Pietersen sets example for England
Kevin Pietersen fell agonisingly short of a century as England fought hard to maintain a foothold in the opening Test against West Indies in Jamaica.
Playing his first Test since stepping down as captain, Pietersen hit a defiant 97 to not only prove that his mind remains firmly on the job, but to anchor an England innings that threatened to unravel on several occasions.
Positions of 31 for two, 71 for three and 94 for four reflected the tourists’ travails despite winning the toss at Sabina Park, but Pietersen batted with considerable common sense and great responsibility before he perished chasing the boundary that would have taken him to three figures.
His dismissal - caught via a top-edged sweep off the impressive left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn - left England on a far from secure 180 for five, but an unaccustomedly cautious Andrew Flintoff shepherded them to 236 without further loss by the close.
Flintoff’s unbeaten 43 was a model of restraint, and his unbroken partnership of 56 with Matt Prior, who was 27 not out when bad light forced the players off, threatens to be as important as his 86-run alliance with Pietersen for the fifth wicket.
If Benn deserves praise for a marathon spell of 33 overs which brought him figures of 2-64, England earned much credit for the manner of their fightback, and can reasonably claim to be marginally in the ascendancy given that the pitch offered appreciable assistance to the slower bowlers and a spongy outfield hardly assisted free scoring.
Andrew Strauss, Pietersen’s successor as captain, would have been content that England will resume tomorrow with five wickets in hand, given their miserable start to the day.
Despite including Flintoff in his team after the all-rounder was passed fit to play following a side strain, and winning the toss, little went right for Strauss from the moment he took the field.
Dropped on one by Xavier Marshall at third slip off Jerome Taylor, the left-hander managed just six more before edging the same bowler behind.
Alastair Cook, who faced just 20 deliveries in the three quarters of an hour he spent at the crease, fell shortly after to a rash pull off Daren Powell which found only Ramnaresh Sarwan at mid-on.
Ian Bell - retained at number three despite pressure from Owais Shah - began promisingly, while Pietersen followed up his typical scampered single to get off the mark with a clutch of emphatic strokes straight and through the leg side.
But the discipline of the Windies attack checked the run-rate, and the introduction of Chris Gayle yielded another wicket.
While there was little spectacular about the delivery which accounted for Bell - a non-spinning off-break which he edged to Devon Smith at first slip - the decision to bring himself on just before lunch proved a masterstroke from the Windies skipper.
The spinners continued to rein England in after the break - Benn bowled four successive maidens to begin the session - and frustration eventually got the better of Paul Collingwood, who was lbw for 16 attempting to sweep the left-armer.
Collingwood had earlier become the first England player to experience the referral system being trialled in this series.
An lbw appeal from Gayle was turned down by umpire Rudi Koertzen, but the bowler challenged the decision - whereby it was referred to television official Daryl Harper, who confirmed that the ball had struck Collingwood outside the line of stump, and Koertzen upheld his original verdict.
Pietersen and Flintoff set about the repairing the damage caused by Collingwood’s dismissal after a brief delay for rain, with occupation of the crease remaining the prime objective during a lacklustre afternoon session which saw just 59 runs in 30 overs.
There was a noticeable change in approach after the interval, particularly from Pietersen, who twice drove Fidel Edwards imperiously through the off side before launching a thrilling assault on Benn.
The first ball of the 67th over was smashed between the bowler and mid-off for four, the next swatted back over Benn’s head and the third hoisted into the stands at wide long-on.
Impetuosity, however, got the better of Pietersen as he swung across the line at the next delivery, succeeding only in gifting Denesh Ramdin a simple catch. He had faced 172 balls and struck 12 fours in addition to that six.
While he is sure to receive a fair amount of scorn for the choice of stroke, it is worth considering England’s plight had it not been for Pietersen's contribution.
Flintoff may have eschewed many of the riskier shots in his armoury - his first 10 runs occupied 58 balls - but his continued presence, and that of the solid-looking Prior, as England edged towards 250 was arguably the greatest source of optimism for the visiting dressing room come the end of the day.