Pietersen passes his first test in style
Posted in England v South Africa - 2008
As South Africa skipper Graeme Smith pointed out this week, Kevin Pietersen’s reign as England captain should not be judged on how his side fare in the fourth npower Test at the Brit Oval.
Sensible comments, no doubt you would agree, but showing a complete lack of naivety at the same time.
In this age of instant gratification and demands for immediate success, can you realistically imagine the English sporting press not making sweeping judgments on Pietersen’s leadership credentials after just one day in the job? Thought not.
The tabloids, in particular, are sure to have dedicated numerous pages to prophesising on the future of cricket under Pietersen – on the basis of a solitary day in the field.
Lucky for Pietersen, then, that it went so well.
The new man in charge is renowned for his positive approach and limitless optimism, but surely even he could not have wished for a better start to his tenure.
Bowling the tourists out for just 194 represented an almost unmitigated success on a pitch that, though comfortably the quickest of the series, was far from weighted in the bowlers’ favour.
In that regard, the England attack – especially Steve Harmison and James Anderson – delivered the goods for Pietersen in emphatic fashion, but how did their new captain fare on his first day at the office, so to speak?
Comparisons with Michael Vaughan are inevitable, yet Pietersen failed to live up to his predecessor when it came to his first task of the day, the toss.
To be fair, few skippers in the history of the game can have got such elevation on a coin as Vaughan, nor with such one-foot-off-the-ground grace.
But once Pietersen led his new charges on to the field after the tourists elected to bat, there was little he did that could be faulted.
He was as good as his word in adopting a positive brand of cricket, employing three slips, two gullies and a short-leg for a large proportion of an opening stand of 56 between Smith and Neil McKenzie.
Pietersen’s bold approach paid dividends when McKenzie flashed a drive to third slip, where Alastair Cook made amends for spilling Smith off the first ball of the game.
That drop had brought a wry smile to Pietersen’s face, and his body language remained positive even as South Africa reached three figures for the loss of just one wicket.
Little has been seen of Pietersen’s man-management before today but, if a pat on the back before play for Smith – captaining South Africa for the 61st time – appeared a touch patronising, Pietersen tapping Tim Ambrose’s head as he received treatment for a mouth injury was almost paternalistic.
There was an arm around the shoulder for Anderson and Panesar, while Harmison bowled with the menace of a man who cannot fail to have been buoyed by Pietersen’s comments yesterday that “the big man will deliver for us”.
An upturned palm from Pietersen signalled the end of a bowler’s spell, while a quick point to the crease advised his replacement to warm up.
Intensity was etched all over Pietersen’s face as he stood, legs apart and shoulders back, pondering his next move, and the loudest cries of encouragement often came from the skipper’s mouth.
But he was not too consumed by this, the most demanding of roles, to forget his manners, granting his charges a polite “please” as he issued instructions in the field.
There was even the odd tactical masterstroke, Panesar striking with his third delivery to account for AB de Villiers after being brought into the attack in the last over before tea.
That capped a pulsating session which saw six wickets and 94 runs, and England made reasonably short work of the tail after the interval to bowl South Africa out inside 65 overs.
Throw in two dropped catches, a handful of edges short or wide of the slips, and countless plays and misses, and you get an even better reflection of an England bowling display that surpassed anything they have produced since the New Zealand tour earlier this summer.
In reducing the deficit by 49 for the loss of just Andrew Strauss in the 17 overs possible before the close, England merely underlined their first-day dominance.
Even the ‘red tops’ would struggle to credit Pietersen and Pietersen alone for their transformation after two successive defeats, but any praise that comes his and England’s way in tomorrow’s newspapers is more than justified.