Disaster averted by watchful Pietersen

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England 236-5 v West Indies

Some things are simply certain. Taxes, winter snow chaos, bank collapses. But nothing, except perhaps the mess at the other end, was as inevitable as the innings which Kevin Pietersen played for England in the first Test yesterday.

From the very moment he was deposed as the team's captain 28 days earlier it was written in the stars. Pietersen made 97 and the only mild surprise – what on earth did fate think it was playing at? – was that he did not reach his 16th Test hundred.

Occasionally he was flamboyant, more often he was vigilant, but throughout he played as though it was his destiny. That he saved England from disaster merely embellished the innings and his status as the side's leading batsman.

Pietersen was bitterly hurt when he was forced to resign the captaincy after his irrevocable rift with the then coach, Peter Moores, was revealed to the world. He still has a sense of grievance but his oft-stated philosophy in life is that what will be will be.

He gave destiny a little help by preparing more assiduously than usual for this series, which is saying something.

Pietersen likes the trappings of fame but the currency in which he truly luxuriates is Test runs, and they cannot be bought. Adamant that he did no wrong in the imbroglio, it was as if each run yesterday was something else to shove down the throats of the mandarins at the England and Wales Cricket Board who, as he sees it, engineered his dismissal.

"If somebody said I would get 97 today when it was all kicking off in England a month ago, I would have been a very happy boy," he said. "And I'm a very happy boy tonight because the team is in a good position."

How England needed him to reach the comparative strength of 236 for 5 on a capricious surface where spin may have the final say. Having won a good toss, they were in serious danger of another huge cock-up. Brave new world under new captain Andrew Strauss, same sold story.

Once more, too many of England's top order played misconceived or ill-executed strokes, too often they were undone by their own lack of concentration or misguided adventure. Towards the end of the day, Andrew Flintoff, watchful and defensive after passing a late fitness test, endeavoured to ensure that Pietersen's innings was not squandered, and his unbeaten 43 was a model of determined caution. Together with Matt Prior, he edged England towards painstaking respectability at under three runs an over.

West Indies' contribution to the opening day of the series should not be understated. It is too early to talk of a renaissance but there were certainly to be discerned the green shoots of recovery. They mocked the idea of being rank outsiders – the consensus was that they would be lucky to come second.

It is often said that the first session on the first day of a Test match sets the tone for the entire series and Strauss had reiterated the point the day before. If it is true, England are in for a rocky couple of months. In its way, considering they had lost the toss and been invited to field, it was a perfect session for the West Indies. They got an uncommonly nervous Strauss early.

Dropped at slip in the third over, he was caught at the wicket in the fifth, nibbling at one which moved a shade away. By the tenth over, he had been joined back in the pavilion by the vice-captain.

Alastair Cook, denied early scoring opportunities, instinctively pulled a bouncer from Daren Powell, at the start of a clinical spell, but was never in position to play the shot which ended in mid-on's hands

The brief recovery which followed was impressive. Ian Bell looked like a million dollars as soon as he came to the crease, his timing impeccable, but Pietersen's presence seemed to cow him. He went from lion to lamb.

The bowling had something to do with this as well, but it did not entirely explain the change. Bell went 18 balls without scoring as the 6ft 7in left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn quickly found turn and bounce.

Soon Chris Gayle introduced himself. There was spin in the pitch, but it still seemed perverse to have it operating from both ends – this was, after all, before lunch on the first day of a Test match in the Caribbean. The day had 51 overs of spin.

Gayle's cool persona should not conceal his skill as a cricketer. Just before lunch, he beat Bell with an off-break and then had him caught at slip with an arm-ball.

It was the sixth time in 11 innings that Bell had been dismissed between 17 and 50; in other words when he was in. For the sake of encouraging the others, this cannot go on.

The flow of the game was with the West Indies by now, and England were already on a salvage mission. For once, Paul Collingwood's jaw-jutting exploits failed.

Soon after lunch he made history, not for anything of the jaw-jutting variety but for being the first English batsman to be the subject of a referral by the fielding side, seeking to have the umpire's verdict overturned. Collingwood, on two, pushed forward at Gayle and the ball hit his pad. The umpire Rudi Koertzen said that it was not out.

The replay showed that the ball had him outside off stump, immediately negating the referral, and after two minutes, the third umpire agreed.

Collingwood survived – but not the next time. It always seemed dangerous to sweep Benn against the spin but, having tried it once, Collingwood had another go and was struck on the back pad. He had to go.

Flintoff joined Pietersen and they eschewed boldness. In sight of a century, however, Pietersen suddenly found an extra gear and Benn was hit for two fours and a six in successive balls. Pietersen tried a slog sweep next ball, succeeded only in getting a top edge and perished, caught by the wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin, but the innings was imperishable.

Shot of the day

Kevin Pietersen had played the percentages. He needed to, considering the mess. But as the afternoon wore on, he warmed to his task. He decided Sulieman Benn had to go and, amid a flurry of shots, got down on one knee and dispatched him into the midwicket bleachers. He tried to repeat it next ball and was out, but the shot was a blissful trademark.

Ball of the day

Chris Gayle cannot quite shake off the suspicion that he is a showbiz cricketer – maybe it is because of his flashy, mercurial batting. But behind the twinkly eye is a sharp brain and the arm-ball with which he ensnared Ian Bell on the delivery after he had beaten him with a conventional off-break was his version of the three-card trick.

Moment of the day

When Paul Collingwood was beaten by the second ball of the 32nd over he was given not out lbw. Under the regulations for the series, part of the ICC trial referrals exercise, the West Indies asked for the verdict to be reconsidered. The appeal was rejected and Collingwood stayed, to be for ever the subject of quizzes as the first England batsman to be referred.

Scoreboard

First day of five, close of play; England won toss

England – First Innings

*A J Strauss c Ramdin b Taylor 7

A N Cook c Sarwan b D B L Powell 4

I R Bell c D S Smith b Gayle 28

K P Pietersen c Ramdin b Benn 97

P D Collingwood lbw b Benn 16

A Flintoff not out 43

†M J Prior not out 27

Extras (b5 lb2 nb7) 14

Total (for 5, 88 overs) 236

Fall: 1-8 2-31 3-71 4-94 5-180.

To bat: S C J Broad, R J Sidebottom, S J Harmison, M S Panesar.

Bowling: Taylor 13-2-56-1; Edwards 10-1-43-0; D B L Powell 14-5-31-1; Benn 33-10-64-2; Gayle 18-5-35-1.

West Indies: *C H Gayle, D S Smith, R R Sarwan, X M Marshall, S Chanderpaul, B P Nash, †D Ramdin, J E Taylor, D B L Powell, S J Benn, F H Edwards.

Umpires: A L Hill (NZ) and R E Koertzen (SA).

TV replay umpire: D J Harper (Aus).

Match referee: A G Hurst (Aus).

Second Test (13-17 February): North Sound, Antigua.

Third Test (26 February to 2 March): Bridgetown, Barbados.

Fourth Test (6-10 March): Port of Spain, Trinidad.

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