August 8, 2008

South Africa in England 2008

Don't talk about a successor to Brearley just yet

George Binoy
A profile of the new England captain, Kevin Pietersen, England v South Africa, 4th Test, The Oval, August 7, 2008
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Kevin Pietersen’s first day as Test captain went splendidly with England dismissing South Africa for 194. Here’s what the papers had to say about how he went about his duties at The Oval.

It’s not much of an accolade being promoted on the grounds that there’s no one else – a bit like a lance corporal in the First World War finding himself leading the regiment because everyone else is dead. It may work out, but Geoff Boycott’s granny could probably have captained England yesterday, writes Martin Johnson in the Telegraph.

Steve Harmison bowling at the stumps is not the kind of luxury Vaughan always had, and there was also the suspicion that South Africa are a little demob happy after wrapping up the series. Furthermore, their post-lunch collapse to Pietersen’s chosen selection of Harmison and Jimmy Anderson could scarcely have been put down to Brearleyesque genius, as Flintoff was off the field having a toe attended to at the time, and Stuart Broad (pictured) was being pinged all over the park. Where Pietersen deserves credit is for encouraging Broad …

Christopher Martin-Jenkins, in the Times, writes that Pietersen had a near-perfect day in charge.

[He was] aggressive with his field placings without going over the top, calm when the early wickets his fast bowlers deserved took time to come, pleasingly orthodox about where he placed his men after the over-elaborations beloved of his predecessor in his second phase, sensible about the bowling changes and imposing without being dictatorial in his general approach. Everyone knew that he was in charge, but there was nothing ostentatious. The star with the leading part seemed quite happy to let the other actors shine.

Welcome to KP's feel-good era, where empathy is king, moods must always be buoyant, where touchy-feely is of show business proportions and where lines of communication are always open. Pietersen is a compulsive texter and England's players received good luck messages the night before the game. If the technology had been available in his day, you cannot imagine Ray Illingworth doing that, writes David Hopps in the Guardian

Also in the Guardian, Vic Marks says "England's cricketers responded well to Kevin Pietersen's first day in charge, but we shouldn't jump to rash decisions."

Hippy, Hippy, Shake, you probably don't need reminding, was a one hit wonder for a group called The Swinging Blue Jeans. Please, Please Me was the first number one for another Merseyside band and we all know about them. Was the cricket we witnessed at the Oval a one-hit wonder or the start of something really quite significant?

When England came out it was noticeable there was no huddle. Nor had there been one in the privacy of the dressing room. But Pietersen does not need huddles to show his team that he cares," writes Stephen Brenkley in the Independent.

The other point of interest was Steve Harmison, who was making a comeback to the Test side. He dismissed Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla with consecutive deliveries after lunch to put England on top.

Students of psychology were divided yesterday as Steve Harmison failed to flunk his most high-profile delivery since the one which ended up at second slip in Brisbane. Was this the man who had been unsuccessfully trying to claw back his credibility ever since? asks Lawrence Booth in the Guardian.

Later, as he charged in on a hat-trick to a crescendo from the crowd that sounded like excitement tinged with disbelief, the mischievous sentiment was that he should be dropped more often. There is a school of thought, headed by the former England coach Duncan Fletcher, that Harmison responds better to the stick than the carrot, and it is true that he was approaching his best yesterday while removing Smith and, with a ball travelling at nearly 93mph, Hashim Amla in successive deliveries.

The return of Harmison was either a triumph of timing or an earlier missed opportunity for in the course of 18 overs yesterday, including a remarkable first over of the match, he gave notice as to why it has been in England's interest to rehabilitate him," writes Mike Selvey in the Guardian.

In the Times, Simon Hughes writes that attention was focused on Steve Harmison's first ball, after the disastrous wide with which he opened the 2006 Ashes.

Everyone held their breath. It arrived just outside off stump at a lively pace, bounced and cut back slightly at the left-handed Graeme Smith, cramping his attempted cut which ricocheted to Alastair Cook at gully. Cook could be partially forgiven for missing the chance since he may have been keeping half an eye on Harmison in case the ball was heading in his direction straight from the hand.

James Anderson used to be presented as a young man in a hurry, too concerned about his hairstyle to put in the hard yards on a flat pitch. If it didn't swing, the theory went, he would disappear faster than an alcopop in a student bar, writes Simon Briggs in the Telegraph.

If there was ever an element of truth in this argument, there is none now. Anderson has already bowled more than 150 overs in this series. He has kept bending his back, kept whacking the ball into the pitch, even when there was little there for him. He has been epically unlucky at times, taking the edge many times without actually taking the wicket. Yet such frustrations have only emphasised his perseverance. Anderson may look like a member of a boy band, but that doesn't automatically make him feckless.

George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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