 1-0-8-0, 2-0-9-0, 5-0-20-1, 2-0-11-1); Swann 45-11-122-3 (1-1-0-0, 14-3-30-0, 1-0-2-0, 26-6-85-3, 3-1-5-0); Collingwood 2-0-10-0 (one spell).
Progress: Second day (9am start, min 98 overs) New ball taken after 80 overs at 198-1. 200: 333 min, 80.3 overs. 250: 402 min, 94.1 overs. 300: 445 min, 105 overs. Lunch: 302-1 (Gambhir 167, Dravid 124) 105 overs. 350: 558 min, 130.1 overs. Tea: 356-5 (Yuvraj Singh 12, Dhoni 6) 133 overs. 400: 611 min, 144.2 overs. 450 in 674 min, 157 overs. Innings closed 4.21pm.
Gambhir's 50: 129 min, 101 balls, 7 fours. 100: 272 min, 214 balls, 11 fours, 1 six. 150: 431 min, 322 balls, 21 fours, 1 six. Dravid's 50: 207 min, 151 balls, 6 fours. 100: 375 min, 261 balls, 13 fours.
England – First Innings
A J Strauss lbw b Zaheer Khan 0
1 min, 3 balls
A N Cook lbw b Zaheer Khan 50
100 min, 67 balls, 8 fours
I R Bell b Sharma 1
4 min, 3 balls
*K P Pietersen lbw b Harbhajan Singh 144
308 min, 201 balls, 17 fours, 1 six
P D Collingwood c Dhoni b Mishra 11
40 min, 30 balls, 1 four
A Flintoff c Gambhir b Mishra 62
182 min, 132 balls, 6 fours, 1 six
J M Anderson not out 1
9 min, 6 balls
Extras (b1 lb6 w1 nb5) 13
Total (for 6, 325 min, 73 overs) 282
Fall: 1-0 (Strauss) 2-1 (Bell) 3-104 (Cook) 4-131 (Collingwood) 5-280 (Pietersen) 6-282 (Flintoff).
To bat: †M J Prior, G P Swann, S C J Broad, M S Panesar.
Bowling: Zaheer Khan 18-2-71-2 (w1) (1-0-1-1, 3-0-23-0, 7-1-30-1, 7-1-17-0); Sharma 12-0-55-1 (nb5) (5-0-26-1, 4-0-15-0, 3-0-14-0); Yuvraj Singh 6-1-20-0 (1-1-0-0, 3-0-11-0, 2-0-9-0); Harbhajan Singh 15-2-56-1 (1-0-3-0, 7-1-24-0, 4-0-26-0, 3-1-3-1); Mishra 22-0-73-2 (one spell).
Progress: Third day (9am start; min 98 overs): Fog delayed start until 10.29am. 50: 53 min, 10 overs. Lunch: 57-2 (Cook 25, Pietersen 28) 12 overs. 100: 89 min, 19.1 overs. 150: 164 min, 35.3 overs. 200: 199 min, 44.5 overs. Tea: 211-4 (Pietersen 106, Flintoff 36) 48 overs. 250: 269 min, 61.4 overs.
Cook's 50: 87 min, 56 balls, 8 fours. Pietersen's 50: 91 min, 61 balls, 9 fours. 100: 193 min, 126 balls, 14 fours, 1 six. Flintoff's 50: 127 min, 96 balls, 5 fours, 1 six.
Umpires: Asad Rauf (Pak) and D J Harper (Aus).
TV replay umpire: S L Shastri.
Match referee: J J Crowe.Reuse content