Cricket: Kevin Pietersen panache lifts hope for England
From the cricket played so far in this series it is difficult to see how England can retain their position as the No 1-ranked side in Test cricket. South Africa have played, both at The Oval and so far here at Leeds, the better cricket and in periods by some distance.
Their dominant win in the first Test was much more than a victory. It startled England who were not used to having their bowling plans treated so contemptuously and the result was the omission of Graeme Swann for this Test. A curious decision as Swann is the best spinner in the world, South Africa have a plethora of left-handers and over five days a pitch can display many vagaries. It was a reckless gamble and it failed.
England like to bore batsmen into submission knowing a mistake will follow and it has worked splendidly for three years. The problem is South Africa possess batsmen happy to bat all day without so much as a glance at the scoreboard.
From tactical stalemate South Africa have proved themselves the more resilient. In two innings their top four have amassed 886 runs.
They have done so with diligence and incredible patience. Alviro Petersen was the anchor this match with a splendid 182. Contrast his occupation of the crease and contentment with accumulating runs without flair or fanfare with England’s batting yesterday. They started the day with all wickets intact and a desperate need to bat the entire day, firstly to ensure a draw and if very successfully to consider the possibility of trying to force a win on the final day. It needed discipline from the top four. Much the same discipline South Africa’s top four have displayed. Alastair Cook was lbw, Andrew Strauss edged a good delivery behind. These are normal dismissals in the battle between bat and ball. Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell, however, were culpable with poor batting. Trott, so frequently an immovable object at the crease chased a wide short one and edged to a gleeful Graeme Smith at first slip and then Bell, the most elegant of England’s batsmen offered a flirty waft at a dreadful wide half-volley from Jacques Kallis and edged behind, again to Smith. The South African captain could barely believe his luck. In a contest between the two best sides a batsman had just given his wicket away like an under 11 suffering attention deficit disorder.
It left salvation in the hands of Kevin Pietersen, debutant James Taylor, Matt Prior and the tail – and how Pietersen responded. He was impetuous, exhilarating, disciplined and daring. It was an innings of a man who was determined to dictate the game. Morne Morkel went round the wicket and bounced him with the leg trap set. Pietersen swotted and smashed him. Dale Steyn probed outside off-stump and Pietersen hit hard through extra cover, taking the ball on top of the bounce as if he was playing Twenty20. It was risky and a dismissal looked imminent, but his assault completely changed the momentum of the day.
Smith and his charges, from having been so in control whittling away at the England top order, lost composure. His century was his 21st in Test cricket and none have been better viewing. The crowd stood and applauded because they had witnessed a virtuoso performer at his best. Taylor contributed only 19 of the first 90 runs of their partnership, that is how domineering Pietersen was. And it was not showboating stuff. It was crucial as he led England away from a large first-innings deficit and with hope for parity if not better. It was an innings that changed the match and if England remain No 1 after this series, that innings will have played a huge part.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 20 June 2013
Temperature: 11 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 11 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West