Captain's self-confidence is catching on among his team-mates
Saturday 23 August 2008
Ah, the sweet swish of the new broom. There is nothing quite like that mellifluous sound in sport, in politics, in life to inspire dreams of reinvigoration, of fresh prosperity.
This is so, even when the broom in question sweeps back from under the carpet the debris brushed there after previous campaigns. Thus, Kevin Pietersen's one-day captaincy has been notable so far for persuading Stephen Harmison to come out of retirement and recalling Matthew Prior to open England's innings.
Not much in common there with the cleansing of the Augean stables but his sense of anticipation seems to have been widely shared. Pietersen is perhaps attempting something as daring as his resplendent batting by this recasting. He is backing himself to galvanise players by backing them.
Harmison is the chief, but not the solitary case in point. He had taken his one-day sweater home to Ashington two years ago to spend more time with his family, as is his wont. But the family, he explained, was now more settled and Pietersen had kept on at him about rescinding his resignation.
But Pietersen is not KP for nothing: he is also backing himself. He was energised last night, perpetually involved as batsman, bowler, fielder, captain, motivator. He could not help himself.
Almost all that he touched turned to gold. He had to rescue the side with the bat in tandem with the stunningly refreshed Andrew Flintoff. It gave him enough runs not only to plot but to take the occasional calculated risk.
When he called up Harmison, his favourite bowler responded with a wicket in his first over. When he summoned Samit Patel, the one concession to true new broomery, he did likewise. Patel is no more than a bit part left-arm spinner and never will be in the unlikely event that he plays 100 one-day internationals.
But he will remember bowling Herschelle Gibbs with the fourth ball of his first over in authentic international cricket – the one-dayer against Scotland last Monday being discounted. With all due respect, Patel might well claim to his grandchildren that his maiden international wicket was not Neil McCallum in Edinburgh, but Gibbs of South Africa in Leeds.
And then Pietersen decided to bowl himself. He was backing himself and almost immediately, AB De Villiers clipped him to mid-wicket. Shortly after, Pietersen gathered Ian Bell's smart throw to run out Jacques Kallis who was looking ominously like guiding the tourists to a 10th successive one-day win.
But England would not, could not have engineered this without Pietersen the batsman. The batting order has been restructured once more and they nearly mucked it up. Their start was too slow and then the batsmen got out.
But Pietersen and Flintoff batted with control and composure and eventually at a pace – 95 came in the final 10 overs – last seen in Usain Bolt's legs.
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