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August 22, 2008
England's latest attempt to form a winning one-day unit comes with Pietersen's stamp of aggression, hence the trend towards pace bowling and hard-hitting, free-scoring batsmen. For two thirds of their innings, though, little appeared to have changed as just five fours a six came in 34 overs - all from Matt Prior's bat. However, England banked on having a middle-order filled with strikers and in Pietersen and Flintoff, they possess two of the most destructive one-day batsmen around. The pair crunched 94 off the last 10 overs, showing what can be achieved with wickets in hand, as South Africa's bowling became ragged and the fielding was poor.
In contrast to England's sedate approach, South Africa went hard at the start of their chase and put themselves ahead of the rate, reaching 139 for 2 after 25 overs. However, everything changed when Pietersen surprisingly brought himself onto bowl. By the end of the innings he'd doubled his one-day wicket tally after getting AB de Villiers caught at midwicket and benefiting from a swift piece of glovework from Prior to stump Mark Boucher.
It wasn't just with the ball that Pietersen shone during the second innings, his captaincy had a touch of the magic about it, too. In the eighth over, Pietersen turned to Harmison and it took him less than an over to strike when he hit the perfect line to take Smith's outside edge with his fourth delivery. Flintoff wasn't quite the metronome he can be and was picked off by Jacques Kallis, but then Pietersen dipped into his captain's handbook and pulled out another trick.
Holding back the final Powerplay, he brought Samit Patel into the attack with his left-arm spin and it proved a master stroke. Patel's fourth ball was quicker and flatter, beating Gibbs as he lent back to cut. Patel's first ODI wicket was Neil McCallum, against Scotland last week, but with all due respect to the Scots this one will have meant a little more.
However, Kallis and de Villiers moved along comfortably in their third-wicket stand of 49 in 11 overs. Then de Villiers flicked lazily to Ian Bell and, shortly after reaching fifty off 63 balls, Kallis, struggling with a leg problem, was run out by some quick thinking by Bell. Boucher showed in the Test series, at Edgbaston, that he is ideal in a run chase but his opposite number, Prior, was very alert to a raised foot.
JP Duminy had the skill to guide South Africa home, but Harmison came back to find a thin outside and Johan Botha holed out at deep midwicket. The lower order, without the injured Albie Morkel, didn't have the power to keep up and Flintoff just had time to remind everyone that he's meant to be the main allrounder in the team.
England's success showed that there is more than one way to play one-day cricket, especially in their conditions, even though the new-look top three seemed to drift as more than half the innings came and went. Bell, after batting through 19 overs, and Prior after 42 off 52 balls both picked out backward point off Kallis and Owais Shah top-edged to deep square-leg.
Flintoff ignited the innings when he found the boundary in the 35th over, the first man other than Prior to locate the rope, and initially Pietersen was happy to feed him the strike. The change of ball at the 34-over mark helped England, the harder one making it easier to use the pace of South Africa's attack. Flintoff opened his front leg to hit strongly through the off side, and also rifled the ball with the straight power that typifies his batting when he's at his best. He reached fifty off 52 deliveries, his first half-century since the unbeaten 72 he made against New Zealand, at Hobart, in January 2007 and, when he was bowled moving across his stumps to Dale Steyn, his 78 was his highest ODI innings since making 87 against Australia, at Lord's, in 2005.
Pietersen was fortunate to survive an lbw shout off Botha on 18, and was close to being run out on 22 when he dived for the crease, the third umpire ruling the bat had just been grounded before it then bounced up as the stumps were broken. He eventually earned his first boundary off his 52nd delivery, but had a clear mindset on what he wanted to achieve, and then began to invent as he went to a fifty from 55 balls. He timed his charge and took 10 off two balls from Steyn in the 46th over, including the second six of the innings over midwicket.
What Pietersen is quickly realising is that his job now doesn't stop with the bat and his role in the field is just as important. It's a learning experience and he's learning fast. At some point life will get tougher for him, but today wasn't that moment.
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