Kevin Pietersen scored his third slowest half-century in Tests on Friday. It contained none of the flamboyance, flair, aggression, arrogance that his innings are usually termed with. People may have found it boring and as a chance squandered to win the fifth Ashes Test and seal the series 4-0. But there is a lot more to it, writes Shrikant Shankar.
Every single run taken in the final session was being treated with thunderous applause. If one might have just tuned in at that time, they would have thought that the batting team was nearing a small target and the home fans were enjoying the moment. But there was more than just sarcasm associated with those cheers and applauses. In a way, the batting team was being taunted and jeered.
Exactly 98.3 overs were bowled on Friday to accommodate a few extra overs for the lost time on Day Two. England, however, only managed to score 215 runs in the entire day. They began the day at 32 for no loss and ended the day on 247 for four. One could say that Day Three of the fifth Ashes 2013 Test was hardly riveting. Heavy rains are forecasted for Saturday and on Sunday. The match already seems to be headed for a drab draw.
Joe Root scored a slow but composed 68. Jonathan Trott’s cautious knock was worth 40 runs. Kevin Pietersen reached his 32nd half-century in Tests. But the highlight of the day was not Pietersen’s personal milestone, nor him being presented with a Silver Bat for becoming the highest run-scorer for England in all forms of the game — it was how long he took to achieve his milestone. Pietersen took 127 balls to get to his half-century. Then six balls later he was out. At stumps, England trailed Australia’s 492 for nine by 245 runs.
Now there are two ways to look at Pietersen’s innings. First, he was looking into the future and was playing for a draw — due to the heavy showers forecasted. Second, it is not in Pietersen’s nature to score this slowly — so the wicket did not permit him to play his usual shots. This is a man whose strike-rate in Test cricket is above 60, which is considered quite fast.
Experts and fans have taken absolutely no time in branding Alastair Cook’s men as negative and not wanting to win the series 4-0. Yes, Australia scored very quickly in their first innings — their runs coming at a rate of 3.81 per over. Shane Watson scored his magnificent 176 in only 247 balls. Steven Smith’s unbeaten 138 came in 241 balls. So, why did all the England batsmen score so slowly?
When Australia batted, the sun was out on a flat track. The ball did not do much off the surface, nor did it do much in the air. The fact that Watson scored so freely despite in-form batsmen coming into the Test — Chris Rogers and Michael Clarke — struggled, showed Watson’s sheer brilliance on the day. When England batted, there was not a lot of sun and it was cloudy and the threat of rain loomed every now and again. The ball had that zip off the surface and did a bit more in the air.
While Root hit 11 fours in his innings, Pietersen only got four. It was not one of those innings from Pietersen that we have become accustomed with. The flamboyance, flair, aggression, arrogance was certainly missing. In fact, his dismissal came after he played one of those aggressive and arrogant shots. Driving hard, away from the body, to an extremely wide delivery from Mitchell Starc and edging it to Watson at first slip. There were a couple of more occasions where he could have lost his wicket before that to shots that we have associated him with over the years.
He hung in there when the going was not easy. He ate away deliveries and could have just made sure England does not lose the match. There is a notion that Australia were never going to lose this match after piling close to 500 runs in their first innings and with all the rain about to come. So, why take all the trouble and go into a position where England actually lose the match and hand Australia the momentum going into the return Ashes? England are far from being the finished product. So, them winning the five-match series 3-0 should be enjoyed by their supporters, not frowned up on for not winning it 4-0.
Pietersen showed a lot of grit on Friday and patience to help his team. He has been accused of not playing for the team in the past. He has also been accused of getting out quickly by playing rash shots. If he is getting flak for his slow innings, then it seems he is in a no-win scenario. There is a saying that it does not matter how you get, as long as you get them. His century at Old Trafford saved them from losing. His half-century at The Oval probably has saved them from losing again.
Rain permitting, there is still a lot of cricket to be played in the match. But until then, just like eight years ago, Pietersen’s innings at The Oval helps England in an Ashes Test. Back in 2005, his 158 helped England win the Ashes after 18 years. Now in 2013, his 50 might help England remain undefeated in the series and win three back-to-back Ashes campaigns.
(Shrikant Shankarpreviously worked with Mobile ESPN, where he did audio commentary for many matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20. He has also written many articles involving other sports for ESPNSTAR.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)