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Pietersen inspirational in England recovery; LORD'S (Erst day): England 309-3 v South Africa.

Byline: By Jack Bannister

England overcame the apparent handicap of losing the toss, thanks to an unbroken fourth-wicket partnership 192 off 46 overs of between a majestic Kevin Pietersen who scored his 13th Test hundred and a determined Ian Bell who starts this morning with 75.

The pair came together after an appalling lbw decision by Australian Daryl Harper and a ten-minute spell of inspired fast bowling from Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel had the home side reeling at 117 for three.

Pietersen somehow survived a feverish start in which he deserved to run himself out for nought, followed by a flinch to a bouncer that struck him on the back of the helmet, and his partnership with Bell was a model of concentration from both men. They turned the day around so completely that Graeme Smith knows that a total misread of conditions handed England an initiative they held all day except for that ten-minute period.

Pietersen is playing in his first Test against the country of his birth and how he celebrated when he reached his hundred for his adopted country and, to their credit, he received a decent hand from the tourists. It was an amazing innings, not only because of the venue and opposition, but because of a growing maturity that enables himself to pace an innings so well that his natural aggression is now more under control than in the past, when he has gifted his wicket, almost regardless of the match situation.

A breakdown of his progress to the prized three figures tells most of the story. At tea he was a careful 13 off 29 balls, with Bell off to a flier with 33 off 32 balls. When the dented helmet came off and the bat triumphantly waved aloft, his last 87 runs came off 97 balls out of 118 then scored in the final session.

Power and placement were superb, and his record breaking horizons are limitless. In the same period Bell only managed 26 off 96 balls, but the old dressing room cliche that it is the middle score that counts was proved once more. Bell was playing for his immediate future, and he still needs to go on to three figures, particularly that the Andrew Flintoff shadow is lengthening over everyone.

England's only dip was started by Harper's lbw decision in favour of Morkel against Strauss. Never mind it was always marginal whether the ball pitched on or outside leg stump. An umpire does not have to be certain it has pitched outside, but if he is uncertain that it has pitched in line, he must shake his head. This was another elementary mistake by Harper to add to an uncomfortably long list.

Michael Vaughan admitted he would also have bowled first, but the unexpected slow paced pitch and overhead blustery conditions denied South Africa's pace attack any pace, bounce or even swing. There was the odd playing and missing, but Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook had a relatively untroubled first session in which they accumulated 71 off 28 overs.

Even allowing for unhelpful conditions, Steyn and Morkel bowled too much wide of off stump, and only Makhela Ntini was anywhere near Test standard bowling. Already there is a suspicion that the other two fast men are far happier against right-handers, because both got into a pickle bowling over and around the wicket to the left-handers.

Steyn was the guiltier man, with 16 of his first 36 balls before the break ignored because of wayward direction. The Lord's influence could have been a factor, because only four of the tourists had ever played there before. It is not just the aura of Headquarters, but also the unique slope with which bowlers have to come to terms regarding a shift of line of at least a foot regarding off stump.

When a rueful Strauss was fingered, Vaughan came in for a brief innings that was a nightmare. He got off the mark aiming to midwicket but squirting wide of cover. His next ball was a carbon copy, but he tried to play forward with both feet behind the crease, and heard the clatter of middle and off stumps.

The Steyn delivery offered to shape away, but certainly not enough to beat half a bat. The rush continued when Morkel "throated" Cook, who ducked and spooned a simple catch to gully. Then came Pietersen and Bell, as they will this morning. Pietersen said "that was one of the most amazing, emotional and outstanding moments in my career when the crowd just stood and kept applauding. It is right up there with my day at the Oval against Australia."

It was King Kevin for 30,000 cricket lovers yesterday.

CAPTION(S):

Ian Bell congratulates Kevin Pietersen after his team-mate had reached his century. The pair shared an unbeaten stand of 192 following a spell after lunch when three quick wickets were lost for only three runs in the space of three overs Picture, GARETH COPLEY/PRESS ASSOCIATION
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 11, 2008
Words:834
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