Good test match, this. And not a bad one for batsmen whose names begin with ‘P’ and end with ‘etersen’.
Compared to the dreary, run-swamped one-sidedness of the Oval, this has been proper test cricket – hard fought, and with ebb and flow. When one side has threatened to take charge, the other has responded. This is what cricket between us and South Africa is meant to be like.
Before Kevin Pietersen’s fireworks, our batsmen yesterday had several opportunities to put us firmly in front. Strauss, Trott, and to a lesser extent Bell, had all got themselves set only to then squander their opportunity through a combination of carelessness and mistakes, although in fairness the efficient Saffer bowling also played a part.
In a way, the worst score for a test batsman to make is 30-something. By that stage, you are properly ‘in’; you’ve accomplished the hardest part and can now consolidate. There are too many 30s on our batting card in this innings.
What’s currently separating us from South Africa, with the bat, is partly patience and application, but mainly mistake-making. The Saffers just don’t do it – and at the Oval, to an almost inhuman degree.
Much has already been said about KP’s astonishing performance. Mercurial and enigmatic are cliched, over-used words in sport, but if they apply to anyone, it’s KP. He has become more erratic and unpredictable as his career progressed, oscillating wildly from the bizarre to the sublime. Last week, I gently suggested that he’s losing his marbles. But yesterday he reminded us that he’s only ever one innings away from something brilliant and unique which can turn an entire match in our favour.
For all that’s written and speculated about KP’s poor cricketing politics, and his uncertain future, he’s demonstrated again just how much we’ll miss him one day. He is unlike any other England batsman I have ever witnessed, capable of things no one else could possibly perform.
What did you make of James Taylor? I thought he did rather well. In some ways, the pressure on him was reduced because expectations were low. In other ways the pressure was very much on due to the match situation. And he responded pretty impressively, remaining reasonably calm and collected and managing not to panic. You want a debutant to appear to have reasonable mental strength, and for me he ticked that box at least.
As for today, it’s very important for us to get a lead, even if only a small one. This match is most likely headed for a draw, but nonetheless a first innings lead gives us a minor moral victory, changes the balance of power, and psychologically puts South Africa on the back foot ahead of Lord’s.
Could there still be a result? Two early wickets today and we’ll be in trouble. But if KP and Prior enjoy a very brisk first hour – you never know