Bell and Pietersen destroy hapless India
Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen smashed scintillating centuries as England piled more misery on a hapless India on day two of the fourth Test at The Oval.
Bell played with his usual guile and finesse as he ended the day unbeaten on 181 while Pietersen looked at his destructive, inventive best before he was eventually dismissed for 175, leaving the hosts in complete control on 457 for three at stumps.
India, who are already battling to avoid the humiliation of a series whitewash, delivered another insipid display with the ball as Bell and Pietersen shared an remarkable third-wicket partnership of 350 runs - a third-wicket stand which 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.
England, having already clinched an emphatic series victory and top spot in the world rankings with it, capitalised on more impotent bowling from the demoralised tourists coupled with glorious conditions conducive to batting to potentially set up a fourth successive victory.
A rare encouraging morning session gave India a fillip, as the tourists dismissed openers Andrew Strauss (40) and Alastair Cook (34) after the pair had resumed on 75 without loss following a rain-curtailed opening day.
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, only to 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, took England to lunch at 126 for two with Pietersen. Pietersen flicked the final ball before the interval off Sharma to Suresh Raina at leg-slip who dived forward to gather the ball but Indian hopes were extinguished when he indicated it had not carried.
Although Sharma had again been 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 of which went 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.
Sharma made a belated appearance but the batsmen were well set and Pietersen whipped the paceman to leg for a four then moved across his stumps to glance another boundary, before Bell 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 duly followed him to three figures, and England were utterly ruthless and unerring as they proceeded to grind the despondent India into the ground.
What ensued was an almost comically one-sided final session in which England pummelled India into submission with Pietersen and Bell smashing boundary after boundary with consummate ease.
Both England batsmen romped along to their 150s without any problems whatsoever as England cantered along merrily, seemingly unopposed, as The Oval crowd basked in the sunshine and witnessed an alarmingly mismatched contest.
India could muster nothing in terms of a response until part-timer Raina pulled off a very sharp return catch off his own bowling to send Pietersen on his way for a stunning 175. The number four deservedly departed to a standing ovation in a carnival atmosphere at the ground.
Surprisingly, England employed the perennial nightwatchman James Anderson to see out the final overs following Pietersen's dismissal with both Eoin Morgan and the under-pressure Ravi Bopara still sat in the hutch.
England could hardly be in a more dominant position ahead of day three, and India have to somehow find a spirit and gusto which has not been apparent in this series if they are to spare themselves the ignominy of a series whitewash.