November 26, 2008

Time for Pietersen to come to the party

The prospect of the final three one-day internationals between England and India has, like accountancy and competitive grouting, failed to capture the public imagination in Britain

The prospect of the final three one-day internationals between England and India has, like accountancy and competitive grouting, failed to capture the public imagination in Britain. Over the last couple of days, The Confectionery Stall has not overheard a single conversation in which two old women on a bench have argued over whether Ian Bell should open the batting, slide down to the middle order, or drop out of the team to spend more time with his family and front-foot defensive technique. Nor have excited school children huddled furtively around their collective radio at the back of a physics class waiting for the latest expert predictions on whether England can defy the odds to win or nearly win at least one of the remaining matches (and thus, surely, emerge from the series as moral victors).

Even meaningful one-day cricket can have a tendency to feel meaningless, so these essentially irrelevant games are perhaps a less-than-tantalising curtain-raiser for what should be a more closely-fought and intriguing Test series – if it is indeed mathematically possible to have a series of two things. Only the ICC believes in the two-thing series. A senior ICC executive was recently overheard boasting to colleagues of having eaten “a series of sticky toffee puddings”. Further investigation revealed the feast to have consisted of one individual-sized dessert and a couple of sneaky bites of his wife’s whilst she went to fetch the cream.

England have been gradually chipping away at India’s superiority as the series has progressed, albeit with the gentle chiselling of an overcautious sculptor. It is hard to see what they could do to hack bigger and fatter chips off this metaphorical marble megaslab. Only a few weeks ago, the same players were demolishing South Africa, and just over a year ago, they were defeating India and Sri Lanka in quick succession. And county cricket is hardly replete with players hammering the selectors’ door down with unanswerable statistical battering rams.

However, the England leadership should now use the remaining games to try to unearth some of the beloved ‘positives’ that sports people love to mine from even the most demoralising defeats. The Confectionery Stall would like to see Kevin Pietersen attempt to solve his team’s perennial struggles to find a dominating opening batsman by leaping into that Trescothick-shaped void himself. The captain’s own relative decline as an attacking force in the limited-overs game may be rectified by such a move – he averaged 65 at a strike-rate of 98 runs per 100 balls in his first 30 ODIs, compared with 35 at a strike-rate of 78 in his last 30. He has talked of England’s need to score hundreds. He should give his team’s best batsman, himself, the best opportunity to lead the way. At least England might overcome their irrational fear of hitting boundaries during the first powerplay.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer

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