Wednesday 20 September 2017

Pietersen adapting to harsh new realities

Kevin Pietersen
Kevin Pietersen

Derek Pringle

Bowlers win Test series and if you wanted further evidence of why Australia's have decided this one, look no further than Kevin Pietersen's innings of 67 at the MCG, in front of a world-record crowd of 91,092.

Pietersen has built a reputation from flogging bowling attacks and milking big moments such as this. But yesterday, as he has done all series, he was constrained by Australia's bowling and fielding, his 245-minute unbeaten innings more vigil than banquet.

The other day, Pietersen said he was batting as well as he had ever done, which caused more than one quizzical eyebrow to be raised given his run of low scores. But maybe he is right and Australia just happen to have found a way of bowling at him that does not allow him to dominate bowlers as he once did.

Their tactic is simple and one England's bowlers executed well themselves last time, when they won 3-1. Maiden overs build pressure, which leads to wickets. Mitchell Johnson has licence to bowl fast and experiment but the others just plug away, looking to bowl maidens.

Pietersen has been made to work hard for his runs, as have all England's batsmen, but he also has tried to break the shackles with some bold shots, failing at almost every attempt. He put it down to fortune not favouring the bold, but that may have turned yesterday when he was dropped twice playing cross-bat shots.

The first, when he was on six, was a hook off Ryan Harris which Nathan Coulter-Nile, on as substitute, caught running backwards but took over the rope for six as he lost his balance. The other occasion, when he had made 41, was also off Harris, but this time a pull shot to George Bailey at midwicket.

Pietersen will have the satisfaction of knowing that he has overtaken Geoffrey Boycott (who amassed 8,114) as England's fourth highest run-scorer in Tests, a feat he achieved when he reached 63.

Boycott has called him a mug and insisted that he be dropped, but there would surely have been a smidgen of appreciation for his application yesterday.

WATCHFUL

For all his studied front-foot strokes, watchful defence and occasional histrionics, Pietersen was the only batsman to convert his start into a half-century.

All of the others reached double figures, the standard measurement for a 'start.' Alastair Cook looked more fluent than at any stage of the series, after Michael Clarke had won the toss and asked him to bat first. But having breezed to 27 he got drawn into playing at one away from his body by Peter Siddle, the drip-drip of dot balls inducing the folly.

Cook said in his pre-match press conference that he would be looking within to make improvements to his captaincy, but his runs are the one thing England have missed most, not his bowling changes.

Like Pietersen, the zen-like discipline of Australia's attack has dried up his favourite scoring shots and forced him to look elsewhere for his runs. His tally of 181 runs from seven innings at 25.9 is a disaster for a man whose Test average is 47.

Michael Carberry was another to get out when well set. Although fortunate to be reprieved when Steve Smith dropped him on two at third slip off Harris, he settled thereafter to play the Australians at their own game, cutting anything short hard and high over the gully. That drop had looked like it would prove costly too until Shane Watson, bowling around the wicket, swung one in to the left-hander and he was bowled not offering a stroke.

Watson hobbled off during his seventh over after tweaking his groin but that did not reduce Australia's potency, as Joe Root discovered when Harris returned and swung one away to take the edge of his bat.

Ian Bell looked set for his first significant score of the series, after adding 67 with Pietersen, but Harris' strength got the old ball to nip off the pitch and Bell continued his run of nearly scores with 27, nicking one to Brad Haddin.

Then the pattern imprinted in the previous Tests came into play with Johnson, only an occasional threat in his earlier spells, turning on the pace and intensity for the lower order. Ben Stokes was beaten for pace as he edged the second new ball to Watson at first slip.

Thirteen balls from Johnson later and Jonny Bairstow followed him, the fast bowler rearranging his stumps through a wide gate between bat and pad as England finished the day on 226-6. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

AUSTRALIA V ENGLAND,

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