Kevin Pietersen was stopped short just as he appeared to be finding his feet on day one of the third Test in Dubai, says Jo Harman.
I had the pleasure of speaking to Mike Brearley yesterday. He, like the rest of us, has been engrossed by events in the UAE but was struggling to get his head around England’s travails against spin, and in particular those of Kevin Pietersen. “He seems to get mesmerised and often misses straight balls,” said the former England captain. “He looks for spin that might not be there and he makes a palaver of it, instead of just playing the ball – which he is so capable of doing.”
For a while, at least, it looked as though Pietersen was beginning to break free of that hypnosis and find an answer to his spin demons. His footwork showed greater intent; coming down the track to Saeed Ajmal and driving firmly to mid on before swatting his next delivery through the covers for two. Two trademark Pietersen boundaries followed in the next over from Umar Gul to take him to 25 off 26 deliveries. He was beginning to motor and there was a hint of swagger returning.
Of course, the true test was yet to come in the form of left-arm spin. Misbah-ul-Haq wasted little time in bringing Abdur Rehman into the attack, but again the signs were positive as Pietersen played authoritatively in defence – getting a good stride in and, by and large, playing with a straight bat.
He continued to play with purpose in Rehman’s second over, skipping down the track to sprint a quick single before slog sweeping the left-arm twirler for four to move on to 30 and bring up a 50 partnership with Andrew Strauss. Was the spell beginning to break?
Unfortunately for England, the answer was no. Four overs later Rehman – England’s tormentor in the second innings at Abu Dhabi – conjured another wicket as Pietersen’s woes against southpaw spinners continued. Caught on the crease, he was rapped on the pads and Simon Taufel raised the finger. Pietersen can count himself unlucky after the subsequent review showed the ball was flicking 2.2mm of the leg stump but the angle of his bat – pointing towards mid on at the point of impact – once again demonstrated how susceptible he is against the spinners.
With Pietersen’s departure, so went England’s intent. Four overs came and went without the tourists adding to their total before the ever-vociferous Adnan Akmal fortuitously stumped Ian Bell, who had crawled his way to five off 28 balls. Eoin Morgan and Matt Prior soon followed – Morgan to the 35th lbw of the series (a new record for a three-Test series) – as England’s middle-order succumbed to spin once again.
In a low-scoring match England needed a batsman to take the game by the scruff of the neck and establish a first innings lead. For an hour, it looked as though Pietersen could be just that man. Instead England must look to their captain, who remains unbeaten on 41, and the lower-order to add vitals runs on day two and give their hugely impressive bowling attack a lead worthy of the name.
Click here to read how David Green would counter Pakistan’s spinners