Kevin Pietersen last night talked down concerns about his fitness and talked up England's chances of being able to build a winning position in the summer's first Ashes Test.
England ended a day of fluctuating fortunes on 336 for 7. Six of the home side's top seven reached 30 but not one of them managed to threaten three figures with Pietersen's 69 the top score. It all added up to fascinating six hours or so of cricket – and a terrific Test baptism for the Swalec Stadium.
Pietersen believes that if England go on to reach 400 they will give themselves real opportunity to take charge on a pitch expected to spin more and more. But probably the best news for Andrew Strauss and Co. yesterday evening was Pietersen's matter of fact assessment of his fitness.
"You could see me limping," said the man who was troubled by an Achilles injury during last month's Twenty20 World Cup and accepts that the only real cure for his problem is a long period of rest. "But I was limping because I've only just started running again and it was just a bit of stiffness."
Whatever pain Pietersen felt as he hobbled up and down the pitch was nothing – judging by the look on his face – after he top-edged a sweep against off-spinner Nathan Hauritz and lobbed a simple catch to short leg. By close of play, though, England's No 4 had come to terms with his error.
"When you are out you're out," he said. "There's nothing you can do about it. Unfortunately I hit the ball onto my helmet, otherwise it would have gone down to fine leg and I would have got away with it. People look a lot deeper into it than I do – I got out."
Pietersen and Paul Collingwood put together an innings reviving stand of 138 for the fourth wicket after England – having won an important toss – had slipped to 90 for 3 before lunch. But then Collingwood edged a catch behind against impressive paceman Ben Hilfenhaus before Pietersen took on a ball from Hauritz that was well wide of off stump.
Australia were back on top, but England responded through a partnership of 86 between Matt Prior and Andrew Flintoff, only for both of those to fall to the second new ball. It was that kind of topsy-turvy day and both teams could justifiably claim last night to be well and truly in the contest.
"Ashes coming home" was how one band of chanting home supporters saw it as Prior and Flintoff made a bit of hay. That is not a view being broadcast by anyone in the England dressing room just yet, but Pietersen is optimistic that they can forge a strong position in this Test.
"In the previous two Ashes series Australia have dominated the opening day," Pietersen said . "I think we will definitely take 336 for 7. I could be greedy and say it would be good if we were only four down, and maybe Colly and I missed out a bit on making big scores. But we'll take it.
"You had to bide your time on that pitch and the ball swung all day. And Hauritz varied his pace and bowled good lines. He's good bowler. He doesn't have the mystery spin like a [Muttiah] Muralitharan but he is a clever bowler and no fool.
"I think the pleasing thing from our point of view is that Hauritz spun it off the straight on day one of the match – and we've got two spinners in our side. The fast bowlers, where they follow through, have already roughed up the pitch quite a bit. Now we've got to see how close we can get to 400 in this innings. If we can do that then I think we will be in a pretty good position."
Cardiff will never forget its first day of Test cricket, and nor should it, added Pietersen. "Wales put on a wonderful show, we were made to feel special and we're happy to have been part of a great occasion," he added.
Australia's view is that, having been forced to bowl, they fought hard all day, but coach Tim Nielsen knows there is a long battle ahead – especially if the pitch really does dust up and take turn. "The play certainly ebbed and lowed," Nielsen said. "And it ended up pretty even. It will be important we bat our backsides off in our first innings and get pretty close to England's total. It's a challenge for both teams, whether you are batting or bowling because it's not simple out there."
First Test details
Weather watch Sunny intervals. Max temp: 20c.
Live: Sky Sports 1, HD1 10.0-19.0. Highlights: SS1: 20.0-22.0, Ch5 19.15-20.0.
Bet of the day
Ricky Ponting to hit the most runs of the series for Australia: 11/4. (Skybet).Reuse content