Peter Roebuck: Pietersen's calculated counter-attack outsmarts Warne into beating a retreat
Monday 27 November 2006
Kevin Pietersen is an exceptionally intelligent batsman. His duel with Shane Warne was the most compelling feature of a day upon which the lion finally roared. It was a confrontation between two supremely clever cricketers, a tussle between a giant with a bat and a wizard with a ball. Here was a conflict not so much of cut and thrust as of blood and thunder, broken by pauses as Warne went around the wicket. Pietersen was interested in sport but did not intend to commit suicide.
Taking guard with his team in trouble, Pietersen produced a superbly calculated counter-attacking effort. Evidently, before the Test, the visitors had thought about how to tackle their tormentor. Not a single sweep had been played in Adelaide. It is a dangerous stroke on Antipodean surfaces. Pietersen tapped a few cross-batters but eschewed the full-blooded variety. Pad play was also avoided owing to Warne's knack of fooling batsmen with straight deliveries. Most batsmen used their feet and concentrated on shots played down the ground.
No one was better placed than Pietersen to put the strategy into practice. He took a look at the leg-spinner and then launched a withering assault. Perhaps he had been held back for this very purpose. Warne had taken 40 wickets in the previous Ashes series. Someone had to stop him.
Pietersen began by stepping down the pitch to drive the ball wide of mid-on, a shot that hurts Warne because he prefers to bowl at leg-stump and generally has been able to do so with impunity. In 2005, Pietersen had relied on the slog-sweep but a man had been placed to catch any miscue and the boundaries were longer. So he strode down the track to drive. First blood to the willow-wielder.
Now the ball was in Warne's court. He was not getting much help from another slow Australian pitch. Instead it was a battle of wits. He pushed mid-on deeper, only to be outsmarted as his foe sent the ball beyond his reach. The runs kept coming. Reluctantly, he withdrew his short leg and placed him at mid-wicket. It is odd to see Warne working without a man at bat-pad at any time, let alone when he has 647 runs to protect. Still Pietersen plundered. Warne was given a break. He deserved it. In 2005 he had bowled too many long spells.
Returning, Warne decided to change to an off-stump line. He hates to bowl to his slip as it reduces his ways of taking wickets. Now Pietersen waited for opportunities to cut. At last the leggie had his first victory as a ball stayed low and seemed to take a bottom edge. But the umpire had seen and heard nothing. Such are the fortunes of war. And fortunes usually favour the brave.
Warne went on to the defensive, aiming at the rough. It was a retreat. Pietersen had prevailed. But Warne also had his successes. A man may lose a battle and yet win the war.
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