Monday 23 October 2017

England hopes rest on Kevin Pietersen as Ashes struggle continues

Kevin Pietersen
Kevin Pietersen

David Clough

Kevin Pietersen showed an exemplary determination to battle for every run in front of a world-record 91,092 full house at the MCG.

England's most mercurial batsman had to rein in his crowd-pleasing instincts to try to keep the tourists competitive - and it was that element of Pietersen's unbeaten 67 which most impressed Ian Bell.

This was England's first Test day without Graeme Swann - following his mid-series retirement, with the Ashes already lost - while another cornerstone of many successes over the past five years was also missing, after they dropped out-of-form wicketkeeper Matt Prior.

The tourists were indebted to Pietersen and Bell, who were were unable to dominate but still put on 67 together out of 226 for six.

Pietersen managed just four boundaries and a six - a mishook which very nearly brought his early downfall but was instead carried over the rope by substitute fielder Nathan Coulter-Nile.

He therefore went past Geoff Boycott into fourth place among England's top all-time Test runscoreres during his hard-working innings, and Bell made it clear how highly his efforts were valued.

"He probably wasn't at his most fluent - as with a lot of us on this trip.

"So it's great signs to see him scrap it out."

Pietersen has been criticised in some quarters this winter for getting out, when set, to especially ambitious shots.

But Bell said: "He is outstanding.

"He does play an aggressive game, and sometimes - at the WACA, you get caught at long on [in the third Test] - it doesn't look particularly great.

"But the number of games he's won in the past, there's not many players like that in world cricket.

"If you want one guy to go out there to try to get us up to a competitive score, it would be KP."

Pietersen was not the only batsman who had to grind out his runs, after Australia put England in under cloudy skies at the start of this fourth Test.

Conditions brightened, and it became apparent the pitch favoured bat over ball - but Australia's disciplined attack is so high on confidence that easy scoring opportunities were very rare.

"It was (attritional)," added Bell.

"Obviously, it was a little bit disappointing we couldn't get the scoring rate up a bit more.

"But credit to Australia again - the way they bowled as a unit, on a pretty good pitch.

"It has made it hard work, and they must be full of confidence. They deserve to be - they've outplayed us in all three disciplines (in this series so far).

"For us, it's a real scrap. But at least the guys are showing some fight."

After 15 days of Ashes cricket this winter, England still have just one individual century - to Australia's seven.

Bell is all too aware that is a damning statistic.

"It was even more disappointing that we got a lot of starts there, from the top six - and not going on has been a little bit of a trend ... a habit ... for a while now.

"It is massively frustrating. As a batter, you can take getting knocked over up front early - which can happen to anyone.

"But when you do the hard work, get to 30, and then get out, that's when it hurts a lot more as a batsman.

"We need to correct that and get back to scoring big runs. There's no point hiding away from that.

"We've still got Kev there for the morning, and if he has a good couple of hours things can change very quickly."

Hard as they tried, even Bell and Pietersen could not get on top of an attack in which Ryan Harris was once again the linchpin.

"Personally, your intent is always to get on and score runs.

"It's not to survive. If you try to (just) do that, you're going to get one at some point.

"You have to put pressure on the bowlers.

"I was trying to do that. But Australia were very good, and bowled well in partnerships - as they have done all series."

Harris conceded just 32 runs in 20 overs - and produced a wonderful delivery to get rid of Bell, among his two wickets.

Yet he said: "We didn't bowl at the start as well as we would have liked.

"If you win the toss and bowl, you want to make sure you're firing from both ends.

"We probably didn't do that. Once again we pulled it back."

With Prior out of the team, Jonny Bairstow was given the gloves for England but his batting also failed, being cleaned up for 10 by Mitchell Johnson.

The paceman had been given some stick by England's travelling fans prior to that - evoking memories of tours past - but the dismissal allowed him and his team-mates to have the last laugh with a uniformed finger-to-the-mouth gesture in the Barmy Army's direction.

"They had just finished telling us how s*** he was bowling and he just smacked back the off stump so we thought we'd let them know as team," Harris added.

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