England v New Zealand, 5th ODI, Lord's June 28, 2008

Pietersen has no answer to one-day woes

England have a habit of raising, then dashing, everybody's hopes that they have finally cracked the formula for one-day cricket

It was a tough first outing as captain for Kevin Pietersen, but he doesn't believe it's all doom and gloom © Getty Images
England have a habit of raising, then dashing, everybody's hopes that they have finally cracked the formula for one-day cricket. In falling to New Zealand by 51 runs, they lost the series 3-1 - a generous result, some might say, had fortune not been on England's side at Edgbaston. Today, chasing a gettable 267, they were rolled over for 215 in 47.5 overs - a batting performance that Kevin Pietersen, in his, first match as England captain, was at a loss to explain.

"I really don't know. I can't answer that question, I don't know," he said. "It's a very difficult question for me to answer for how the batting has gone. When you get to 20s, 30s and 40s...the key to it is to go on. I don't mind if a guy gets nought or whatever, but when you get in, it's definitely the key to take the responsibility. The onus on the individuals is there for the taking - to become a hero at the end of the day. That's what we're after."

There were no heroes today, and apart from Pietersen himself - whose scorching 110 led to their Chester-le-Street win - there have been precious few in the series. Owais Shah again proved his aptitude for a fight with a courageous 69, combing the deft with the explosive in pleasing measure, but his was very much the dying embers of an innings that never truly caught alight. And how often have we had cause to say that in this series?

The situation was far more promising earlier, however. Alastair Cook returned from injury, replacing the banned Paul Collingwood, and together with Ian Bell staged a solid opening stand of 53 in 11 overs. That this was England's highest opening stand of the series tells a sorry tale, though not one that should necessarily cut short the career of Luke Wright, Ian Bell's partner at No.2 for the first four matches. Wright is impetuously youthful and needs a run in the side, but it is Bell, a man of such obvious gifts, who most frustrates. Scores of 46, 0, 20, 46 and 27 may indicate a batsman who has struggled to time the ball, or at the very least found conditions at the top of the order difficult. Yet with the exception of his duck at Edgbaston, in each of his stylish innings he has batted with the poise of a demi-god.

Today, he was off the mark with the creamiest of fours through midwicket. Another gift on his legs was happily accepted before he played the day's most orthodox stroke off the back foot through extra cover. He, and England, were cruising very nicely until he walked across his stumps. However, Bell is not alone: England's woes with the bat was a collective failure all series, and one Pietersen insists needs addressing.

"It's very easy to say you need to get hundreds because the wickets are flat. In England, it nibbles," he said. "New Zealand didn't get a hundred. I'd like to see the stats from the New Zealand top six and compare [to England's]. It's hard because in England you don't see many hundreds, so it's hard to say you've got to get hundreds to win a series.

"But I have said you need to get 70s, 80s, 90s...those are big scores in the UK. It's an area we can improve but I don't think it's a catastrophe by any stretch of the imagination."

It wasn't just with the bat that England struggled. Without their captain and allrounder, Collingwood, England also lacked a fifth bowler. And Pietersen's decision to opt for Owais Shah's part-time off-breaks ahead of Ravi Bopara's neat seamers cost them dearly. Jacob Oram - who gives such balance to New Zealand's side - had eased himself to a breezy 36, and welcomed the introduction of Shah like a cold beer on a roasting hot day. Oram heaved him into the Mound Stand over midwicket and over long-on before depositing a third into the Edrich Stand. Shah's three overs had cost 30 and England had again let New Zealand escape.

"I think Owais' job today was good," Pietersen said, forthrightly. "He had a dart in New Zealand. I've bowled in Tests but not much in one-dayers, so I thought the option of Shah bowling was good. You realise your options and, unfortunately, Colly was banned and we don't have Andrew Flintoff. So you've got to look at your options and say 'right. This is the England team I'm captaining. And this is what I have to do to make a good go of it.' And that's what I tried to do."

England's defeat casts a shadow over their preparations for South Africa, who they face at Lord's on July 10. Pietersen, however, remained confident that their feeble one-day effort will have no impact on the outcome of the forthcoming tough Test series.

"It's not a case of drawing a line under what's happened. In the Tests we played fantastic, fantastic, amazing cricket against New Zealand," he said. "We really cleaned them up, and that [a Test match] is what we have got against South Africa in two weeks. When we come to play in that week, we can have our heads held up really high. The captaincy of our big man, Michael, and everything will be great."

Will Luke is a staff writer at Cricinfo