Wonder catch denies Pietersen chance to make real progress

Signs of improvement but batsman contributes to own downfall
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The Independent Online

The doubters are unlikely to be convinced by three boundaries and an hour and a bit of toil in testing conditions, but Kevin Pietersen will come good again before he is much older. Events here must have convinced even his most loyal supporter, though, that this return to star man status will be no stroll in the park.

Having been off centre stage for nearly a month, Pietersen's comeback from a thigh injury was almost scuppered when he stumbled on a stray football during Wednesday's final practice session before the First Test against Pakistan.

Then, going out to bat on Thursday, he found someone had tied his bootlaces together, or at least that is how it looked while England's No 4 struggled horribly, and hopelessly, against Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif. But if real proof were needed that the cricketing gods have decided Pietersen must serve a bit more time before being allowed to rediscover his golden touch, yesterday provided it.

Despite having a first innings lead of 172, England were up against it when Pietersen joined Jonathan Trott in the middle. Aamer and Asif, having already accounted for Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook, looked capable of making the new ball sing and the new arrival began almost as tentatively as he had done two days earlier.

Slowly but surely, though, Pietersen started not only to find his feet but also to put them in the right places. Advancing a pace or two down the pitch, he whipped Asif wide of mid-on and then, fortified by lunch, the increasingly confident batsman produced a cracking on drive once Pakistan's third seamer, Umar Gul, had entered the contest. With one bound he was free? Err, no.

There are many unlucky ways to lose your wicket. Run out without facing a ball and treading on your stumps spring to mind. But, on the evidence of what had gone on before at Trent Bridge, being brilliantly caught, one-handed, off an inside edge by Kamran Akmal while Pakistan's keeper was diving full length down the leg side has to be right up there in the "I don't believe it" category.

Akmal, you may recall, dropped the simplest chance on the first day of this Test when Strauss edged straight to him. And much of his other handiwork – he shelled a catch off Paul Collingwood immediately after taking that Pietersen purler – has been so shoddy that kit manufacturers may be queuing up to offer him a sponsorship not to wear their gloves.

But while Pietersen could count himself unfortunate to fall foul of what could be the catch of the series, he did not have to aim an ambitious off drive at a ball that was not there for the shot. Yes, it was encouraging to see him striving to take charge again but, having worked hard for 77 minutes, he stood accused of giving it away – and not for the first time.

Although some critics may find it difficult to accept, Pietersen and hard work do go hand in hand. He has worked relentlessly in the nets since recovering from injury and was back in them on Friday evening, taking throw-downs, and technical advice, from batting coach Graham Gooch even as drizzle turned to steady rain.

It is in the middle, though, that the 30-year-old needs to start spending long hours, and making big runs. Not since Port of Spain, March 2009, has Pietersen scored a Test century. That was 22 innings ago, and while a knock of 99 in Bangladesh in March, suggested he had turned a corner, describing KP as "England's best batsman" no longer rings true.

Maybe it never did for some folk, who have always regarded him as too flashy and too self indulgent. But while England now have decent options for most positions, Pietersen remains the top order player most likely to turn a Test on its head.

There are three more Tests against Pakistan for Pietersen to put the record straight. Rest assured, no one will be celebrating more than Australia if he is still searching come November.

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