England cricket team's new post-Kevin Pietersen era to begin on shaky ground

 

Antigua

England could hardly have chosen a more appropriate place to draw a line in the sand.

Their first matches in the era post-Kevin Pietersen will be played at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, infamous scene of the abandoned Test match five years ago when bowlers found it impossible to run up because of a ground which was more like a beach than a turf pitch.

Proceedings were suspended after10 balls and in a fit of improbable innovation and determination not always the preserve of cricket administrators, the Test was rearranged for the charming old Antigua Recreation Ground in the heart of the capital, St John’s.

Romantic though it all was, not to mention yielding a match which ended in the most gripping of draws with West Indies nine wickets down on the fifth afternoon, the new ground has been partly resuscitated. It was entrusted with another Test match two years ago and has also staged four one-day internationals and two Twenty20s last year. There is the feeling that it has been a begrudging re-emergence for the ground since the woeful embarrassment it caused for West Indies cricket – which of course was to blame.

England seem happy enough to be here in this sun-kissed paradise of 365 beaches – with one added for a leap year, counting the Sir Vivian Richards ground, as the joke went in 2009 – which is odd but doubtless welcome preparation for the rigours of Bangladesh where the World Twenty20 takes place next month.

Read more: Kevin Pietersen decision was not personal, claims Stuart Broad
Kevin Pietersen: The ECB's statement in full
Kevin Pietersen and England: The team will always beat the individual

Although it is the T20 squad on duty, they will play three one-day internationals against West Indies in Antigua, starting on Friday with a practice match on Tuesday, and another three T20 matches in Barbados before flying to Chittagong with a four-hour stopover at Gatwick. The interest in the Caribbean matches has been considerably heightened by the sacking of Pietersen.

Whatever the players truly think of the decision by their employers they are not saying or have been told not to say.

Luke Wright, one of those who could benefit from Pietersen’s absence, by staking a claim for a spot in the one-day side, was fielding questions on Sunday.

Asked if he was surprised by the England and Wales Cricket Board’s dismissal of their biggest star he said: “You’re always surprised. We know how good he has been over a long period for England. There is always surprise in it but as Broady [Stuart Broad] said to us all it’s time for us to move on and stake our own claim and step up ourselves now.”

Wright could not have done a better job of toeing the line in the sand. Still, he is aware that England were simply dreadful in Australia and became worse as the tour went on. Somehow they have to start turning matters round on this little trip or Ashley Giles, the limited overs coach, can forget his aspiration to succeed Andy Flower as the man in overall charge.

In Port Elizabeth on Sunday, Dale Steyn ripped the heart out of Australia’s batting and part-time spinner Dean Elgar took the final wicket in the day’s last over to give South Africa a series-leveling 231-run victory in the second Test.

The fourth day offered late drama after umpires gave South Africa an extra 30 minutes to seal a result. Steyn finished the innings with 4-55, as South Africa avenged their heavy defeat in the opening Test of three. South Africa captain Graeme Smith said “I don’t think many teams would have been able to respond like we did from that defeat.”

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