Pietersen falls in hot pursuit

<preform>Sussex 252 and 312 <br> Hampshire 280 and 267-8 <br> Match drawn</preform>
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The Independent Online

Anybody who doubts that there is a changed mood in English cricket should have been in dank, miserable Hove yesterday. It had barely stopped raining after five hours, it was cold, the covers had just reached the perimeter of the ground and play was starting.

Anybody who doubts that there is a changed mood in English cricket should have been in dank, miserable Hove yesterday. It had barely stopped raining after five hours, it was cold, the covers had just reached the perimeter of the ground and play was starting.

Ten years ago, perhaps even five, this sort of thing would not have been allowed to happen. Everybody concerned would long since have headed for hearth and home, save for the poor old groundsman. But there is a different approach afoot, a mission to entertain, and what entertainment it was.

As it happened, the match ended in a draw, one of the best kind, with both sides tantalisingly short of their target: Sussex by two wickets, Hampshire by 18 runs. On the way to this stalemate, both teams engineered winning positions and the new star, Kevin Pietersen, blazed away in breathtaking fashion.

When he was at crease, Hampshire were ahead, but when his innings of 61 ended after 51 balls they were behind. The equation was as simple as that. At this rate it would be plain perverse not to pick him in England's Test team. Sussex, from being all long faces and quiet as if in a cathedral close, were suddenly all smiles and joshing, as if in a Friday-night disco bar.

Thus was rescued a match which had been delightfully poised and had been keenly contested to a commendable standard throughout. The delay had altered the balance. Hampshire, who would have needed another 196 from 108 overs with seven wickets in hand, now required them from 40 overs.

That seemed to favour the home team in this local derby, but then again the presence of Pietersen made anything possible. The way he dismembered South Africa's attack in a series of high octane one-day internationals earlier in the year put into perspective a lower-key assignment by the English seaside.

It was pretty obvious, at least at the start, that Hampshire had no intention of doing anything other than going for the target. Shane Warne, their captain, has promised positive cricket, and he means it.

What was left of the crowd was kept waiting for Pietersen. Billy Taylor, the nightwatchman, carved away merrily at the start. In a former career, he was a tree surgeon, which presumably meant saving the blighters, but here he used the bat as though it was an axe felling them.

Jolly good fun it was, too, but no surprise at all that he was caught smearing one to long leg. To the next ball, John Crawley edged a half-drive low to the wicketkeeper's right. Matt Prior, the wicketkeeper in question, took an agile catch cleanly and one-handed in front of first slip.

James Kirtley was narrowly denied a hat-trick when his appeal for leg before against Sean Ervine was turned down. If the volume of the concerted claim was any guide - and it ain't necessarily so - it must have been close.

All of which was the cue for Pietersen. Having made a first-innings duck, he was off the pair immediately with a nudge to mid-on, which would have been a huge relief even to one so self-confident. Pietersen has attracted many headlines, but plenty in the last few days had concerned the number of noughts he accrues: nine at Nottinghamshire last summer and one in his first Championship innings for Hampshire.

When he is not getting ducks, of course, Pietersen is convincing bowlers they chose the wrong occupation. This was a position suited for him, because he does not like to contain his natural instincts. He swept Mushtaq for six off the front foot and pulled Kirtley for six over mid-wicket.

Ervine, though a little more measured, was not much slower in gathering runs. Five an over began to look a doddle, and when Pietersen took 14 in three balls from Mushtaq, all fearsome pounds to leg, the finishing line was at Hampshire's mercy. But with exuberance getting the better of him he lashed on the leg side once too often. Hampshire needed only 42 runs from 59 balls.

But Warne, promoting himself up the order, pulled one on, and when Ervine's innings ended with a spoon to mid-wicket, Hampshire needed 29 from 34. They called off the chase, which in the purest terms was probably sensible. Hampshire did not quite have the firepower to end it, and Mushtaq's beseechment of umpire Kitchen did not bring the desired result.

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