Thursday, 5 April 2012

Pietersen Drags One From His Magic Bag

Kevin Pietersen blazed 151 off 165 balls
Cricket is a remarkable game for any number of reasons. It follows such stable patterns for so long, the uninitiated are easily duped into imagining it boring but then, just as the gullible guffaw their glib exhortations as to the game's predictability, it throws up such random variables as to permanently glint the eyes of John Nash.  In Colombo today, it raised a hero from a winter fool who, although climbing on the shoulders of others, still managed to stamp his authority emphatically on the opposition and set the game squarely into the hands of England.

Kevin Pietersen played an unlikely innings in the second of two Test matches which end England's already disastrous winter campaign, here and there abouts on the sub-continent. Among the best in the world have struggled to do anything other than score steadily during this Test. Batsmen's scoring rates are determined by dividing the runs they score by the balls they face. 50 equates to one run to every two balls faced and is average. In this game, no one had scored faster than rates of 48 by Mahela Jayawaredene and Andrew Strauss, whilst Jonathan Trott checked in at 46. Pietersen came to the wicket with just 100 runs at an average of 12 in the winter campaigns against Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Impotent against class spin and on a pitch which was turning and beginning to stay low in bounce, his chances of success were unlikely.

What followed was a remarkable exhibition of what is crudely referred to "eff you" cricket as he bludgeoned anyone brave enough to bowl at him. He struck 15 fours and 6 sixes in his near run a ball 151 which took England rapidly from a strong position to an unbeatable one. Having spent 47 deliveries over 29, he raised his fifty just twelve balls later by taking 15 from a Randiv over and then depositing him a long way over the fence at long on in the next. For the first time during the winter, he came to the wicket with England riding high at 2-213 after Strauss and Alastair Cook add 122 and Cook and Trott 91. He was content to see time out until lunch before exploding. He lost Trott soon after lunch, surprised yet again by bounce from the spinner targeting his off stump and the first of six wickets to Rangara Herath. He is an inspiration to any club cricketer and a throwback to a simpler time in the game when diet and exercise were unimportant when stacked up against skill and enthusiasm.

It was then Pietersen launched at the Sri Lankans, adding 94 with Ian Bell in  117 deliveries, Bell soaking up 53 of them in his hour and a half. Feeling he had played himself in and was owed some runs, Bell's first shot in anger was to smash a long hop from Prasad straight to Randiv at mid wicket when anywhere else on the leg side would have earned four. Having been dropped playing a limp-wristed off drive in Prasad's previous over, he received deserved justice.

Pietersen had moments of genius mixed with thuggish attack but by scoring quickly, he created an acceleration which broke the domination the English batting line up had been subject to and set up a total that meant England need only bat once. It was the sort of flair that Doug Walters provided to Ian Chappell's generation and Ponting to his. It is batting that refuses to acknowledge reality and precedent and form and breaks free of the expected. Randiv continued to be a target of some of the biggest hitting and Tillakaratne Dislhan the subject of bluff which almost went to far. Racing into the nineties, Pietersen suddenly bought the reverse sweep out off the cupboard, scoring runs from Dilshan's defensive line. Three times Dilshan ran in to bowl and three times Pietersen shaped to reverse sweep but under new laws from the ICC, he may not do so until the bowlers is within his delivery stride. Dilshan baulked and quite rightly Pietersen was officially warned by umpire Asad Rauf.

Herath has 18 wickets in three innings
Herath ran through the second half of the batting order after he finally caught Pietersen in front, trying to paddle a straight ball to the leg side. England lost 7-113 but the damage had been done by by a top four which made 80% of the innings total. Cook should also be mentioned for his five and a half hour 94, his 4th ninety in Tests. Its not pretty: its just pretty effective.

Sri Lanka faced one over before stumps and begin tomorrow 181 behind. There are plenty of runs still left in  this wicket and no need for them to fret, but rather than take heart from Pietersen's knock, the experienced heads will know that such innings rarely happen twice in the same Test. After a quiet series, the time might be right for Sangakkara to play an innings of substance.

A glorious day for those of us who love uncertainty and enjoy reminding the doomsayers on the future of Test cricket of their short sightedness.