Pietersen stumped by lack of consistency, not other faults
Sunday 29 June 2008
Kevin Pietersen is a stranger to doubt. In a press conference held only 24 hours after his abrupt promotion last Thursday, he said: "If we do everything we've talked about doing I'll be standing back and sucking a cigar at mid-off." When the talking stopped and play started England's brand new captain was at mid-off, mid-on, gully and extra-cover, but there was no cigar and when he batted there was still no standing back, no reward. At another conference, after England's defeat, he said the performance had been disappointing "but I'm not going to lose any sleep about it".
Looking relaxed and wearing a necklace of beads, Pietersen spoke as if he had been playing a different game than the one we watched. "We didn't have a bad day in the field," he said. "Everything went according to plan." He did concede that England didn't bat well; the problem is inconsistency. Why? "I haven't a clue."
Leading a team that is one bowler short helps speed up the learning experience. Paul Collingwood was paying the price of a poor over-rate at The Oval last Wednesday and his only appearance at Lord's yesterday was in the shadow behind the French window in the dressing room, and on the cover of the programme.
Pietersen used seven bowlers, including Owais Shah, but not himself. Last summer Shah bowled 30.1 overs for Middlesex and took no wickets for 137 runs. Pietersen has bowled for England, without much success it is true, but he might have done better to try for a personal bravura cameo with the ball. Shah bowled three overs instead and they went for 30 runs. The three bowlers who took Collingwood's place went for 72 runs, but Pietersen did not complain: "You realise your options."
Pietersen had carefully conserved his pace attack so that they could bowl the crucial last six overs in the New Zealand innings, but they leaked 65 runs, giving him an early lesson in the impotence of a captain faced with bold, in-form batsmen at the end of a one-day innings. Enough runs had been conceded to make an England victory a bet against the odds. Clearly, it was going to be hard to light that cigar.
His big moment came at 53 for 1, when Ian Bell was out lbw. The burden of responsibility grew greater shortly after when Alastair Cook was caught behind off Tim Southee's second ball. Pietersen played carefully, as though preparing himself for a substantial innings.
His circumspection seemed like good news. Here was a man digging himself in for a captain's innings that would help define his career as the leader. After 22 balls he had scored only six runs, with no boundaries. The 23rd was bowled by Southee, outside off stump with a bit of bounce, and it was a disaster as Pietersen casually carved it to backward point, where Jacob Oram took a regulation catch. Pietersen looked fairly troubled. So he might.
Pietersen can be an overbearing figure who sometimes gives the impression that only he knows best, so it is interesting that he proposes to captain the side by establishing a consensus.
When he explained his first decision as captain – to field first on a decent batting wicket, he made it clear that this was a collective decision. The England dressing room had decided they would rather chase than set a target.
After Collingwood's suspension, England fielded like a bunch of penitents. The over-rate was 14 an hour and stayed there for the duration of the innings. The fielding was not free from silly errors, but it was always enthusiastic and instead of dawdling the players were ready to go as soon as a new batsman arrived at the crease.
But that was the only improvement on the poor performances in earlier matches in the series. "I don't think it's a catastrophe. Today was great fun," said the new skipper.
But if it carries on like this, Pietersen will begin to learn all about doubt.
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