Australia v England, 4th Test, Melbourne, 1st day December 26, 2006

Pietersen's position makes no sense



Kevin Pietersen: a non-negotiable No. 5? © Getty Images

Kevin Pietersen is not the type of chap who likes to appear foolish, but increasingly in this series he is being made to look it. Not through any apparent fault of his own, I hasten to add, (the odd ill-advised sweep shot notwithstanding) but by proxy. Pietersen is a player who believes in his own brilliance, but by persistently appearing at No. 5 in a malfunctioning batting line-up, he is forever being shown up by the incompetence of his peers.

Today's dismissal was so familiar, it was almost a self-parody. Abandoned by his fellow batsmen and despairing of the lesser lights he'd been left with, he flung the kitchen sink at a full delivery from Shane Warne and slapped a swirling slog down the throat of long-on. He fell in identical circumstances in the first innings at Perth, before opting for a red-inker second-time around (60 not out), as he nudged the singles early in each over, and left his colleagues to their fate.

Perhaps he secretly enjoys it. His look-at-me strut - gloves off, helmet down, quick drink from the 12th man - every time another wicket falls reinforces the image of Pietersen, England's lone hero. And since the dramatic decline of Paul Collingwood on the bouncier wickets of Perth and Melbourne, that is precisely what Pietersen has been. Today's innings of 21 - riches by the standards of most of his colleagues - took him to 419 runs for the series, which is second only to Ricky Ponting (524) in the series tally.

Pietersen's continued appearance at No. 5 is utterly mystifying. "I can't believe they don't send him in at No. 4," Ian Chappell told Cricinfo at the close of play this evening. "He gets left with the tail-enders and he virtually has to throw his wicket away. If he came in at two-down, he could dictate the terms, but at No. 5 the match dictates to him."

And even Australia's hero of the hour, Shane Warne, was lobbying for Pietersen's promotion after engineering his dismissal during his first-innings figures of 5 for 39. "He should be batting 3 or 4, for sure," said Warne. "He's a world-class player and we've seen that through the series. I suppose he plays me the best in the side, but you want your best players up the order when the new ball is hard.

"As a bowler, it's harder to come on to a bloke when he's got 30 or 40," added Warne. "It's easier to bowl at them when they first come in because, like anyone, the first few overs are quite hard, and anyone can get you out. If I was England I would definitely be putting him up the order."

During his commentary stint for Sky this afternoon, Nasser Hussain speculated that Pietersen himself was refusing to budge from his current slot - ("The rumour is that the man on screen is being stubborn," said Hussain.) It is an intriguing suggestion, if true. After his contradictory statements about his apparent "team orders" at Perth, and given his reputation as a difficult team-mate in times of hardship (just ask Kevin Newell and the Nottinghamshire dressing-room) the implication is of a man who's intensely fed up by England's failures in this series.

There was one slight, but notable, change in England's batting order today. Steve Harmison and Monty Panesar, who - without putting too fine a point on it - have the range of strokes to be the Pietersens of the lower order, were promoted to Nos. 9 and 10 respectively, with Matthew Hoggard, England's solid, reliable Collingwood-alike, shunted down two slots to 11. It was late, it was a token gesture, it failed, but it was further evidence that England - and Duncan Fletcher - are willing to adapt their approach.

But where the deployment of Pietersen is concerned, England are stuck in a rut. Collingwood's admirable qualities do not extend to early-innings initiative-seizing - his best moments of improvisatory batting invariably come with a score under his belt - while the out-of-sorts Andrew Flintoff is a lame duck at No. 6. Pietersen is the alpha and the omega of England's momentum in the series, and seeing as they have none, a positional switch must surely be a no-brainer.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo