Pietersen Genius Gives England The Edge
Kevin Pietersen reminded everyone that, for all his perceived faults, he is the one England batsman who is touched by genius by stroking a sublime unbeaten 149 on the third day at Headingley. Pietersen’s 212-ball innings handed England the initiative, which South Africa had fought so hard for during the first half of the day, during a prolonged evening session from which they harvested 168 runs.
The catalyst for the dramatic shift in momentum came shortly after tea when Morne Morkel, at the instruction of his captain Graeme Smith, decided to subject Pietersen to a bouncer barrage similar to the one which had accounted for him at The Oval. Setting at least two, sometimes three, fielders on the leg-side boundary and bowling round the wicket, Morkel repeatedly bowled short. Pietersen, though, was equal to the task and cleared his front foot out of the way on several occasions to pull the ball in front of the deep fielders for four.
After this, there was no going back, and Pietersen continued to play in the manner for which he is so renowned, flaying drives on the up through the off-side as well as advancing down the track and flicking to leg. He brought up his 21st Test hundred midway through the session and celebrated with his customary clenched fist. It had taken only 142 balls and the second fifty had come off only 52 balls, but more importantly it had allowed England to dictate to South Africa for the first time since day one at The Oval.
Overall, Pietersen added 147 with debutant James Taylor, of which Taylor contributed just 34, for the fourth-wicket. That is not to belittle the achievements of Taylor, however, who when faced with Pietersen in full flow may have tried to keep up with him, but instead played his own game.
The single most impressive thing that stood out about Taylor’s innings was his excellent temperament – something on which England have selected their young batsmen in recent times. Despite struggling early in his innings to balls leaving him outside off-stump, he stuck in and provided the ideal foil to Pietersen and the ideal counter to England’s earlier batting shambles.
That shambles had seen them reduced to 173 for four just before tea thanks to a series of loose strokes. Jonathan Trott cut at a wide delivery and top-edged a catch to AB de Villiers, but it was Ian Bell who was the worst culprit. He aimed a drive at an exceptionally wide delivery from Jacques Kallis – one, in fact, that was so wide that he struggled to reach it – but only succeeded in edging through to a grateful Graeme Smith at slip.
Those two had followed Andrew Strauss – who continued his problems facing South Africans bowling round the wicket by feathering a catch through to de Villiers off of Dale Steyn – and Alastair Cook, who was trapped plumb in front early in the day off Vernon Philander, back to the pavilion during a passage of play which yielded 108 runs and four wickets either side of an early lunch break which was necessitated by a late-morning shower.
Fortunately for England, Pietersen and Taylor ensured things only got better after that, and, despite Taylor chopping Morne Morkel onto his stumps late in the day, will end the third day slightly the happier of the two sides. South Africa’s mood would also not have been helped by the sight of Graeme Smith hobbling off the field half an hour before the close of play. His suspected knee injury could mean that the tourists will need an entirely new opening pair for their second innings following the news at the beginning of the day that Alviro Petersen had sustained a grade one hamstring tear whilst batting.
All of which means England are in the better position out of the two sides to try to force a win in this match, although they know they will have to bowl better and have more luck than they did in the first innings.
© Cricket World 2012
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