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Peter English at Perth
December 15, 2006
Although the Ashes are a theoretical two sessions from being claimed, Australia need to think long-term about Pietersen. In two series he has been England's most dominant player with 811 runs at 57.93 and Ponting has already worked through an alphabet of plans without stumbling on a useful pattern.
Andrew Strauss has been exposed hooking and flashing, Alastair Cook's small step towards cover-point instead of a big one to mid-off has led to regular edges, Andrew Flintoff has been strangled with wide balls and heavy feet while Geraint Jones has happily skewed full balls to gully. Even Paul Collingwood, who escaped so successfully in the first two Tests, finally fell today as a result of his jumping, back-foot approach and fed Matthew Hayden in the gully.
For Pietersen there has been no calculated breakthrough and few hints for the future. Today he eventually succumbed to Ponting's defensive ring of at least five outfielders, but as the ploy began before lunch, when Pietersen was 27 and England were 122 behind, and he did not err until he was 70, it does not need to be toasted.
Not only did the boundary riders encourage Pietersen to strike hard in the hope of clearing or passing them, but the theory eased the pressure on England's tail. The lower order spent time at the crease, adjusted to the conditions and gained a measure of control by having the option of refusing singles from the arrival of Matthew Hoggard, the No. 9. The balance of power did not swing, but Australia's momentum - and the game's - stalled as they shifted from being in total command to waiting for a mistake.
Rather than a swift conclusion from 7 for 128 using traditional methods, Australia were still chasing the final wicket as tea approached. Pietersen controlled stands of 27 and 20 before the final pair of Steve Harmison and Monty Panesar added an innings-high 40. The numbers are small but in a low-scoring game they could grow in significance.
While Hoggard remained Pietersen was content to chip away, but when Harmison appeared he allowed himself to chase conventional and ridiculous boundaries. Following a 15-run attack on a Shane Warne over, Australia finally achieved their wish of luring Pietersen into a deadly error. Drawing him into a massive shot appears the over-riding ploy and during his 92 at Brisbane and his 158 at Adelaide he was too clever to be baited. Testing his arrogance seems to work only when the innings is in decline.
Pietersen arrived to feel his driving under extreme focus with a mid-off and midwicket almost in line with the bowler's end stumps and a very straight mid-on. Two slips, a floating man and a gully were there for the nick from the bowling of Stuart Clark and a thick edge went over the cordon for four. It was a rare moment of uncertainty.
As Ponting grew more cautious deeper men were planted on the offside drive and the straight mid-on remained, with Brett Lee trying to entice the batsman to hit across the line to the acres of legside space. A couple of boundaries were pulled and Pietersen brought up another half-century.
Glenn McGrath had given Pietersen singles in a bid to target Hoggard and in delivering an end-of-over bouncer had seen Pietersen charge him and swat a run to retain the strike. It was not a sign of batting desperation and showed McGrath's lack of influence when Pietersen is around. A similar lack of respect has been shown to Warne, whose only real success came when Pietersen misjudged a sweep in the second innings at Adelaide. Warne has tried bowling around the wicket into the rough during the second Test, working over the wicket, giving the ball air, spearing it in and verbal needles for few signs of encouragement.
Two of the game's greatest bowlers have been unable to pierce Pietersen's technique and have been supported by the most thorough modern resources. It is a situation the Australians have to rectify to counter a batsman they are getting to know too well.