Friday, July 10, 2009

The Ponting and Katich masterclass


I hope that Kevin Pietersen and the rest of the England top order were watching intently as events unfolded at Cardiff yesterday. Not just at the Ponting and Katich batting masterclass during the last two sessions of the day but also the splendid attack launched by the England lower order in the morning. In their vastly different ways Broad, Anderson and Swann (for England) and Ricky Ponting and Simon Katich (for Australia) showed how to bat on a pudding of a pitch. There are two approaches and international batsmen of quality should be able to follow either. If the wicket is benign and the attack no better than adequate then depending on the state of the match you either get your head down, use your technique and experience and quietly graft your way without taking any risks to a decent score. If, however, you want to dominate the bowling and the state of the match requires that you do this then you can become more adventurous and try and take the attack apart.

On Wednesday afternoon with England 97-3 at lunch Pietersen and Collingwood needed to restore their side’s position so grafting was necessary. They did this well, survived the next session and took England to 192-3 at tea. A few overs later Colly lost his concentration when on 64, and with an Ashes hundred for the taking, he edged a catch to Haddin off an innocuous ball from Hilfenhaus (228-4). Then with the score at 240 Kevin Pietersen played the most gormless shot I have ever seen in cricket at any level to put England back in trouble. All the good work of the afternoon session was undone in two shots – one ill-advised and the other just plain brainless. Back in 1965 the great Ken Barrington was dropped from the England side for taking seven and a half hours to make 137 against New Zealand. And a year later Geoffrey Boycott suffered the same fate for his exceptionally slow batting against India. Pietersen’s wilful, self-centred and grotesque dismissal at Cardiff was surely just as culpable as Barrington and Boycott’s tardiness. Will the England selectors of 2009 have the courage to follow the lead of their predecessors of forty years ago? They certainly should.

Back to the masterclass. Ponting and Katich soon realised that the much hyped slow turner apparently due to appear at Sofia Gardens was either a myth or was a long time a-coming. England were bowling OK but nothing was helping the swing or pace of Flintoff, Anderson or Broad and there was nothing in the pitch for Panesar or Swann either. If they kept their heads they could put Australia into a decent position by the close, and knock on to biggish personal scores as well. Where Colly and KP had blown it from a similar position Punter and Kat clearly weren’t going to do the same. Today if the weather holds and there is no sudden deterioration in the pitch there is no reason at all why Australia can’t push on entertainingly and have a lead of perhaps 150 by the close – and they can win the match from there.

This Cardiff pitch is not fit for competitive Test cricket – at least on the evidence so far. It seems that fears that the pitch would break up and Glamorgan would be shamed by a three day Test (or less) lead not only to the sacking of a groundsman but to a gross over-compensation by his successor. You could play a Durban 1938 length Test match on this pitch and not get a result. Just like in Adelaide in 2006 when after four days the curator was lambasted by all and sundry for the run-rich and bowler unfriendly pitch he delivered in the second Test of the 2006-7 Ashes series. Well we all remember what happened on that fifth day – the pitch didn’t crack up but England did! And don’t write off the possibility of the same happening at Cardiff 2009. This Test match is far from over!

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