Cook and Pietersen run amok
Kevin Pietersen narrowly failed to follow Alastair Cook to three figures but nevertheless played a key role in England establishing an utterly dominant position in the opening Test against Bangladesh.
Both made light of differing pressures to construct innings of the highest class, Cook compiling a superb unbeaten 158 in his first Test as captain while Pietersen banished the memory of his miserable form on tour with a fluent 99.
Their contributions allowed England to reach 374 for three by the close of the first day in Chittagong, with every run scored during an increasingly one-sided day compounding Shakib Al Hasan’s misery after he asked the tourists to bat first.
Quite why he chose to bowl on a pitch which offered the seamers and spinners alike minimal assistance throughout - indeed, it never threatened to do otherwise - is probably a mystery to a good number of his team-mates.
But Cook made the most of his good fortune, on a generally lifeless track and against an attack that can be best described as workmanlike, to plunder his 11th Test hundred. It is an innings that threatens to shape not only the outcome of this contest, but the entire two-Test series.
The ease with which he and Pietersen scored during a 170-run stand - England’s highest for the third wicket in Bangladesh - reflected the significant gulf in class which remains between Test cricket’s top sides and the Tigers, however much they gave England a fright in the one-day series.
Their bowling lacked discipline for large parts, the fielding was often not much better than club standard, and some of Shakib’s field placings suggested he was still in limited-overs mode, such was the lack of invention and aggression.
In mitigation, Shakib is only 22 years old, yet his fortunes could not have contrasted more sharply with those of Cook.
Three years Shakib’s senior, he became only the fifth Englishman to score a hundred in his first Test as captain, and can scarcely have dreamed his first day in the job would have gone much better.
It was an innings of considerable assuredness from Cook, who overcame a slow start to pick off the numerous bad deliveries, and remained vigilant despite seeing Pietersen perish within touching distance of a cathartic century.
If Michael Carberry - one of two England debutants alongside Steven Finn - was suffering from nerves, he kept them well hidden during a fluent start to his innings which saw him comfortably outscore Cook for much of an opening stand worth 72.
He took three fours in an over off Rubel Hossain, the last a sumptuous off-drive, but as Bangladesh began to exert a measure of control with the ball, so England’s scoring opportunities dried up, and a frustrated Carberry was lbw for 30 attempting to sweep Mahmudullah moments after wicketkeeper Mushfiqur Rahim spilled an edge off the same bowler.
Cook, who had swept Shakib over midwicket for six early in his innings, offered no such chances to Bangladesh, and ploughed on unerringly to three figures - and beyond.
He and Jonathan Trott adopted an eminently sensible approach during a second-wicket partnership of 77.
The latter had hit just three fours when, in attempting to hook the slippery Rubel, the ball struck his helmet and looped to a back-pedalling Mushfiqur. That umpire Rod Tucker took an age to raise his finger made the decision all the more unpalatable for Trott.
Cue Pietersen’s arrival at the crease, with all eyes on how England’s leading batsman would fare against Bangladesh’s battery of spinners - they fielded four to the tourists’ one - given his much-publicised travails against the slower bowlers in recent weeks.
We need not have worried. Showcasing an obvious change in technique, whereby he deliberately kept his front foot inside the line of the ball rather than planting it in front of the stumps, Pietersen eschewed his natural tendency to play across the line.
It worked to good effect - three inside-out drives to mid-off's left were particularly graphic examples of his marked improvement - but there were also a couple of trademark sweeps as he made the most of Shakib’s naivety in the field.
As encouraging as Pietersen’s return to form was, the extension of Cook’s purple patch brought the greatest cheer to the travelling supporters, who saw their side hit a staggering 43 fours and three sixes today.
He collected singles almost at will, and his progress was bordering on the predictable until he swung Mahmudullah for six to go to a 148-ball century. In doing so, he matched the feats of Archie MacLaren, Allan Lamb, Andrew Strauss and Pietersen in scoring a hundred in his first game in charge.
Having played within himself for much of his innings, Pietersen then struck Shakib for a six and two fours - all straight - in an over to move into the nineties, yet he could not be accused of allowing ambition to cloud his judgement as three figures loomed.
Instead, he was squared up, beaten on the outside edge and bowled off stump as he tried to steer Abdur Razzak into the off side for a single, an incongruous end to a high-class innings that should serve to quieten a band of critics that has seemingly been growing by the day lately.
Cook refused to alter the approach which brought him so much success, passing 150 before, in partnership with Paul Collingwood, fulfilling his ambition to bat out the day.
He will resume tomorrow two short of his highest Test score - the 160 he made against West Indies at the Riverside last summer - and there was little evidence today to suggest Bangladesh have the will or wherewithal to stop him reaching even greater heights.
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