The Ashes: England fight on thanks to Kevin Pietersen's touch of steel

With Cook's side still not at their best, KP century shows that there is plenty of resilience to go with the skill

Old Trafford

Flair, skill and dedication are important qualities for any successful sports team, but few attributes are as vital as resilience.

England have displayed plenty of it in the last 12 months, yet with Australia chasing the win that would cut England's lead in the Ashes to 2-1 with two Tests to play, they will need to show more steel than ever during the next two days.

When Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell bat fluently together, as they did for nearly three hours yesterday afternoon, the spectators will always feel they have been entertained. The bigger picture, however, is the work the pair did to drag England away from an extremely difficult position.

This is becoming a recurring theme of Alastair Cook's leadership, especially in this series. England deserve their 2-0 lead after two matches and, despite Australia's revival in this, they are clearly the superior side, yet their capacity to perform under pressure, especially with the bat, is extremely admirable. Twice during the Second Investec Test at Lord's, England found themselves three wickets down for 30 or less. On both occasions, they managed to wriggle free. Bell was the inspiration in the first innings there, scoring a century, with Joe Root posting 180 in the second to smooth the path to victory.

It was a similar story here. After more than five sessions in the field, England were two wickets down overnight and then lost their most obdurate players, Cook and Jonathan Trott, before lunch. A less durable team might have been dismissed for less than 200; this side do not make their supporters as nervous as some of their predecessors did.

Trott has passed 50 just once in the series. Cook has not come close to making a century. Still, England are two up. That is the sign of a powerful team. When key men miss out, at least one other does the job.

Those who watched this contest during the 18 years of Australian dominance, between 1987 and 2005, will remember England's rivals showing precisely those characteristics. Many will be the painful memories for cricket fans of seeing Australia four wickets down for not very many, only to check the score a few hours later and notice they were 300 for five. These days, it is a trick at which England have become very proficient. In this series alone, they have moved from 218 for six to 375 all out (Trent Bridge); 28 for three to 271 for four (Lord's); 30 for three to 349 for six (Lord's); and 64 for three to 277 for five (Old Trafford). For a bowling side, these are disheartening statistics indeed.

Bell continued his excellent form with an accomplished 60, but Pietersen was the real man for the crisis, which emphasises the point perfectly. One of the most talented batsmen ever to have played for England, Pietersen is recognised nonetheless as a winner of matches, rather than a player to stave off the prospect of defeat.

One of the 33-year-old's foibles is that opponents can sometimes play on his ego. Pietersen, so the theory goes, becomes bored when he is prevented from scoring quickly, and can be coaxed into give away his wicket by batting with unnecessary adventure. Try as Australia did to tempt him yesterday, Pietersen would not succumb.

His century was not his most stylish; indeed, there was a spell of two hours and fifteen minutes during his innings in which he did not score a boundary. Yet it displayed maturity and restraint, nouns rarely used when discussing Pietersen's batting.

Cook is nearly a year into the job and slowly but surely, the pieces are starting to fall into place. While he took charge of a team packed with competent, experienced Test cricketers, they had suffered a severe wobble in 2012, losing six of Andrew Strauss's final 11 matches as captain.

When Cook's turn came, England's fortunes could have gone either way, and he lost his first Test as skipper, against India in Ahmedabad last November. England have not been beaten in the ten completed Tests since that nine-wicket defeat.

England's best period in recent years ran from the start of the 2010-11 Ashes series, which they won 3-1 in Australia, until the end of the summer of 2011. England reached the top of the world Test rankings during that spell, beating India with a 4-0 whitewash at home.

Cook's team are not quite there. You could argue that they have not been at their best this summer, yet they have still prevailed in all four Tests. That is a menacing message to send to the cricketing world, whatever the outcome here.

Barmy Army set to be 50,000 strong for winter's Ashes invasion Down Under

Cricket Australia officials are predicting an invasion of up to 50,000 England fans for this winter's Ashes series in Australia. Following the successes of the British and Irish Lions and football friendlies involving Manchester United and Liverpool against A-League opponents, CA are expecting a bumper pay day in ticket and merchandise sales.

The first three days of the Perth, Adelaide and Sydney Tests sold out within days with 330,000 tickets already sold across the five Test-match venues. The first day of the Boxing Day Test at the 100,000 capacity Melbourne Cricket Ground is most in demand. The MCG have sold 46,784 tickets so far and if this continues attendance and revenue records could both be broken.

England's 2006-07 Ashes tour injected Aus$317 million (£186.5m) into Australia's economy, but revenues are expected to be even greater this time. "Our focus is on putting on a great series of matches for the fans, and there's a range of benefits that flow from that," said Cricket Australia's spokesman, Matthew Slade.

About 30,000 Brits followed the Lions tour while visits by Manchester United and Liverpool added an extra £15m to the economies of NSW and Victoria.

Ahmer Khokhar

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'