Pietersen plunders victory to treasure

AUSTRALIA 252-9
ENGLAND 253-7

England win by three wickets

England win by three wickets

Kevin Pietersen's reputation as a batsman of the highest quality gained further momentum yesterday when he took apart Australia's bowling attack and guided England to a remarkable three-wicket victory. The loss completed a miserable week for the world champions, and gave Michael Vaughan's side further reason to believe that they could regain the Ashes.

England, chasing Australia's total of 252 for9, looked set to be humbled when the spin of Brad Hogg claimed three quick wickets, and reduced Vaughan's side to 160 for 6. But the setbacks only inspired Pietersen, who set about Australia's bowlers in a manner they will have rarely experienced. The right-hander struck an astonishing 91 off 65 balls, with his last 61 runs being scored off just 26 deliveries. The innings contained four huge sixes and eight fours.

Pietersen did not have the pleasure of scoring the winning run; this was given to Jon Lewis, who, on his home ground, scampered a quick single to short third-man with 15 balls to spare. But this failed to worry Pietersen or the capacity crowd of 15,000, who went into a frenzy as the winning run was completed.

No bowler was spared. Michael Kasprowicz was the first to feel the force of the 24-year-old's power when he was hoisted over square leg for six. The next ball was driven through extra cover for four, and in an over which conceded 18 runs England's target had been reduced from 76 in 10 overs to 58 in nine.

Hogg was then smashed for another six, a stroke which brought up a 46-ball half-century. Vikram Solanki was then run out, but in 30 balls the pair had put on 54 runs.

Few would have expected such a result at the halfway stage. Glenn McGrath gave Australia the perfect start when he bowled Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss in an opening spell. And Paul Collingwood soon followed when he chopped Michael Kasprowicz on to his stumps.

The loss of these wickets forced Vaughan to bat responsibly but while the England captain played himself in the run-rate began to rise. Andrew Flintoff pulled Kasprowicz over square leg for six but on 19 he chipped the left-arm leg-breaks of Hogg to long-off.

Hogg trapped Vaughan in front and had Geraint Jones caught at long-on, and it appeared Australia were about to finish a disastrous week on a high.

The visitors appeared to have put the humiliation of losing to Bangladesh on Saturday behind them. Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden went after England's bowlers. The left-handers took a particular liking to the medium pace of Lewis, who was twice hoisted over mid-wicket for six.

It was the introduction of Stephen Harmison that changed the course of the match. Harmison has had an excellent start to the season with both Durham and England, and yesterday's five-wicket haul took his NatWest series tally to nine in two matches.

Australia, on 57 for 0, looked set to post a huge score as Harmison started the 11th over of the innings, but all this was about to change. Gilchrist was the first to lose his wicket when he edged a front-foot scythe through to Jones.

The tourists' awful start has placed their captain, Ricky Ponting, under pressure, and a first-ball duck did little to relieve his angst. Ponting is a wonderful player but the manner of his dismissal showed England have done their homework. The right-hander plants his front foot, which makes him vulnerable to a full ball at the start of an innings, and this is just where Harmison speared in his first ball.

The 91mph yorker beat his bat and wrapped him on the pad in front of middle stump. Damien Martyn allowed the hat-trick ball to pass harmlessly through to the keeper but he could not stop himself from having a wild cut at his second delivery. The ball may have been there for the shot, and the stroke is one of the strongest in his repertoire, but on this occasion a top edge gave Pietersen a simple catch at third man.

Harmison's fourth wicket had more to do with the brilliance of Paul Collingwood than that of the bowler. Hayden must have thought he had added four to his score when he cut at a short wide ball.

But Collingwood miraculously plucked the ball out of the air. This was not the first time the all-rounder has produced something special fielding in the gully, and it will not be the last.

Harmison had now taken 4 for 2 in 15 balls and the visitors were looking down at defeat. But this Australian batting line-up has depth, and Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey set about repairing the damage.

Clarke is viewed as one of the tourists' most exciting young talents but the international stage has yet to see much of Hussey. However, should he continue to bat as he did yesterday it will not be long before he begins pushing for a Test place. English cricket has seen plenty of the left-hander and during summers with Northamptonshire, Gloucestershire and Durham he has scored three triple centuries.

And the Western Australian used this experience to guide his side to a competitive total. Clarke and Hussey were helped by England's decision to play only four specialist bowlers, and the pair took Collingwood, Vaughan and Solanki for 58 runs in 10 overs.

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