Headingley, day three: England 351-5

Today was an ‘exciting’ day of Test cricket. Not entirely in the usual sense of a tight run-chase or some tense bat v ball contests (though to an extent those as well), but in the much more simple sense of Kevin Pietersen trying to hit the South African bowlers into Lancashire. It was an absolutely staggering innings; he actually played fairly sensibly for a long period, but then South Africa tried to bounce him out. It was an odd tactic as the ball was fairly old, but one could see the logic of playing on Pietersen’s ego. The execution was all wrong, however. South Africa only bowled bouncers and the pitch and ball were simply not quick enough to really provide a problem. The field setting telegraphed the intent and Pietersen had time to happily smash the ball to the rope. Not once did South Africa try to slip in a yorker which might have done for him the way he was sitting on the back foot. Pietersen simply fed off the short stuff and was at his imperious best by the time the new ball was taken. South Africa would have probably thought, I certainly did, that the extra pace and movement would lead to KP missing one of his extravagant strokes, but it never happened. The ball went even faster off the bat and Pietersen both lofted Dale Steyn over his head for six and flat batted one back at Steyn’s head. It was an absolutely staggering innings, utterly majestic. I still do not believe that Pietersen comes through often enough to justify either his ego or his stupid shots, but it is lovely to watch when it comes off.

At the other end for most Pietersen’s innings was the debutant James Taylor. It is not an easy way to make a debut with England under a bit of pressure against the very good South African attack and KP’s extravagance at the other end cannot have helped matters. He played with excellent composure, however, to get to 34 from over a hundred balls. He was finally bowled through the gate by Morkel which was disappointing, but he looked Test quality. He played some lovely shots and worked his way through a difficult period. He did not go on to make the big score that would have guaranteed his place for Lord’s, however, and England will of course hope that he does not have to bat in the second innings. It’s hard to know what the selectors will do if Bopara makes himself available for the last Test, but I would definitely have Taylor in the squad for Lord’s on the back of this.

Pietersen’s innings really put England back into contention after a fairly poor first part of the day. England never collapsed to put them in the mire, but a lot of the batsmen got in and got out. Strauss got a good ball and Cook got an okay one, but Trott and Bell both played horrific drives away from the body to get out. They all made some runs (though only eleven for Bell) but it was just not enough, especially from Trott. Trott basically built his career around not chasing balls outside off, but this is not the first time he has got out doing so this year. I don’t know what has caused this change from him and it could be as simple as a dip in form. That does happen. But I worry that he has been put under so much pressure to score faster in ODIs that it is affecting his Test game.

England are very much in this match, they go into stumps on 351-5 and trailing by 68. There is not a lot of true batting to come, but KP and Prior are still in and if South Africa can not dislodge them early they will fancy getting England all the way to level terms. England still have Bresnan, who batted well at the Oval, and the mercurial Broad to bat so England could actually get a decent lead if South Africa do not bounce back tomorrow morning. Even if that does not happen, however, South Africa have some injury concerns. Alviro Petersen has a grade one hamstring injury and will only bat if necessary and Smith landed rather heavily on his knee whilst fielding near the close. It’s not yet clear how badly his injured, but South Africa will really want him not only fit but opening. Their other batsmen are talented, but facing the new ball is a tough ask and South Africa will be at a distinct disadvantage if Rudolph has to open (as I am guessing he would) with a non-specialist. Right now all three results are still possible and it should all be very interesting tomorrow.

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