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George Dobell at New Road
May 11, 2012
Surrey 113 and 216 for 4 (Pietersen 69, Maynard 63*, Hamilton-Brown 50*) lead Worcestershire 285 by 44 runs
If learning quickly is the secret to success, it should be no surprise that Kevin Pietersen has enjoyed such a fine career. Pietersen has not played on too many surfaces like this in recent years. This New Road pitch is slow, low and offering seam assistance to the bowlers and his second innings here was only his seventh in championship cricket since he became a Test player in 2005.
But, having fallen in Surrey's first innings when he was drawn into a loose drive against one that left him - the sort of shot that may well have brought four on the flat tracks of Delhi - Pietersen learned the lessons and demonstrated his fine form with a much-improved second innings performance. Coming in with his side in some peril, against a ball just 37 deliveries old and with his team two down and 161 behind, he took the game by the scruff of the neck and may well have played its defining innings. Playing straight, advancing down the pitch to negate the seam movement, leaving anything away from his body and showing the confidence to hit the ball over the top when the opportunity arose, was his highest first-class score for Surrey and his highest championship score since 2008. It was a performance that bodes well for England.
He will face sterner tests. In the absence of Alan Richardson, who was forced off the pitch with a shoulder injury in just the third over of Surrey's second innings, the lack of depth in Worcestershire's bowling was harshly exposed. With David Lucas and Richard Jones resting, Worcestershire were obliged to rely upon James Cameron's medium pace and Moeen Ali's off-spin. At one stage Pietersen plundered them for 31 in 11 deliveries, with five fours and a six coming in a ten-ball spell. It was like watching a lion wrestle a lamb.
Pietersen played a key part in much improved Surrey second innings performance. Having been obliged to follow-on 172 runs behind, combative contributions from Pietersen, Tom Maynard and Rory Hamilton-Brown raised the prospect that Surrey may yet achieve only their second win having been forced to follow-on since 1868; the previous occasion came when they defeated Gloucestershire in 1995. No side has achieved that in the championship since Kent beat Essex in 2009. The loss of Richardson, whose 73 wickets last season played such an enormous part in Worcestershire avoiding relegation, is quite colossal. A scan showed fluid on the shoulder and a decision will be made in the morning whether to risk him. It seems most unlikely he will bowl again in this game.
The trio of Pietersen, Hamilton-Brown and Maynard summed up the Surrey method of tackling adversity: if in doubt, give it a clout. Pietersen reached his half-century in 49 balls, Maynard, who treated a tired attack with disdain, made his a ball quicker and Hamilton-Brown, who thumped four of his first five balls for four, took 67. With the sun out, the ball softer and Worcestershire tiring, it was hard to avoid the conclusion that the game had turned by stumps.
"KP is clearly in a very good place at the moment," Chris Adams, Surrey's team director said afterwards. "He is very confident, very happy with his game and is striking the ball very well. He went out with one view in mind - to play a positive innings - and it gave us the momentum. We are one session away from being in the stronger position.
"Who knows where this game will end up but the thought did cross my mind that the best way of winning was to follow-on. We have all been in a situation where you have to chase down 140-150 in a couple of sessions on a wearing pitch that is getting a little bit more inconsistent in bounce, and if we can find ourselves in that position I will back us rather than Worcester."
Surrey's first innings - a sorry affair characterised by a lack of technique or application from their batsmen - was worth only 113. Even that flattered them, though. Had Daryl Mitchell, at second slip, held on to chances offered by Rudolph on one and seven - Lucas was the unfortunate bowler on each occasion - Surrey would surely have failed to reach 100. As it was, from the depths of 43 for 8, a ninth-wicket stand of 60 saved at least a few blushes. Rudolph was last man out.
Worcestershire's bowlers deserve credit, too. Lucas and Jones, in particular, bowled beautifully, with the former swinging the ball with excellent control and the latter finding seam and swing movement at a sharpish pace. Lucas tired noticeably as the day wore on but Jones, who claimed eight wickets of the 14 to fall, demonstrated impressive stamina and continued to trouble batsmen throughout the day.
This was an especially difficult day for Mark Ramprakash. Suffering a heavy cold, he was dismissed for a pair - only the third in a magnificent 26-year first-class career and the second in the championship (the other way came when Mark Ilott trapped him lbw twice for Essex in 1996) - in a miserable four hour period.
Some will look at his average for this season - just 7.75 - check his age - now 42 - and draw conclusions about his fading powers. The sun is, no doubt, setting on a remarkable career but it would be wrong to write off Ramprakash just yet. In the first innings here he received a very fine ball that swung in sharply and beat his perfectly respectable forward defensive. In the second he walked after gloving one down the leg side. As Steve Rhodes put it "He's had some very good balls and very bad luck." The story of Ramprakash's career isn't over just yet; nor is this match.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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