Australia v England, 4th Test, Melbourne, 1st day December 26, 2013

Pietersen's homage to Boycott

England's most flamboyant batsman played an innings that showcased his less-obvious qualities and was more reminiscent of the man whose run tally he surpassed on day one in Melbourne

Can Jonny Bairstow make the grade?

It was ironic that, on the day Kevin Pietersen surpassed Geoff Boycott's Test run tally, he should provide a more than passable imitation of England's famously patient batsman.

Boycott, whose concentration and denial helped him to 8114 Test runs, had labelled the altogether more aggressive Pietersen a "mug" for the manner of his dismissals in this series and called for him to be dropped ahead of this game.

But while Pietersen's team-mates again struggled to withstand another wonderfully disciplined display from the Australian attack, Pietersen resisted for nearly 60 overs to help England bat throughout the day and retain modest hopes of registering a competitive first-innings total.

While the rest of the top-order had their technical or temperamental flaws exposed, Pietersen showcased his less obvious qualities: his desire, his application and his determination. Without his contribution, England might well have been bowled out for under 200 in their first innings for the third time in the series.

Only three men - Graham Gooch, Alec Stewart and David Gower - have now scored more Test runs for England than Pietersen and none have an average as high. He also surpassed Boycott's run tally in 15 fewer innings. With such statistics, it is understandable that Pietersen might scratch his head and wonder why he receives so much criticism.

This might, at first glance, have appeared an out of character innings. He scored well below his career strike-rate - 44 compared to 62 over his career - and found the boundary only five times (four fours and one six) in 152 balls at the crease. He resisted being drawn into strokes outside the off stump - he has scored only 19 of his runs on the off side - he did not take the bait offered by Nathan Lyon to hit the ball in the air and, though most of his runs came off his legs, he generally played straight and waited for the poor ball. He sometimes had to wait a very long time.

But in reality, Pietersen has batted in similar fashion for most of this series. The manner of his dismissals - he has tended to be dismissed as a result of somewhat flamboyant strokes - may have given another impression, but he has scored his runs at a rate of only 49 per 100 balls and has battled long and hard for the few runs he has scored. Against an impressively tight attack and on a relatively sluggish pitch and outfield, it is not surprising that his run-rate dropped a little further.

The main difference between this innings and those earlier in the series was simply fortune. Here, Pietersen, frustrated by the tight bowling and looking to relieve the pressure, was reprieved twice after aggressive strokes offered catching opportunities; on other occasions his momentary loss of concentration has proved more damaging.

It would be easy to say that England were overly cautious. Easy and largely unfair. The truth is Australia bowled exceptionally well and England, in showing the application that has not always been obvious in this series, were forced to proceed with caution. Indeed, a strong case could be made to suggest they should have been more cautious. Alastair Cook and Joe Root were both lured into playing at balls they could have left.

When he plays his natural game, he is being reckless, but when he grinds out runs, he is surrendering the initiative. It really isn't easy being KP.

It's not hard to understand why Pietersen becomes frustrated with his critics. He can't win: when he plays his natural, positive game, he is accused of being reckless and selfish, but when he reins himself in and grinds out runs, he is accused of surrendering the initiative. It really isn't easy being KP.

The most revealing moment of Pietersen's innings might not have been his battle with a bowler as much as his battle with nausea. Moments after having been dropped for the second time, the result of a fierce pull that George Bailey was unable to cling on to at midwicket, Pietersen held up play for several minutes to call for a drink of water after appearing to retch just feet away from the pitch.

Perhaps Pietersen really was unwell. Perhaps he had swallowed one of the many flies that are in Melbourne at present. The insect does not feature in England's tour dietary guide, after all.

But it may well have been that Pietersen needed to prove to himself that his rash stroke was not simply an error of judgement. Like a boxer convincing themselves of their invincibility, Pietersen may have required such a tactic in order to convince himself - and, perhaps, the record-breaking crowd - that the momentary loss of concentration was not entirely his fault. He may have required such a tactic to find the renewed energy and belief for the struggle that confronted him. Either way, he soon recovered.

"He wasn't at his most fluent," Ian Bell, England's new vice-captain now Matt Prior has been dropped, said afterwards. "But it's great to see him scrap it out. The intent is always to score runs and put pressure on the bowlers. But Australia were very good and runs weren't the easiest.

"He is still there in the morning and if he has a good couple of hours then things can change very quickly. If you could choose one guy to go out there in the morning and get us to a competitive score, it would be him.

"But it's disappointing that most of our top six have made starts and not gone on. That's been a trend for a while now.

"It's massively frustrating. As a batter, you can take it when you're knocked over early as that can happen to anyone. But when you get in and you've done the hard work and then get out, it hurts a lot more. That's the time you should kick-on. It's been a habit for a while now and we need to score big runs."

Partly due to his dedication and partly due to some fortune, Pietersen survives to see England into day two. He will never win over all his critics but here, at least, his determination and desire to fight for the team cause could not be doubted.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Android on December 27, 2013, 5:37 GMT

    KP is definitely an enigma. He has definite talent and his natural attacking style is a dble edged sword. IMO there are few chanceless high scoring individual innings so I don't think we should be too critical of his latest knock. I live in Pietermaritzburg, his city of birth and where he learnt his trade. By all accounts from people in these parts, he was not necessarily a team man and pretty much was only happy when things went his way. I suspect that, over & above the quota system which he claims to be the reason for his non - selection in SA, his attitude was the major reason for him being over looked by the selectors, although I think his form in SA may also not have been at the level he started achieving when he went to England. I am not particularly partial to the man due to his attitude but can't help but watch him whenever he's playing or talking because of his batting talent and on/off field entertainment value. Please don't retire KP... English cricket will become boring.

  • Paul on December 27, 2013, 5:01 GMT

    "...when he plays his natural, positive game, he is accused of being reckless and selfish..." Not true. It's when he GETS OUT in a reckless fashion, he's accused of being selfish. And with the wondrous benefit of hindsight, his eventual dismissal showcased this innings for the piece of luck it was.

  • Simon on December 27, 2013, 2:55 GMT

    Just read your comment, azzaman333. The 'fence related injuries' of which the percentage per matches played for the whole of crickets 150 year history is at about 0.00000000035% is another 21st Century conjuring trick by administrators. You're a tosser if you argue with better player safety, so we'll make that the 'official reason' for ropes. Then at our backroom meetings we'll sell to sponsors and 'stakeholders' the amazing increase in run rates to 'pre- rope' matches. we'll have sponsors names on ropes, we'll sponsor fours and sixes and strike rates, we'll tell ourselves the game is more high energy, when in fact it is all marketing led, just like channel nine playing up that self promoting fool Piers Morgan. More people have attended this 'dead rubber' Test in a day & a half than the combined total for the whole series at England's village size grounds and they game for a bat and ball contest, not mishit sixes and edged fours. But of course, marketing isn't into cricket.

  • Simon on December 27, 2013, 2:40 GMT

    And then to prove Boycott right.....he batted today.

  • James on December 27, 2013, 0:29 GMT

    Next morning, wild, ridiculous slog across the line to Mitchell Johnson who is bowling at 150kph, clean bowled!

    It's worth remembering he should have been out of 6 yesterday, hooking! He hasn't changed, he just had a bit of luck go his way.

  • Dummy4 on December 26, 2013, 23:44 GMT

    Well and good that KP is batting soundly but had Coulter-Nile held that catch it would have been just another low score. With that behind him he should have gone on to a big century for England instead of holing out with a poor shot. Will he have the same fate as Damian Martyn a few years ago when a rash shot cost him his test place.

  • rob on December 26, 2013, 23:36 GMT

    This is the first time I've ever seen having a chunder described as a tactic!! The old tactical spew beside the pitch trick eh?

    As GD said, he was lucky - twice. You need a bit of that now and then so good on him I suppose. England will end up with a reasonable score so it's game on I think.

  • Cameron on December 26, 2013, 21:49 GMT

    As a cricket enthusiast I am very happy to see KP play, he's great to watch. He and Bell are the best 2.

  • Don on December 26, 2013, 20:26 GMT

    @Maverick73: That was a brilliant reply by Boycott. And why not? If someone regards you as enough of an authority on the game to ask you to define greatness, it's a gimme to define it so that your qualify yourself (even if only just).

    Other potential replies by other arguably great players: "Greatness is hitting the first ball you face in first-class cricket for six." -- Mitchell Johnson

    "Greatness is averaging 90 with the bat and around 30 with the ball over a 12 month period in test cricket." -- Andrew Symonds

    "Greatness is getting on the Honour Board at Lords as a bowler when you're batting in the top six." -- Shane Watson

    "Greatness is dismissing Bradman for a duck." -- Alec Bedser, Eddie Gilbert, Eric Hollies et al.

    "Greatness is taking over 50 test wickets in 18 matches and 36 different hair colours." -- Colin Miller

  • Danish on December 26, 2013, 19:35 GMT

    Finally people can see what I've been writing in comments of these articles. KP has been the only batsman after Bell who seems to be playing fine. Ok maybe he hasn't got many runs in an innings yet, most of it cos of hitting the ball in the wrong place, but he hasn't been defeated the way others have.

    I must also add that this is just one innings. He needs to do a lot more. All the best.

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