Pietersen helps push the boundaries
Posted in England in India 2008
The Christmas countdown may well be occupying the thoughts of millions of people around the world, but cricket lovers will remember the last week for very different reasons.
Six days after witnessing India pull off the fourth highest run-chase – and arguably the most poignant – in Test history when they beat England in Chennai, fans across the globe woke today to learn of South Africa’s successful pursuit of 414 to beat Australia at the WACA.
It ranks second in the all-time list of highest fourth-innings totals to win, and caps a momentous week in which we have seen further evidence that the landscape of Test cricket has changed irrevocably.
Sehwag’s assault on England’s bowlers in the first Test and Sachin Tendulkar’s majestic century deserve to go down among the great innings, as do the hundreds from Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers which helped South Africa cruise to a six-wicket victory in Perth today.
What is striking about both games is that targets that would have been dismissed as notional in the not-too-distant past were overhauled with apparent ease.
South Africa’s triumph means five of the 10 highest victorious fourth-innings chases have now taken place in the last decade, and the sense that the boundaries are being pushed back further than ever – metaphorically, at least – was emphasised today not only in Perth, but in Mohali.
While South Africa were in the process of raising the bar Down Under, Kevin Pietersen was doing his best to stretch the bounds of credibility on the third day of the second Test against India.
His wonderful 144 was as good an example as you are likely to see of the changes in batsmanship - and, more pertinently, batsmen’s attitudes – that have taken place in recent years –
Coming in with England reeling on one for two after seven balls, and the pressure of matching India’s 453 weighing heavily on his shoulders, Pietersen embarked on an innings every bit as remarkable as Virender Sehwag’s blistering 68-ball 83 in Chennai last week.
Pietersen’s range of stroke and manipulation of the ball beggared belief at times. Yet it was the attitude which enabled him to play in such a manner that was far more instructive for those wishing to emulate him.
Pietersen’s intentions were clear even before he took guard, sprinting to the crease almost before the umpires had time to rearrange the stumps following Ian Bell’s departure.
There were further signs of his unbridled aggression when left-arm spinner Yuvraj Singh was brought on in the third over, despite the fact that the opening bowlers had each taken a wicket.
With his ego so obviously challenged, yet still faced with the prospect of being chastised if he perished chasing a part-time bowler, Pietersen nevertheless decided to go on the offensive.
He went after all but one of Yuvraj’s first six deliveries, and the tone of this blog may be entirely different had his mistimed drive off the last ball of the over found the hands of short cover rather than flying narrowly to his right.
As it was, Pietersen survived, and India – and the England dressing room – were contemplating the very obvious message that his approach sent out: the captain would not be cowed by a situation most others would treat as perilous.
Pietersen was beaten to 50 by Alastair Cook, normally the steadiest of opening batsmen, but his own 60-ball half-century was hardly pedestrian.
Ishant Sharma, who was driven forcefully past mid-on for four, and Zaheer Khan, who was pulled disdainfully through midwicket from not far short of a good length, will testify to that.
Though Pietersen checked his ambitions a tad after Cook’s departure ended a third-wicket stand worth 103, it did not take long before he was in full stride once more.
Whether it be advancing down the track to thump the ball back past Harbhajan Singh, or swatting Sharma on the up to the cover boundary, everything he did exuded authority.
The coup de grace was unquestionably the switch-hit for six off Harbhajan, and it was also notable that as he went about the destructive business of mauling the India bowlers a smile was never far away from his lips.
Pietersen made merry with Andrew Flintoff during a partnership worth 149 – a record on this ground for the fifth wicket – and, having gone to his hundred off 124 balls, celebrated with a grin as wide as his bat had seemed for much of the afternoon.
He registered his 4,000th run in Test cricket shortly after, and his utter dominance as he manufactured shots and found gaps with almost complete freedom may have been the reason why Pietersen looked so shocked to be adjudged leg before to Harbhajan in the penultimate over of the day.
That, allied to Flintoff’s departure off the last ball, ensured India ended the day in high spirits, but Pietersen’s impact on this match - and the sport in general - will surely be felt for much longer.