Pietersen responds selflessly to Aussie barbs by refusing to take bait

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The Independent Online

It was part of Kevin Pietersen's mission here yesterday to disprove the theory that he may possess one of the few dictionaries in which there is an "i" in team. For almost three diligent hours in the fifth Test, England's most charismatic batsman was determined to display a lexicon which had running through it the motto: "All for one and one for all."

Pietersen had been the object of a piece of classic Australian psychology, otherwise known as the press conference sledge. John Buchanan, the home side's coach, implied last weekend Pietersen might be in it for himself: "He talks about himself as a team player, but I personally don't see much evidence of it."

This was hedged with enough caveats to suggest that Buchanan perhaps did not have an opinion one way or another, but that sentence did the trick as he knew it would. The Aussie press were slavering and their British counterparts were foaming at the mouth.

Pietersen was suitably outraged. Among other entertaining sideswipes at Buchanan he observed correctly: "They obviously want to get into my head and make me think I'm some kind of lone ranger, which I'm not."

He obviously misunderstood the nature of the Lone Ranger, a masked cowboy hero whose purpose in life throughout the late 1950s and the 1960s on Saturday teatime television, was to bring evildoers to book with a weekly series of cunning ploys of which any batsman would be proud.

He was absolutely single-minded in his concentration yesterday in a partnership for the third wicket of 108 with Ian Bell. He played his usual tricks of dancing down the wicket to the medium pacers to try to disturb the length and he did likewise to Shane Warne. But until the end he never played an attacking shot when doing so, covering up instead to defend.

His innings of 41 lasted 104 balls, a strike rate of under 40 per cent. This compares to his career strike rate of 67 runs per 100 balls. Pietersen might have come out swinging, but the seaming conditions, the accuracy of the bowling and the slurs ensured that he did it all for the team.

It should never be underestimated how brave Pietersen is. It takes heart to leave the crease, sometimes by more than a yard with the ball being propelled at 80mph. He has used this ploy throughout the series. "He does it to try and change the length if the bowler begins to build up a series of dot balls," Buchanan said. "He is quite effective at it generally."

Bell scored his fourth fifty of the series and only a draconian judge might declare that he had also missed out on a maiden Ashes hundred for the fourth time. He will be disappointed not to have gone on but it was one of those pitches where 70 was probably worth a hundred on another day. The statistics never show that.

"They really bowled well," he said. "The wicket had something in it throughout the day, just enough. We need to play well in this match to start looking forward to the next Ashes series." This seemed pretty silly on first hearing. But it is sensible. Give Australia something to ruminate on.

It was a day and it will be a match of deep reflection. Three of the Australian team are retiring from Test cricket after this match: Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer. Their names appeared on the pitch underneath the sponsors' logo. They were serenaded at teatime by an operatic tenor, Sean Ruane.

At the close, Warne emerged on the outfield to play cricket with his three children, a moment they may not be able to repeat when their old man goes. "We wouldn't want to walk away from here having not played well because we have been overcome by emotion," Buchanan said.

It was all enough to leave you wondering whether to cry or throw up.