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England's latest opener was meant to provide the early momentum, but instead he made his mark with a controlled and measured century
March 5, 2010
It was rather like turning up to the cinema expecting a showing of Lethal Weapon III, only to be presented with a slow-burn epic. Craig Kieswetter's first blockbusting performance for England ended up wowing the critics on levels that few had expected him to reach, as the direction of his maiden award-winning performance rather deviated from the pre-series script.
Kieswetter's arrival in England colours had been of the all-action variety. On his first full day after completing his four-year residency qualification, he produced a rough-and-tumble 81 to carry the England Lions to victory over their senior counterparts in Abu Dhabi, and he responded to his subsequent call-up to the England squad with a blazing 143 from 123 balls in the first warm-up match at Fatullah.
Here, it was presumed, was the answer to England's Powerplay prayers - a player with the skill and strength to muscle the ball to the boundary at will, and provide the side with a platform not seen since his Somerset colleague, Marcus Trescothick, took his leave of England duty in the summer of 2006.
What Kieswetter actually produced was a performance that tapped into intense mental reserves, as he became, at 22 years and 97 days, the second-youngest England batsman (after David Gower and just before his current captain, Alastair Cook) to rack up an ODI century. That he did so in conditions entirely alien to his hometown of Taunton, in a style entirely at odds with his gung-ho expectations, and having failed rather frenetically in his opening two internationals, was an added testament to his resolve.
"For me it was about being able to adapt mentality," said Kieswetter. "In the first two games I wasn't quite aware tactically of how I was going to pace my innings, [in terms of] helping the team win the game. Today I tried to pace myself a bit more, and try to get myself in more before playing big shots. It is nice to get a hundred under my belt early in my career, and it's one I'm going to cherish, but the fact that we won the game and won the series also means a lot to me."
"He played totally differently to the way he has been playing," said Cook. "But to play the situation is probably what international cricket is all about, being able to adapt like he's done there. It shows that he's bright, and that he's got a massive future in international cricket."
If Kieswetter's call-up had been with the World Twenty20 in mind - and prior to the series, England's coach, Andy Flower, implied that it had been - then it might come as a mild source of embarrassment to the selectors that the only player to have been omitted from their provisional squad of 30, Cook, outpaced his partner in each and every one of their three opening partnerships.
For the third match running, Kieswetter started out like a dozing hare to Cook's tortoise, as the captain's graft and accumulation allowed him to amble into the 20s before his anxious partner had escaped single figures. Following on from his jittery 19 on debut in Mirpur, and his flashy 4 in the second match two days later, the signs for England's newest recruit weren't entirely encouraging.
|I played second fiddle, and I kind of enjoyed that challenge, of trying to expand my game and let someone else play aggressively. It's been an eye-opener out here, but whenever you go to different countries and different continents, you have to adapt your game|
At least, that's how it appeared from the sidelines. Out in the middle, Kieswetter was busy re-evaluating his strategies, and enjoying the experience of slip-streaming his fast-paced colleague. His maiden ODI half-century came from a stately 80 balls (which was still good enough to win a US$1000 "fastest fifty" award as no one else passed fifty in the match), but he rushed to his hundred from a further 40, as the benefits of bedding in came flooding out in the final 15 overs, and out came the shots with which he's forged his young reputation.
"Cooky took over my role," said Kieswetter. "He was bashing them around while I played second fiddle, and I kind of enjoyed that challenge, of trying to expand my game and let someone else play aggressively. It's been an eye-opener out here, but whenever you go to different countries and different continents, you have to adapt your game. Instead of rapid pace, you face some twirlers who are spinning it quite a lot. It was a mental change for me, but I'm happy with how it turned out."
As if Kieswetter didn't have enough on his plate, having been teased by Bangladesh's left-arm spinners to an extent matched only by the struggling Kevin Pietersen, he had to withstand another wave of unwelcome criticism of his credentials, following Michael Vaughan's comments to the press about South African imports. As it happens, Vaughan is also a member of Kieswetter's management team, ISM, which can't have gone down well at headquarters, but fortunately Chittagong is a far enough corner of a foreign field to allow such furores to pass without much comment.
"It's something that I'm going to have to put up with for my whole career," said Kieswetter - not for the first, and surely not for the last time in his career. "I was born with a British passport, I've done my four years, I am British, and I don't see it as an issue. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but for me it's about putting performances in on the park and helping England win." And he certainly did that second part in style.
Nevertheless, his success has created a significant headache for England's selectors - as well as the man who was sat next to him in the press conference. For the return series in May, Andrew Strauss is due to resume his role at the top of the order, and three into two most certainly will not go, especially now that Kieswetter has demonstrated durability at the crease, as well as combustibility.
Until Morgan's matchwinning 110 at Dhaka on Tuesday, Strauss was one of only two England batsmen to make an ODI hundred in the past 12 months, so his place in the pecking order presumably has to be secure. Which can only leave Cook on the fringes once again, and braced for another abrupt omission from England's limited-overs plans.
"We can only score runs and put pressure on the selectors to make a decision," said Cook. "I'd have liked to score a hundred, but I'm really pleased with my contribution to the top of the order. Selection is out of my hands, as it always tends to be, so I'll just have to wait my turn, but Straussy is the captain of England, and he has to come straight back in."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo. Go to http://twitter.com/miller_cricket to follow him on Twitter through the England tour of Bangladesh.Feeds: Andrew Miller
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Plays of the Day from the second ODI between England and India, in Cardiff
Plays of the day from the third ODI between England and India at Trent Bridge