Kevin Pietersen can do what few others can
After the one-sided South African win at The Oval, Headingley gave us a much more evenly contested Test match. Both teams will feel that they had the chance of a win on the final day.
After the one-sided South African win at The Oval, Headingley gave us a much more evenly contested Test match. Both teams will feel that they had the chance of a win on the final day. These days, chasing six to seven runs an over is not impossible. If Kevin Pietersen had got going, it was certainly possible. South Africa finished stronger, but they didn't totally outplay England as they had in the first Test.
Few would have predicted that Alviro Peterson would be South Africa's batting star. I don't think England were focussing that much on him. When they were bowling to Graeme Smith, they had a plan, to bowl to him with a five-four field when they had the new ball. For Peterson, it was a standard field. I presume they thought they didn't have to make any special plan for him. He might have slipped a bit below the radar, but at the same time you have to give him credit for the way he batted. He showed a lot of will and determination. His innings was vital given that they were asked to bat first. None of the other batsmen really went on to get a good score.
Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers got starts, but it was Peterson who went on to play a big innings. Despite being so experienced, I got the impression watching Kallis that he was continuing on from The Oval, and not looking to start over again. I didn't see much of Garry Sobers, but Kallis is an amazing cricketer. At 36 years of age, for him to continue to bowl as fast as he did, pushing towards 90mph ... He's already taken 279 Test wickets, and scored so many runs. He is one of the greatest cricketers ever.
I also think Imran Tahir has added variety to the South African attack. Although he might not be the greatest spinner around, he keeps getting two or three wickets in an innings, which is basically what you need. You don't have to have a spinner who is a match-winner. It is great to have someone who can add to your attack - get some wickets and bowl some economical overs.
I do think that South Africa can seal the series at Lord's. They have an outstanding cricket team with some great batsmen and very good bowlers. England have a fine side as well, so it should be a great tussle.
Having taken just two wickets at The Oval, England didn't bowl that much better at Headingley. Stuart Broad did in the second innings, because he pitched the ball up a lot more. Both teams bowled too many short balls, Morne Morkel in particular when he was attacking Pietersen. He shook Pietersen up at the The Oval and bowled him out. There was nothing wrong with trying it again. My problem was that when they saw it wasn't working, when Pietersen started counter-attacking, they didn't think about changing tactics.
They allowed Pietersen to get on top of them and he totally dominated them. They kept on bouncing him and he was hitting them all over the park. When he got through that period, in his mind, he would have said to himself, 'This is all they've got for me, and I've conquered that. Now I'm going to dominate them'. That put him in a different frame of mind, and he pretty much demolished the bowling after that.
I think Pietersen is a fantastic batsman, the most dynamic England have, and he certainly has some great figures behind him. He has done to bowling attacks what no one else in this England team can do, and not many around the world can. If he had a back-foot game, he'd be even more dangerous. He is constantly on the front foot, and when he comes across hard, bouncy pitches, he struggles a little bit in that regard. But on pitches when he can come on the front foot and doesn't have to go back, he will destroy an attack.
As a bowler, when someone is playing a lot of shots, you know you have a chance. But at the same time, there's more to Pietersen than just the range of shots. Viv Richards could do it all, but he could also adapt his game when needed. The best players usually can.
It will be unfortunate if Lord's is indeed Pietersen's last Test match. He is such a talent and certainly an entertainer. With him not playing in the shorter formats, people are already missing out. If he doesn't play Tests, then it'll be sad. I have no idea what the problems are between him and the England and Wales Cricket Board, or the team management. But it'll be great if something is sorted because he is a fantastic player.
These issues have been there for a while, and I don't think it has affected the team. It certainly hasn't affected him and his performance. I don't think it is distracting the team. It should not be, unless he is making comments in the dressing room that are not beneficial to the team. I very much doubt that.
Pietersen is not the only one with such problems though, and I have no idea where it's all going to end. When the Indian Premier League started, I warned people that it could be the downfall of Test cricket. Now, we're seeing it falling apart. When you have the best players not representing their country, because they prefer to play the IPL, that means Test cricket is heading towards doom. I was asked last year whether I saw Test cricket being around in ten years. I said, yes, it will be, but it may have become meaningless. People will not be interested in it if the best cricketers in the world are not playing. I think that's where we're headed, unless something can be done.
I do not see the International Cricket Council making a window for the IPL, because then, the Big Bash in Australia will want a window for themselves. The South Africans will want a window for their tournament. So will Sri Lanka. What will we have then? We'll just have a lot of T20 and not any other form of cricket.
I don't know what boards can do to change this. My suggestion would have been to not make T20 tournaments as financially beneficial to the players as they are, but that can't change now. Once you start paying someone $US10, you can't say 'Okay, we're only going to give you 50 cents from now on'.
The fact that this is just a three-Test series should tell you where the game is headed. There's a lot of lip service about the preservation of Test cricket, but those responsible for the game don't match their words with action. These are the two best teams in the world, and they should be playing a longer series. But England chose to play five One-Day Internationals against Australia because that would bring in more money. It's all about financial considerations, and not what's best for cricket. Unfortunately, the people in charge of the game only talk the talk. They don't walk the walk.
Michael Holding played 60 Tests for West Indies between 1975 and 1987, and won two World Cups. He was an integral part of a team that lost just one series in nearly two decades, and is now a popular TV commentator