England v South Africa, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 3rd day August 4, 2012

South Africa's planning given proper test

All South Africa's plans had worked beautifully for first half of the series, but one stunning innings left them searching for answer they couldn't find

Finally, the see-saw has tipped. After one indifferent day and six during which South Africa dominated, England have arrived to ignite to a contest that has simmered, spluttered and even sparked into life, but only in one direction.

On Saturday, which marked the middle of the middle Test of the series, that changed. In the wider context it could be decisive because it was day England snatched some control back. It was also the day South Africa had to deal with being under actual pressure, not irritation, not frustration, but the kind of pressure that requires teams to have to rethink plans.

Previously, Jacques Kallis said South Africa have a plan A, B and C for every batsman. What they needed for Kevin Pietersen was a plan D - for defence. Wave after wave of attack crashed off his bat and, as it did, it also drowned out the strategy South Africa had for him.

They started with an obvious plan: one close catcher on the off-side to block off that avenue and two in the deep on the leg side to wait for the pull. The short ball worked at The Oval and South Africa thought it would work again. All the bowlers had to do was tempt Pietersen into playing a rash shot. They tried, with a barrage of bouncers that would have ruffled a batsman of lesser quality but did not have the same effect on Pietersen.

"We wanted to rough him up," Allan Donald, South Africa's bowling coach, admitted. "But it came off for him today. He was aggressive, even with the aggressive field that was set. He kept on pulling off hook and pull shots. The thing with plans like these is that sometimes they work and sometimes they don't work."

It did not work because Pietersen had prepared for it. "It's South Africa, I grew up there, I know it's an aggressive country, they are aggressive people and they bowled aggressively to me," he said. Dale Steyn, in particular, was the bowler Pietersen was ready for. He said he knew the world's No.1 quick had been instructed to run in hard and bowl fast but Pietersen also knew Steyn was tired and so he was able to take a run-a-ball off him.

South Africa knew the plan was not working, so they resorted to their next options. Those included going wide outside off stump to try and bore Pietersen the way they did Jonathan Trott or full on it, to limit the damage. They spread the field to try to get the debutant James Taylor on strike as well, but Pietesen was alert to it. "They did defend, they went out wide on a 6-3 field for a while. They tried to get me off strike. Those guys are fighters," he said.

Again, it did not work. Instead, Taylor's debut was made easier because he was allowed to push for singles and the bowlers' job was made harder. They had to continually change their lengths to adjust to the tall and the short of the England line-up, Pietersen and Taylor, and in so doing did not conquer either, until Taylor played on.

South Africa knew that test would come and they knew it would come hard. Maybe they even knew that the one person who could provide that test would be Pietersen

"He was very watchful and technically sound," Donald said of Taylor's first Test innings. "England hung in there and hung in there and now they are back in this Test match. We've got to make the perfect play in the morning, we've got to come out swinging."

Donald is usually one for bravado not bashfulness. He will first point out what the South Africa attack did right before highlighting areas in which they would prove. This time he did not do either. Instead, he dedicated his time to a total acknowledgement of Pietersen's feat, an indication that he knew South Africa's bowlers had erred, probably for the first time in the series

Some may argue that the first day at The Oval was their previous mistake, but it was not as revealing as this one. Although South Africa were not in control then, neither were England. Alastair Cook and Trott had ground the visitors down, slowly and painfully but not angrily.

Neither had charged with the force or fury of Kevin Pietersen. They could not, partly because of the pace of the pitch and partly because they do not have the same swagger as Pietersen. Cook and Trott change games delicately, Pietersen does it brutally. Although he was emphatic in saying he did not think he had turned the game, Pietersen may have flicked the switch of the series.

Add to that his acrimonious relationships with the country of his birth and it is not hard to understand why he is capable of unravelling their carefully woven plans. South Africa knew that test would come and they knew it would come hard. Maybe they even knew that the one person who could provide that test would be Pietersen.

That is why how they react now matters. It is not how easily a lion can feed when antelope are freely available, but what she does when there are none left and the only option is to attack the elephant. For so long and for so many different reasons that elephant in the room has been Pietersen.

This time he stands between them and something they believe they are deserving of - the No.1 Test ranking. England may have seemed willing to give that up before today, but Pietersen has made it clear that if South Africa want it, they will have to rip it away.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andrew on August 6, 2012, 10:43 GMT

    @OzzyHammond - "...600 up and then let's see how the saffers react..." - fell a bit short there!

  • mahjut on August 5, 2012, 20:46 GMT

    @hammond ... unsure what hype you refer to about the SA attack. in the UK this series advertising refered to Eng as the best attack in the world. Steyn is the #1 and seemingly deservedly so - no hype there, that's a surety. the fact that theey have now had to rethink the advertising (30 wkts vs 12 so far) could they do any less than gush!?

  • Walter on August 5, 2012, 13:59 GMT

    @kh1902 SA may have well lost single tests in their own backyard. The Aussies and English have lost Series in their own backyard to SA. England are currently looking in bad shape(series wise) against SA and if this and next test are drawn England will lose consecutive seires at home vs SA. Thats enough claim to the top in my book. England have shown the comback we were all hoping for and this test is on a knifes edge, its a real pity that the weather has taken a big role. Congrats to England for a really good batting performance, dont let it slip ;)

  • Geoffrey on August 5, 2012, 12:41 GMT

    KP played one of the great modern knocks (if you believe the hype about this South African attack- I don't) give the bloke some credit for an exemplary counter attack.

  • Adam on August 5, 2012, 12:36 GMT

    @KDcricketB, "at least from paying public's perspective, you need to bow to the genius" That's a slippery road my friend........where does it stop????

  • Nicholas on August 5, 2012, 11:33 GMT

    Must you copy all your posts word-for-word on every article RandyOZ?

  • Nicholas on August 5, 2012, 10:22 GMT

    Ohhh, bad timing Firdose! Pietersen's just got out! AGAIN, Pietersen refused to take part in training/nets before coming out for todays' play, and surely now someone needs to have a word with him about this!

  • j on August 5, 2012, 9:14 GMT

    Are we now able to say Steyn is not the world's number 1 bowler and that it's Jimmy Anderson instead?

  • Krishnadeep on August 5, 2012, 8:54 GMT

    Beautifully written article.I liked the antelope, elephant and lion allegory. Its just sad that the modern day cricket is becoming too mechanical and losing its sense of the dramatic. Guys like Peterson, are the reason people watch cricket and find joy. It goes beyond being just a contest between bat and ball and assumes a theatrical air. Personally I would much rather watch Peterson than Bell, Cook or Strauss, as he is the edgy genius, who can come up with unfathomable resolve and an innings of unexpected class from nowhere. ECB, at least from paying public's perspective, you need to bow to the genius. We dont pay to watch Andy Flower in a somber mood in front of his laptop, but we definitely pay for a "chips are down and i'll be the hero" innings .Pietersen, please do not change

  • thomas on August 5, 2012, 6:10 GMT

    Oh how I wish that this was a 5 match series. Even a 4 match series (instead of the totally pointless one-day series against an Australian side that clearly didn't want to be there). A three match series between these two side is simply a crime against cricket! Drop the pointless limited over trash and give us the REAL stuff!

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