Kevin Pietersen would have been well within his rights to call his fellow batsmen into the visitors' dressing room at McLean Park to ask them to explain their pitiful performance on the opening day of the series-deciding Third Test against New Zealand. Without Pietersen, who scored a chanceless 129 to rescue Michael Vaughan's side from the dire position of 4 for 3 on a faultless pitch, England's hopes of winning their first overseas series in three years would already have disappeared.
Pietersen's hundred, the 11th of his Test career and the first by an England batsman in a first innings for eight Tests, helped disguise the inadequacies of his fellow willow-wielders. Tim Southee bowled beautifully on debut, taking 3 for 46 in 21 impressive overs. The 19-year-old claimed the scalp of Vaughan with his 11th ball in Test cricket, Andrew Strauss six deliveries later and Pietersen with the second new ball. Not bad for a first day at the office.
Southee has a simple yet strong action that allows him to hit the pitch hard and swing the ball away from the bat. Even so, he should not have been allowed to cause such havoc on what is widely regarded as the best batting pitch in New Zea-land. Jeetan Patel, an exciting young off-spinner, took two wickets without spinning a ball.
Strauss and Ian Bell both played poor shots, and the immediate Test future of the pair should be in jeopardy. The selectors cannot allow such inadequate batting from England's top six, with the obvious exception of Pietersen, to continue. The bowling was given a shake-up before the Second Test in Wellington, when Matthew Hoggard and Stephen Harmison were dropped, and it worked; the batsmen, it appears, need a similar boot up the backside.
The bounce and pace of the pitch suited Pietersen's style of batting, as it should the rest of the side. When he was on strike the surface seemed what it is, beautiful to bat on. England's No 4 played superbly, putting the bad balls away for four and taking the easy singles when Daniel Vettori, the New Zealand captain, set the field back. Yet when his colleagues were on strike the pitch was suddenly transformed into a minefield, so circumspect and inept was their play. Stuart Broad was the second-best batsman on show.
The moment that best summed up England's plight was Pietersen's reaction to reaching three figures. Edging through the slips for four is, admittedly, not the most stylish way to attain a landmark but it has never before stopped, him from making the most of the moment. Yet on posting his hundred, Pietersen walked down the pitch, patted the spot where the ball had landed before calmly removing his helmet, raising his arms and acknowledging applause from a healthy crowd. When he was finally out for 129, driving loosely to gully, he had scored 62 per cent of England's runs.
"The match situation did not have it for me to go and prance and jump around like a cake," said Pietersen. "If we were two down and in a whole lot better position I'm sure I would have been a bit more extravagant, but my head wasn't in that space.
"I knew I had to stick in there. We were in a pretty big hole when I came out to bat, losing your top three batters like that. We did not help ourselves out, and it had to be a scrapping day again. It was a really important time for us and I was just working in tens and trying to get a partnership going."
Pietersen saved a special wave for his wife, Jessica, who chose not to return to England for a friend's wedding to help her husband through the first real trough of his international career. "Jessica was due to go home on 12 March but she stayed on to give me support," said Pietersen. "She was due back for a wedding but knew I wasn't in as happy a place as I have been, which is great, as I love having family around."
In the build-up to the Test, Vaughan suggested that Pieter-sen's exceptional talent and record meant that people's expectations for him were too high. For most batsmen, scoringa hundred is not an everyday occurrence, yet when Pietersen goes five Tests without reaching three figures, as he hasthis winter, some believe the sky is falling in on his remarkable career.
"I think there maybe are unrealistic expectations made of me," he said. "I am not a robot. I always knew that I would go through a patch when I didn't score for a while. Hopefully that patch [has gone] and the cricket gods are with me. Players go through series when they're in a drought. It happens. Every player, even Ricky Ponting, goes through it.
"What fun would life be if everything was hunky-dory all the time? I like to fight and be challenged. I like to be tough, and I have challenged myself on this tour.
"I have worked harder here than ever before because I have really, really wanted to be successful and it has eventually happened. I am really happy with the way I have played and the outcome. I have been playing pretty well most of the winter but only scored thirties and forties, which is frustrating, but if you put the hard work in you will eventually get rewarded."
Nobody who has watched England train would doubt the hard work the batsmen are putting in, but it will continue to be wasted unless they start modifying their games and using their brains.
England won toss
England – First Innings
A N Cook b Martin 2 (28 min, 21 balls)
M P Vaughan lbw b Southee 2 (15 min, 11 balls)
A J Strauss c How b Southee 0 (8 min, 6 balls)
K P Pietersen c How b Southee 129 (294 min, 208 balls, 12 fours, 1 six)
I R Bell c and b Elliott 9 (68 min, 58 balls, 1 four)
P D Collingwood c Elliott b Patel 30 (96 min, 82 balls, 6 fours)
†T R Ambrose c Taylor b Patel 11 (39 min, 38 balls, 1 four)
S C J Broad not out 42 (126 min, 102 balls, 5 fours, 1 six)
R J Sidebottom not out 3 (41 min, 27 balls)
Extras (lb8, w3, nb1) 12
Total (7 wkts, 361 min, 92 overs) 240
Fall: 1-4 (Vaughan), 2-4 (Strauss), 3-4 (Cook), 4-36 (Bell), 5-125 (Collingwood), 6-147 (Ambrose), 7-208 (Pietersen).
To bat: M S Panesar, J M Anderson.
Bowling: Martin 24-5-71-1 (w2), Southee 21-8-46-3 (w1), Elliott 10-2-27-1, Vettori 19-6-51-0, Patel18-3-37-2 (nb1).
Pietersen 50: 105 min, 74 balls, 4 fours. 100: 235 min, 163 balls, 10 fours.
New Zealand: M D Bell, J M How, S P Fleming, L R P L Taylor, M S Sinclair, G D Elliott, †B B McCullum, *D L Vettori, J S Patel, T G Southee, C S Martin.
Umpires: D J Harper (Aus) and R E Koertzen (SA).
Third umpire: G A V Baxter. Match referee: J Srinath (Ind).Reuse content