Kevin Pietersen leads England fightback against Australia

 

Kevin Pietersen put his regal stamp on the second Investec Test with a
memorable 21st century to alter the mid-match momentum as England fought back against South Africa at Headingley.

Pietersen spurned the prosaic methods of his near namesake Alviro, in the latter's career-best 182 over the first two days here, as he powered England to 351 for five in reply to 419 all out.

England appeared to have little chance, at start of play this morning, of scoring quickly or heavily enough to retain any chance of a series-levelling victory.

But after Pietersen (149 not out) had turned earnest reconnaissance into all-out attack in his third Test hundred against his native country, there was much to play for after all.

His onslaught after tea, as Morne Morkel tried to test him with the short ball to a deep-set field, included six fours from only 11 balls.

Morkel and Dale Steyn were taken out of the attack, and South Africa were forced on the defensive as debutant James Taylor rotated the strike effectively for his senior partner.

Pietersen's hundred took 142 balls, but he needed only 52 of those for the second 50 - pulling and driving 17 fours on his way to three figures.

He operated on a different level to those who had batted before him on a fair pitch, but one which had appeared to preclude dominant strokeplay unless the bowlers dropped short.

Pietersen, who had shared a hard-working half-century stand with Jonathan Trott for the third wicket, took England seamlessly past the second new ball in a partnership of 147 with Taylor.

On a surface already beginning to offer variable bounce to the seamers, it seemed Pietersen would have to dig in after Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss had gone either side of lunch.

Cook chanced DRS, after being hit in front as he pushed forward to Vernon Philander. But Steve Davis' lbw verdict was vindicated when Hawkeye confirmed the ball pitched on leg-stump and straightened to hit middle halfway up and end an opening stand of 65.

Strauss and Trott kept South Africa at bay either side of a downpour which wiped out more than half the morning session and brought an early lunch.

But Steyn gave the England captain no leeway in early afternoon, and was rewarded when Strauss got a thin edge behind on the back-foot defence.

Pietersen and Trott then had to employ the patience Petersen had demonstrated for so long for the tourists.

The return of Steyn was too much for Trott, who edged an attempted cut low to slip - where Graeme Smith took a neat catch, for a dismissal which was a near action replay of Jacques Kallis' to James Anderson on Thursday.

Morkel sought to discomfort Pietersen, as he had successfully at The Oval last week, with his pace and bounce. But this time, England's mercurial number four had set his mind on the long haul.

The same could not be said for Ian Bell, who pushed out without foot movement at a full-length ball from Kallis and edged to Smith at slip.

Taylor was therefore required to bat for seven minutes to help close out the session. He duly did so, with the bonus of an off-driven four off Tahir to get off the mark.

After tea, Taylor's Test introduction was largely in an observer capacity as Pietersen took over.

He completed his half-century with a pull for four off Steyn, and then gave his only chance two runs later when he clipped Morkel straight to short-leg - where Hashim Amla could not hold on to a sharp half-chance.

Pietersen then clubbed the next two balls dismissively to the midwicket boundary, to signal the start of his one-man counter-attack.

Taylor proved an able assistant, as Pietersen continued his often brutal treatment of one of the world's best attacks.

England's new number six would have been short of his ground for a scampered single on 24, had Amla hit the stumps from midwicket. But otherwise, he was the perfect foil of reliability and calm until he edged Morkel on to his stumps.

Pietersen saved some of his absolute best until after his hundred was in the bag - a near straight-batted pull for four wide of mid-on and then straight six, in the space of three balls, off Steyn delighting a partisan full house and forcing Smith to withdraw his pace spearhead again.

When South Africa captain Smith hobbled off before stumps, having apparently injured his knee chasing a ball into the outfield, there was even the hint of suspicion that the nature of this table-topping series - not merely match - might have changed.

Meanwhile, a scan on Petersen's hamstring injury revealed a grade one strain. He will not field again here, but will bat if needed in South Africa's second innings - and is expected to be fit for the third Test at Lord's.

PA

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