Love in the air as lead man enjoys husbands and wives' ensemble
Friday 08 August 2008
There are American television evangelists who give out less love to their flocks than Kevin Pietersen. All day long, his first as captain of England, you could feel the stuff being dispensed as if it was in a Barry White song.
This did not perhaps extend to South Africa's captain, Graeme Smith, with whom he shared a perfunctory handshake and some idle chit-chat at the toss. Not too much should have been read into that, since, contrastingly, too much has been said by both men to expect immediate rapprochement to be created by the ceremonial flip of a coin. What a day it proved for Pietersen's New England.
Pietersen, as he has amply demonstrated, makes things happen. Whether that was quite why England bowled out the tourists for 194 may be open to doubt (the long party since they clinched the series last Saturday in Birmingham was possibly a contributory factor) but that hardly matters. The day was made to feel like a new beginning. There were so many photographers on the pitch that Kate Middleton must have risen yesterday morning and wondered what she had done to merit such a lack of attention. The coin that Pietersen used was of Australian origin, handed him by the match referee, Ranjan Madugalle.
It went three feet in the air, curled away from him some five yards and went against him. Tossed one, lost one. If that was a bad start, it soon became worse. When England came out it was noticeable there was no huddle. Nor had there been one in the privacy of the dressing room. But Pietersen does not need huddles to show his team that he cares. As he said in a long television interview with his predecessor but one, Nasser Hussain, he wanted the England team to love each other's success and to be like husband and wife. There would be rocky times, but eventually they would be all friends again. Presumably, Kevin had missed reading about Morgan Freeman's impending divorce in the morning papers, making another point about husbands and wives. So, the recalled Stephen Harmison to whom Pietersen had already shown rare devotion in the pre-match build-up roared in for England with the new ball. It was short but quick and Smith's carve went at an eminently catchable height to Alastair Cook in the gully.
This was the perfect script for Pietersen, Harmison and England. But Cook could not hold on – the first miss of three for him – and here was a salutary reminder that even those with a penchant for making things happen are not miracle workers, although His Kevinness might suppose otherwise.
It turned out to be a long morning for England and the thought occurred that he might resign at lunchtime, fed up with the lot of them. He resisted and not long after England were on their way.
There was some life in the pitch and the ball was swinging. More importantly, Harmison was not at The Oval bowling towards Lord's as has been his wont. He was straight and extremely fast, defying those who had suggested he should never play for England again. Pietersen hugged and slapped everybody. Nothing was too much trouble.
He fielded at square leg at one point, odd for a captain, and after Harmison removed Smith and Hashim Amla with consecutive deliveries, he had Monty Pansesar at leg gully for the hat-trick ball. This was love and trust of a high order and before long Panesar was despatched to mid-off. The captain ran down balls, consulted endlessly and let bowlers set their own fields.
His tactical acumen is yet to be fully tested but perhaps love is all you need.
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