Prudence pays off for Pietersen
England's batting maverick takes a rare risk-free strategy to carve out consolation victory
Sunday 29 October 2006
Somehow, England fashioned a one-day victory last night. It was not a fluent victory and it was meaningless in the context of a tournament from which they had already been eliminated. But it was still worth contemplating a call to the Mayor of London to see if Trafalgar Square was free today for ticker-tape parade.
They were indebted for the three-wicket win (aren't they always) to Kevin Pietersen, whose ice-cool temperament saw the team home against West Indies with nine balls to spare in a Champions Trophy match that was effectively a dead rubber. He made 90 not out, sedate by his standards until the fearsome finish, but never lost sight of the objective while others were blinded by its difficulty. For long enough, chasing 273, the highest target of the tournament proper, England seemed to have messed it up after a sound beginning. They kept losing wickets and 82 for 0 became 180 for 5.
Pietersen has seen enough wickets fall at the other end to know how to manage a disaster. He remains a maddening batsman because the manner in which plays means he can get out. But he took nary a needless risk. How valuable he is to England in every form of cricket. It was his 13th score above 50 in 36 one-day innings. The key was the 47th over, from which 16 runs came including two Pietersen fours, the first a Chinese cut narrowly missing leg stump. He decided on a booming finish with a four and a six over long-off to bring the scores level.
The fickle pitch at the Sardar Patel Stadium had changed its nature. From having capricious bounce and being untrustworthy it suddenly appeared to offer the bold batsman something other than a quick end.
Initially, it was uncertain whether this was more to do with the England bowlers having another off day. But, no, strokes actually could be played and were.
Two of the West Indians made centuries, the first two in 11 matches of the competition proper. It almost had to be England who conceded them. Chris Gayle's controlled 100 was his 14th one-day hundred, Dwayne Bravo's scintillating effort was his first.
England's most economical bowler was Jonathan Lewis, playing his first game of the tournament in place of Stephen Harmison. Harmison, utterly bereft of form, needs the overs but Lewis deserved a bash. With respect to Lewis, and he deserves it, the bowler whom all England observers wanted to see was Andrew Flintoff. He bowled in a match for the first time since April. Only five overs but they were gold dust. "I'm relieved more than anything else," he said.
The win, which at least demonstrated that great stand-by commodity, pride, was welcome. But by and large it simply has not been good enough. Unfortunately, the suspicion follows that a similar stricture might apply to the team as a whole in their present form.
Six months away from the ninth World Cup - in whose sixth, seventh and eighth incarnations they have performed woefully - and England have just lost two straight matches in the mini-version to go out before gathering a win. It is possible that they will be the surprise package in the Caribbean when the action begins in March, as their coach, Duncan Fletcher, almost wistfully averred the other day, but the marine has not yet enlisted who would believe it.
For three weeks it has been faithfully and repeatedly recorded that this trip has nothing to do with the Ashes. Different format, different conditions. Up to a point, Lord Fletcher, which the coach should obviously become (and for nowt) if he can plot victory in Australia.
But when players began falling over themselves to get into theatre for orthopaedic surgery, this competition was always concerned with their rehabilitation in time for November. In a normal year, Ashley Giles would not have been brought along simply to bowl in the nets and train his socks off. In a normal year, Andrew Flintoff would not have been picked only as a batsman. In a normal year, Michael Yardy would not have been batting at No 4 for England.
In his way, Yardy came to sum up the one-day confusion in which England find themselves. It was announced at the start of the Champions Trophy that he was the designated No 4. A bit of an eyebrow-raiser that because he only bats at five for Sussex in one-day cricket. As it happened, Yardy batted there once and England had three different players there in the three matches in the competition - Andrew Flintoff, against Australia, and Paul Collingwood yesterday were the others. Between them they have mustered eight runs.
The thinking behind this (unless they realised poor Yardy was not quite up to it) was the need for flexibility. But England are barely experienced enough to be flexible. England can hardly start introducing new blood now. The returns of Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan should be contemplated with different perspectives. But both men are needed.
Yardy was unfortunate to be out last night. The ball clearly did not carry to long-off but equally he was never comfortable. Others were out when they should not have been: Strauss, after making another 50, cutting, Bell dashing for a quick single, Flintoff holing out to long on, Chris Read chipping to midwicket and failing yet again in one-day cricket. It looked ominous. Why? Pietersen made it a cakewalk.
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