Cricket: Century for Pietersen as South Africa push England

England v South Africa
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The Independent Online
ON REACHING his first, scintillating century for England last night, Kevin Pietersen almost devoured the emblem on his helmet. It was a characteristic gesture, designed to demonstrate his profound and enduring love for his adopted country.

Most other players would have given the badge depicting the three lions a fashionably obligatory peck. Pietersen looked as if he might make love to it there and then on the outfield had there been sufficient time between balls. Such an emotional outpouring of devotion deserved its reward. It took England to an improbable 270. But South Africa, in a state of crisis if not meltdown and perhaps refusing to be denied by a player who they considered one of their own until five years ago, pushed the tourists all the way.

Pietersen's runs, and the manner in which he scores them, should suffice admirably in expressing his patriotic fervour. Say what you like about him, he does not only talk the talk. This was an innings that walked the walk in every respect. It began with England in some little difficulty, it was played on a slow dog of a pitch and it took his team to a total 30, or perhaps 40 runs beyond expectations. Whatever happened afterwards, it meant that the home side had to play above all pre-match expectations to win.

Pietersen now averages 234 in one-day internationals, a figure that will presumably come tumbling down. That is to say, he has had five innings and been dismissed only once. This was his best innings so far, but its style alone made it clear that there will be more where it came from.

When Pietersen walked in at 67 for three in the 17th over the electronic scoreboard flashed up a message saying: "Welcome to South Africa, Kevin Pietersen, have a nice day." The South Africans should have known that this is the sort of humour designed to inspire somebody with roots in KwaZulu/ Natal, rather than deflate.

Pietersen was assertive from the start, whereas his partner and captain, Michael Vaughan, was much more restrained. Still, for most of their time together it looked as if 230 would not only be England's target score but would suffice in making it a close match.

Vaughan was run out, going for a second run. He had made 42 from 82 balls and it came as no surprise to learn that he had been suffering from a stomach bug.

Pietersen and Paul Collingwood decided to take the attack to South Africa. Pietersen did the hard hitting. He can be fluent one moment, unwieldy the next but he was always prepared to make the bowlers think. Collingwood, again under pressure for his place in the side, scampered and found unlikely places to score in making 40 at a run a ball.

But it was Pietersen's glory. His 108 took only 96 balls, included six fours and two sixes and showed the experience and maturity of somebody in his 50th international, not his fifth.

The consensus was that England had quite enough. There were two primary reasons for this. The previous highest score to win batting second at the ground was 262 (by England nine years ago), and South Africa were generally deemed to be in something approaching disarray.

But they went about their task calmly. Graeme Smith, the captain, and the one-day debutant, A B De Villiers put on 47 for the first wicket without leaving second gear.

However, when they both went within four runs of each other, Jacques Kallis and Gibbs then surpassed their pragmatism.

By dint of selective strokeplay they maintained the required rate, milking England wisely. Both reached half-centuries and England were desperately searching for a wicket. Giles obliged with his third ball on returning to the attack when Kallis top-edged a sweep to backward square. It set up a tingling finish.