England XI 317 for 5 (Strauss 100 ret, Pietersen 71) against South Africa Invitational XI at Buffalo Park
With one innings left before the first Test Kevin Pietersen finally found form as the England batsmen enjoyed a good day against the South African Invitational XI at Buffalo Park.
Pietersen struck 12 boundaries in his 71, which followed a century from Andrew Strauss and fifties for Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott. Pietersen's previous six outings on this tour have brought 110 runs and all observers, including the batsman himself, felt he needed serious time in the middle after a four-month injury lay-off.
His 101-ball innings pleased Andy Flower, the England coach, who felt Pietersen looked in better shape by the end of his stint at the crease. "Kevin has been out of cricket, and then not scoring heavily. Him getting in and getting that time in the middle was vital.You could see as his innings progressed that he looked more balanced and more assured at the crease. That's very important for him."
The conditions were friendly for the batsmen and were not, according to Flower, likely to be replicated in the Test matches. "We would have preferred a bouncier pitch - because that is what we are expecting in the Test series," he said.
Yet Strauss made the most of the helpful wicket, constructing a patient 100, in which he shared a productive opening stand of 101 with Alastair Cook in the morning session and a partnership of 68 with Jonathan Trott in the afternoon. It was his first hundred since the 161 he made on the opening day of the second Ashes Test at Lord's. He looked in good touch throughout the one-day series but couldn't convert to a big score so will be satisfied with his knock today, especially after falling for 1 in the first of the two two-day games in East London.
Unlike Pietersen, Trott was one of England's in-form batsmen going into today's game but he was strangely becalmed and struggled to score runs until Pietersen joined him at the wicket. In a good post-lunch spell for the hosts, 20-year-old medium-pacer Roy Adams conceded a miserly nine runs from seven overs as Trott kept picking out the fielders despite timing the ball nicely. Once he got going, he and Pietersen shared a 105-run partnership and Trott reached his fifty from 135 balls.
Flower was unconcerned by Trott's pace of scoring, arguing that each batsman has their own method to prepare for a Test. "He was obviously working through his own processes out there in the middle, and I didn't have a problem with him batting that slowly. If that gets him ready for the first Test then all well and good."
Earlier in the day James Anderson and Ryan Sidebottom were named in the side after injury had forced them out of the first East London fixture. Despite a series of injections, Anderson has been carrying an injury to his right knee all tour and has been unable to bowl a ball in anger since his career-best 5 for 23 in the fourth ODI on November 29 helped England to a series win. Sidebottom, meanwhile, would offer England variation and experience with his left-arm pace but suffered a side strain playing for the England Performance Programme in Pretoria.
It is a relief for England to get both pacemen in the team today and with the batsmen finding their feet at just the right time, a good show from the bowlers tomorrow will leave Andrew Strauss's men feeling confident for Centurion.