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It could have been an English county game in May, except for the high-class spin on show and for Pietersen, who lit up the Punjabi crowd with a display of southern-hemisphere swagger
Paul Coupar in Mohali
March 9, 2006
With a touch of swing, a lush outfield and rude interruptions from drizzle and gloom, Mohali today was as English as roast potatoes and gravy. It was a day for short-sleeved sweaters and straight bats.
Which made it all the more surprising that England made a bit of a hash of it. When bad light butted in for the second and final time, they were 163 for 4 on a flattish pitch. "We set our targets to probably score about 400 in the first innings," said Kevin Pietersen after the close. "And we're 240 short now." Pietersen was dismissed within a sniff of the end for a muscular 64; he wore a face not quite as grey and gloomy as the skies above but nor far off.
"I've been in a real good zone these past couple of days," he explained. "I was infuriated about getting out on 87 last week. And I'm a bitterly disappointed man again tonight to be honest. So I'm not a happy bloke tonight, I'm not a happy bloke at all."
Nor were his team-mates, with the possible exception of Andrew Flintoff, whose wife gave birth to a baby boy in the hours before the game. "He's real jovial," said Pietersen. "So hopefully we can do him a favour this week - and do England a favour and do real well in this game."
With drizzle delaying the start, bad light knocking out an hour and 40 minutes after lunch and murk bringing an early close, it was an unsatisfactory stop-start kind of day. It could have been an English county game in May, except for the high-class spin on show and for Pietersen, who lit up the Punjabi crowd with a display of southern-hemisphere swagger.
Pietersen got his eye in by walloping the debutant leggie, Piyush Chawla, to the midwicket rope and then into the stands, action replays of the slog sweeps that worried Warne last summer. "I don't let spinners bowl to me," Pietersen said bluntly. "I feel a little bit sorry for the little kid who bowled today but that's just how I play spinners."
Chawla wasn't impressed but the brash shots certainly resonated with the fans. Local sources say that the average Punjabi loves eating, drinking and making merry, in roughly that order. He wants to be entertained and Pietersen is an entertainer.
And in many ways, despite the three lions tattooed on his bicep, Pietersen does not feel like an English batsman. He takes his wrists from the subcontinent, and his competitive attitude from South Africa, where he grew up guarding his dinner plate from the depredations of two hungry and unscrupulous brothers. Unlike the stereotypical Englishman, Pietersen is not afraid of being seen to be trying, or of showing that he's hurt by failure. As the prescient Kevin Mitchell first pointed out, he and the Zimbabwe-raised Duncan Fletcher seem to have brought something new to the England team. Unburdened by colonial guilt, they are perhaps less afraid of dominating an opponent and really grinding his nose in it.
And Pietersen has dominated more regularly than many thought possible, averaging 45 in nine Tests. Far from the expensive hit-or-bust luxury he seemed on arrival, he is becoming the engine of the middle order. His pace of scoring - around seven runs every ten balls - allows slower scorers to tuck into his slipstream. Alastair Cook admitted as much during the last Test.
Today he chivvied along Ian Bell who, after success in Pakistan, again looked the little boy lost, fatally leaving Kumble's googly. To come England have slightly less batting than in Nagpur, with Ian Blackwell dropped for Liam Plunkett. (It will be interesting to see if an extra seamer to share the workload allows Steve Harmison and Flintoff to take the handbrake off a little more.)
But then a disgusted Pietersen spooned a catch back to the new quick man, Munaf Patel, to put a pall over the day. It was suggested that his concentration was broken by an unscheduled toilet stop, another great English tradition maintained today. But, once again Pietersen broke with English stereotype. It was not the prawns that did for him. "Spaghetti bolognaise", he sheepishly admitted.
Paul Coupar is assistant editor of The Wisden Cricketer and will be covering the first two Tests for CricinfoFeeds: Paul Coupar
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