Bangalore Royal Challengers v Chennai Super Kings, IPL, Port Elizabeth April 20, 2009

Disappointment on the collision course

Victor Brown
As with the Kolkata captaincy issue, the showdown between England's two big beasts, Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen, did not quite live up to its billing

As with the Kolkata captaincy issue, the showdown between England's two big beasts, Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen, did not quite live up to its billing. The pair did come face to face, but not as everyone had hoped: it was Pietersen, with his lesser-spotted offbreaks, who ended up bowling to Flintoff, with his well-disguised fear of getting out to his international colleague, not - as had been hoped - the other way round. And even then, curious onlookers had to settle for a pulled boundary and a couple of bunted singles. As Pietersen said after claiming he had got an inside edge to the ball from Muttiah Muralitharan that removed him for a golden duck, such is life.

But if neither man dismissed his rival, nor indeed sprayed graffiti on the other's bowling figures, then there was no doubt that Flintoff left St George's the happier - and almost certainly the more relieved. His debut on Saturday had been a mildly embarrassing affair. Taught a lesson by Abhishek Nayar's three sixes in four balls, he made an unconvincing 24 that left his side behind the rate against Mumbai Indians. It was not as if he needed a performance to remind everyone of his qualities - just that time was running out to make an impression before the flight home in time for the first Test against West Indies on May 6.

This was the impression the Chennai team had hoped for. His batting was more at home on the quicker Port Elizabeth surface than it was at Newlands, and his flick for six over deep backward square leg off Dale Steyn - who rattled England on Test debut here in late 2004 - was a subtle contrast to his usual blacksmith tendencies, and an eventual innings of 22 off 13 balls helped his side to a total of 179, more than any team has made here in a Twenty20 match.

MS Dhoni then held him back until the seventh over of the Bangalore reply, by which time they were already tottering at 46 for 2. His impact was immediate. First Robin Uthappa struggled to get him away, collecting only a single off the first three balls, then Ross Taylor was persuaded into pulling a ball that came onto him too quickly. The return catch dropped into Flintoff's pair of buckets and the ball was promptly kicked towards the heavens. When he does that, you know Fred is in the mood.

That over cost two, and so did the next. Suddenly, Flintoff was looking like the cricketer that owners fought over at the auction in Goa in February, and the catch at deep midwicket that wrapped up a comprehensive win was taken with the ease of a man beginning to feel more comfortable with life.

Pietersen, meanwhile, was less impressed. His glance towards umpire Simon Taufel after Murali, operating round the wicket, had upheld an lbw shout was followed by a plaintive look at his bat. In the press conference afterwards he confirmed his suspicion that he had hit the ball. Murali, naturally, disagreed. The replays, such as they were, were inconclusive. All that mattered was that Pietersen was out and Bangalore were 49 for 4. The joys of trouncing Shane Warne's Rajasthan Royals had evaporated.

Flintoff and Pietersen have never been the best of buddies. There were even rumours around the time of Pietersen's demise as England captain that Flintoff had not exactly been disappointed to see him go. The handshake at the end of the game looked genuine enough, but a deep sense of rivalry defines the men's relationship, and this result will hurt Pietersen more than he lets on. For Flintoff, it could be the start of better times.

Victor Brown is a freelance cricket writer