Kevin Pietersen played probably the most restrained innings of his Test career at Lord's yesterday. It did a job for England, it prevented Australia's bowlers from getting on a roll... and it was pretty hard to watch.
Hopefully those people who have been particularly biting in their criticism of Pietersen's more outrageous dismissals – the top-edged sweep against a virtual wide at Cardiff a week or so ago springs instantly to mind – enjoyed every second of a two-and-a-half-hour journey to 44.
No one-legged "flamingo" shots, no hooks for six over the man at long leg and not even the merest hint of a switch hit. Lovely. If you like that sort of thing. But, funnily enough, 30,000 spectators who had come to the home of cricket hoping for excitement seemed just a tad disappointed.
Matt Prior, with a sparkling innings of 61 from 42 balls, brought many of those fans to their feet last night before rain intervened and prevented a late declaration. And, with a lead of 521 in the bank, England are confident they can beat Australia over the next couple of days with Prior saying: "We are in a great position and believe we have the firepower and the skill to do the job."
Whatever the result, though, there must be worries about their limping and out of sorts No 4.
Of course Pietersen has been guilty of giving his wicket away too easily in the past, and to end up as a great player, rather than an extremely good one, he needs to learn from at least a few of his mistakes. There is something painfully not right about him at the moment, however, and it's hard to work what he needs most: a spell on the psychologist's couch or a trip to the surgeon's table.
Most people love to be loved and, for all his apparent brashness, one suspects Pietersen could do with a bit of cricketing tlc right now. Barely six months have passed since he had the captaincy taken away, for reasons which remain a mystery to him, and, in the wake of Cardiff, he must wonder why he cops so much flak - and is scrutinised so closely - when things go wrong.
All of which is mere conjecture, of course. It is a plain fact, though, that Pietersen continues to struggle with an Achilles problem that has pained him, on and off, for four months and will not go away while he is busy playing almost non-stop cricket.
The hobble was there for all too see yesterday and one cannot recall him looking so ill at ease at the crease at any time during his four-year-old Test career.
True, he began by going down the pitch to spinner Nathan Hauritz and lofting a boundary. But Australia captain Ricky Ponting promptly replaced the slow bowler with paceman Ben Hilfenhaus and Pietersen immediately struggled in both attack and defence.
A batsman generally so decisive, for better or worse, was tentative, unsure what to leave and what to play and almost being run out when he - and his concentration - wandered following a snick onto pad.
The crowd tried to help, roaring their appreciation for a pulled single. But just when it looked like KP might be breaking free through hitting a couple of boundaries, he inside edged a catch behind and an innings to forget was over.
Thanks principally to Prior, though, runs soon came at a rush. "We've had a fantastic day, reached our goals and deserve to be in this position," said the wicketkeeper. "It's up to us over the next two days to push it home and we are all very determined not to let it slip.
"We bowled them out for 215 in the first innings and it's the same wicket. We've all played enough cricket to know you are never in a position where you can't lose but we are certainly going to be putting Australia under a lot of pressure."Reuse content