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August 4, 2013
Choice of game
For the third day running this report comes courtesy of a Midlander forced to venture north in the search of cricket. With no Ashes Test at New Road this year, Old Trafford was an easy choice. Manchester is a city I'm very fond of yet this was my first opportunity to visit cricket's Old Trafford. With Australia in a rare strong position in this series it was a day for England's big men to prove their worth.
KP. Who else? He strode to the crease with England in big trouble at 64-3 and proceeded to offer the ugliest of prods at his very first ball - a tempter from Harris that only Pietersen would even think of trying to hit in a Test match. Like Jonathan Trott he looked scratchy at first but after a couple of majestic boundaries to get himself going he was calm and collected. In the end it was a century that may not live long in the memory but in becoming England's highest run-scorer in all formats he may have also played the innings that ensures England retain the Ashes come Monday evening.
One thing I'd have changed about the day
I feel like something of a killjoy for saying this but I'd have preferred to have been surrounded by a more knowledgeable cricketing crowd - or even a few spectators who actually wanted to watch the game. As the day wore on, many of the ticket-holders around me were more interested in constructing beer snakes and getting carrier bags onto the outfield than actually watching a fascinating contest develop. Having opted for the cheap seats in the never-ending temporary stand I expected something akin to Headingley's wonderful Western Terrace. Instead it was more like a cross between Deansgate on a Friday night and a birthday party for a bunch of giddy six-year-olds.
The interplay I enjoyed
Shane Watson to Pietersen in the afternoon session. Having whacked Lyon out of the attack, KP was looking to go through the gears but a typically belligerent and accurate spell from the much-criticised allrounder kept him on the back foot. His bouncers were excellent and he should have had his man when he trapped KP bang in front on 62 - if only Michael Clarke had backed up his bowler with a review.
Ryan Harris' nip-backer that just clipped Ian Bell's off peg took us all by surprise - so much so that I missed it in real time. With a couple of centuries already to his name in this series you got the feeling the Bell had Australia at their wit's end, but Harris found a way through at a crucial time.
Shot of the day
It's not often you see three sixes in the space of 15 minutes but none of them take the crown. Instead it was a Pietersen cover drive in which he absolutely creamed during the afore-mentioned battle with Watson that took my breath away.
Say what you like about Pietersen but there's rarely a dull moment watching him bat so it was privilege to see him construct a century that, for a change, didn't seem effortless. Starc, Harris, Siddle and Watson gave him everything they had, and deserve huge credit for the way they stuck at their task. A proper battle between bat and ball that ensured the Test match stayed alive and well. Oh, and I quite liked The Point as well.
Marks out of 10
7. A day that ebbed, flowed and stuttered in equal measure but one that may prove decisive when all is said and done. The football season started today so to borrow a well-worn football metaphor day three was the defensive midfielder who puts in the hard yards, makes those simple passes and is generally an unsung hero. The remaining days will surely have many more twists and turns but if, as I expect, England do retain the Ashes on Monday it will have a lot to do with a brilliant century by a genius batsman in the middle of the match.
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