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Cricket: Pietersen the spark as England secure long-awaited Test victory

It took all winter but England finally won a Test match on the sub-continent and proved that they are capable of winning in all conditions and on all surfaces.

Indeed, if the batsmen had concentrated in the previous four matches as they did in Colombo, and importantly played as straight as they did in the match, then a couple of other Tests would have been won. Their travails have been well-documented, but encouragingly Kevin Pietersen scored a big century that was worthy of many great players.

Not even Mahela Jayawardene scored as easily or as freely as Pietersen and, disregarding the squabble about his switch-hit, it proved that he had learned from his failures in the UAE and developed a technique and method to both survive securely and score runs.

The importance to England of Pietersen cannot be overstated. In the first innings he destroyed Sri Lankan confidence by his correct but occasionally dismissive stroke play. It was not flashy, nor self-indulgent, but clinical and aggressive. The joy for Andrew Strauss, his captain, is not only the runs, but the rapidity at which he scores them. If he had meandered along, accumulating in the style of Jonathan Trott, he could have reached the same score and England would still have been in a strong position, but the match would have been three hours nearer the end, making a draw more likely than an England win.

The bowlers, excellent as they have been, needed the comfort of a long time to dismiss Sri Lanka in the second innings. On flat wickets that barely seam or swing, a team tends to need two new balls, so that means an innings lasts around 100 overs. Bowling is that hard, which is why James Anderson has been the outstanding cricketer of the winter.

Anderson has led the England seam attack with incredible stamina, skill and success. The heat in Colombo has been debilitating and yet when thrown the ball in the final session he has consistently roused himself to deliver another probing spell. His fitness and willpower should not be belied by his boy-band looks. Over the five matches he has taken 18 wickets at an average of 25, figures that would be good for a spinner on spin-friendly wickets, but absolutely astonishing considering he is a pace bowler who relies on swing.

Stuart Broad was equally excellent before injury forced his return home and both Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar proved they can mix it with the locals. Swann was back to his best in this match, the ball fizzing and dipping before spinning sharply. That is why England should now retain the No 1 spot, at least until the series of the year in midsummer when the South Africans come to England. Anderson and Broad will square up against Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.

Both sets of batters will have a thorough examination of technique and courage and this time the England six will have no excuse about the conditions.

 

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