Bangalore Royal Challengers v Rajasthan Royals, IPL, Cape Town April 18, 2009

Pietersen makes the perfect start

Victor Brown
Twenty20 captaincy feels like a lottery at times but pretty much everything Kevin Pietersen did came off. He may as well just ride the wave

No one can accuse Bangalore Royal Challengers of not preparing properly. Their new captain, Kevin Pietersen, was on the phone repeatedly with their new coach, Ray Jennings, ahead of the tournament. Tactics were discussed, names learned. Earlier today, as Mumbai Indians got things under way against Chennai Super Kings, the pair of them were side by side in the media centre, watching, analysing, possibly fine-tuning. Neither was involved last year, when Bangalore lost 10 games out of 14, but they share a sense of responsibility now. And how. The champions didn't know what hit them.

For a while it looked as if the planning would go to waste. Pietersen had won the toss, but the pitch was drier than when MS Dhoni chose to insert Mumbai in the opening match. In that respect, Pietersen's decision to bat first was fair enough, but it may have ignored the problem of contending with Newlands as the lights come on and batsmen struggle to pick up the ball in conditions that are neither day nor night.

Nought for two after three balls with Dimitri Mascarenhas on a hat-trick was not the dimension he had in mind. Pietersen did, though, survive the hat-trick ball before whipping the next through midwicket with a trademark flourish, but Robin Uthappa soon became Mascarenhas' third victim. At 17 for 3, memories of 2008 had returned with indecent haste. At 88 for 6, they seemed to be settling in for the duration.

But Rahul Dravid was not giving up. Last year Bangalore opened themselves up to ridicule by picking what quickly became dubbed a Test team. This was a bit unfair on Dravid, who was captain then and overcame a sticky start to become the franchise's leading run-scorer by a distance. Today he eased into the senior role again with a clever 66 off 48 balls to put Pietersen's attractive 32 in the shade. A score of 133 for 8 was at the very least a basis for negotiation.

It quickly became more than that. Swapnil Asnodkar, an unexpected star in 2008, carelessly tried to pull his second ball but instead top-edged Praveen Kumar to point, and it was 7 for 2 when Graeme Smith poked Praveen to Dravid at slip. Pietersen, who moments earlier had spoken to umpire Tiffin for apparently awarding Rajasthan a wide after a meaningful stare from Smith, enjoyed that moment.

The runs dried up completely. Ryder nipped in with the wickets of Niraj Patel and Tyron Henderson, and Mascarenhas was run out first ball. There may not be a worse time-out score all tournament than the champions' 32 for 5. The rest, including a double-wicket maiden for Anil Kumble, who finished with the astonishing figures of 3.1-1-5-5, needn't have bothered.

"Pietersen has been keen to play down the storyline that has him proving his leadership credentials to a chastened ECB. But if Bangalore win six out of six before he flies home … well, you can imagine the pieces that will be written"

Pietersen has been keen to play down the storyline that has him proving his leadership credentials to a chastened England and Wales Cricket Board. But if, for the sake of argument, Bangalore win six out of six before he flies home for Test duty … well, you can imagine the pieces that will be written. Twenty20 captaincy feels like a lottery at times but pretty much everything he did here - including the introduction of the medium-pace of Ryder as early as the seventh over - came off. He may as well just ride the wave.

Victory was presumably all the sweeter for coming against his old friend-turned-lukewarm-acquaintance Shane Warne. For a while, Warne had threatened to do what he does best and steal the show. He bowled Virat Kohli with his fifth delivery, a very full leg-break, then tempted B Akhil down the pitch and bowled him too past the inside edge with one that turned only a fraction. A diving catch at extra cover off Dravid was proof that his 39-year-old limbs still respond to orders.

But the man nicknamed Hollywood doesn't write all the scripts. "We weren't smart enough with our shot selection," he said. "We've got to have more common sense. We weren't up to scratch and we expect better of ourselves." Pietersen 1 Warne 0, and Rajasthan Royals all out for 58 were certainly not the headlines he had in mind.

Victor Brown is a freelance cricket writer

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