Kevin Pietersen, flashing his diamonds and showing off the biggest watch in Switzerland, had had a good day. He had batted for two sessions and more, and Shane Warne had not thrown the ball at him, as he did in Brisbane, nor sworn at him. These were symptoms of the latest round in the absorbing struggle for supremacy between two great players.
Pietersen says Warne is "the greatest bowler that walked this planet". But he was not great enough to provoke Pietersen into getting himself out. "I won the battle," he said after the second day's play. For proof turn to the stats. Pietersen, 158 off 257 balls with 15 fours and a six. Warne: 1 for 167 off 53 overs. Game to Pietersen. Set and match still to be decided.
Fearful of the damage Pietersen caused in the second innings at Brisbane (92) and the ease with which he accumulated 60 runs on day one here, Warne was a man in search of a strategy yesterday. Since his conventional armoury had caused few problems, he chose a controversial method which has been much criticised when deployed by lesser men.
He went round the wicket to Pietersen, and the game within a game began. The idea is to strangle right-handed batsmen by bowling a defensive line on or outside the leg stump. Warne claims that this is an aggressive, positive move. But when Ashley Giles deployed it against Sachin Tendulkar, the theory was that it just wasn't cricket.
Some whingeing Aussies have bemoaned England's scoring rate at Adelaide, and here was their hero bowling in a manner designed to reduce the run rate even further. Warne did not appear to defend himself at the day-end press conferences. The Australian coach, John Buchanan, spoke for him.
"Sometimes you can't always be as entertaining as you would like, but there was always a danger for any right-hander. Shane always has a plan in mind, is always trying to get players out."
The combat was close. When Warne came on at 12.10pm, Pietersen had moved steadily towards his hundred, and Warne's tactical device did not deter him from the shots that brought a four and a three that took him from 92 to 99. He got the single he needed in the next over and, having demonstrated that he could score runs when he pleased, he exposed Warne's defensive strategy by shutting up shop.
Warne bowled down the leg side. Because there was no chance of an lbw, Pietersen lunged forward to take the delivery on his left leg, arms raised high above his head to avoid accidental contact with the ball. This was repeated ball after ball, over after over.
In the 30 minutes before lunch, Pietersen scored only two runs, and he was no less judicious for 30 minutes after lunch. Once, having padded up, he lobbed the ball contemptuously back.
The equation was simple. Warne knows that Pieter-sen's style is combative, aggressive. He was trying to wear down Pietersen, and provoke him into a false stroke. Pietersen knew what Warne was trying to do. "As soon as he comes round the wicket, it's just a case of patience," he said. "It was a case of thinking positively and knowing what to do."
Collingwood helped by counselling patience and more patience. "The boy [Collingwood] did well, and they [the Australians] were quieter," Pietersen said. When Pietersen began to score freely again, it was clear Warne's tactic had failed, though Buchanan refused to recognise this as a defeat. "It was a bit of a stalemate, because we had two great players deadlocked at the time."
When deadlock ended, Pietersen proceeded dashingly towards his highest score in Test cricket. That is 158 (thrice), but it was not a bowler who dashed the new record. He was run out, and left the pitch to a standing ovation.
The game continued after the close of play. Pietersen can be ingenuous when he chooses, and his tactic was to seek refuge in cliché. He claimed the battle had not been personal. "I don't play the man. It's a case of playing the red ball, because that's what gets you out."
No doubt the man thought he was playing the man, but they were not enquiring after each other's motive. Unlike 2005, when Warne regarded Pietersen as a learner and offered advice, no words were exchanged: "It's not friendly any more." That makes it even more intriguing.Reuse content