Kevin Pietersen played a cautious out-of-character innings and lived a charmed life as England wickets clattered around him on an attritional opening day of the dead-rubber fourth Ashes Test against Australia yesterday.
Pietersen, under fire for his unproductive batting in England’s troubled series, curbed his natural attacking instincts to keep the pressing Australia bowlers at bay before a crowd of 91,092, the highest single-day attendance for any Test match.
Pietersen went to stumps unbeaten on a fighting 67 off 152 balls, with Tim Bresnan on 1 in England’s 226-6. In doing so Pietersen passed Geoff Boycott as the fourth all-time England run-getter.
“I think he’s outstanding. He does play an aggressive game and sometimes, like at the WACA [Perth Test], he gets caught at long-on, it doesn’t look particularly great, but the number of games he’s won us in the past, there’s not many cricketers like him in world cricket,” teammate Ian Bell said. “Tomorrow morning, if you wanted one guy to go out there in the middle to try to get us up to a competitive score, it would be KP.”
The subdued Pietersen had some luck along the way and denied the impressive Ryan Harris both times as England were pinned down by a disciplined Australia bowling attack on a slow-scoring day at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Pietersen, who took 12 balls to get off the mark, had some good fortune on 6 when he was caught by fielding substitute Nathan Coulter-Nile at deep-backward square off Harris.
Coulter-Nile was unable to stay within the field of play after taking the catch, staggering over the boundary marker, and Pietersen was awarded a six instead.
He had a second “life” on 41 when George Bailey had two goes in a fumbling attempt at a catch off Harris at midwicket.
Harris, who was superb leading the Australia attack, ended a threatening 67-run partnership when he got Bell to nick an outswinger to Brad Haddin for 27 off 98 balls in the 73rd over.
During his innings, Bell joined Michael Clarke in passing 1,000 runs for the calendar year.
Perth Test century-maker Ben Stokes fell late in the day when he edged to Shane Watson at slip off Mitchell Johnson for 14. He he was followed by Jonny Bairstow, replacing Matt Prior, but bowled by a Johnson snorter for 10.
“We know if we bowl like we did today we’re going to have days like that, where they’re not going to score many runs, because we’re putting so much pressure on them and they’re not scoring,” Harris said.
The Australia bowlers tight lines restricted England and extracted the wickets of opener Michael Carberry and No. 3 Joe Root in the middle session.
Carberry shouldered arms and lost his off-stump to Watson for 38 to waste another good start.
Carberry, who was dropped in the slips on 2, had done all the hard work, but was beaten by terrific movement off the pitch from Watson in the 34th over of the innings.
In nine Test innings he has been out six times between 30 and 43.
Harris removed Root with an outswinger, enticing an edge to Haddin for 24 off 82 balls in the 43rd over.
Watson’s well-catalogued injury jinx struck again when he was unable to complete his seventh over late in the middle session and left the ground for treatment for a right-groin problem. He returned to the field late in the day to take the catch to dismiss Stokes.
Australia captain Michael Clarke — with an unassailable 3-0 lead in the five-match series and the Ashes already recovered — won the toss and sent the troubled tourists in to bat under overcast skies.
England got to the first drinks break without losing a wicket, but they lost skipper Alastair Cook three overs later when he nibbled at Peter Siddle and was caught by Clarke at second slip for 27.
In the 19 tosses Clarke has had as Australia skipper it was only the fourth time he has put the opposing team into bat.
England dropped vice captain Prior and named Bairstow as wicketkeeper, while Monty Panesar was chosen as the specialist spinner following the shock mid-series retirement of Graeme Swann.
In contrast, Australia named an unchanged side for the fourth consecutive Test.
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