Despite yesterday's first ton for an Englishman at this World Cup, I couldn't shake the feeling that it did more for Kevin Pietersen's sense of self-worth than for his team's chances of winning. With an apparent belter of a strip at his mercy, KP's strike rate declined from around or above a-run-a-ball early on, to something closer to 85 by the time he holed out off Nathan Bracken in the penultimate over.
Australia's intelligent bowling in the last twenty overs had left England becalmed (they only added 83 after Ian Bell's dismissal in the 30th), yet just as his team's hopes of posting a score of three hundred began to evaporate, so too did Pietersen's's sense of urgency. Fair enough, as Mark Nicholas pointed out from the commentary box, he somehow managed to get less of the strike in this period (although, shouldn't he have attempted to rectify that himself?) - but it wasn't until he had calmly trotted through for his first century in nigh on two and a half years that he actually threw the bat at a delivery. And that got him out.
This is the man who hit more sixes in an Ashes innings than any Englishman before him at the Oval in 2005. A cricketer whose brutal approach to batting could probably make Jayasuriya, Hayden and Gilchrist look like dilly-dallyers on his day. However, his only Dorothy against the Aussies was off Michael Clarke's part-time left-armers, and in the latter part of the innings even Ravi Bopara found the fence more times (twice) despite scratching around for most of his innings.
I can't tell if Pietersen was merely trying to make a point to the Aussies, or perhaps justify his place at the top of the ICC's rankings. Maybe he felt that a century would act as a sort of beacon for his team mates, spurring them to greater heights; but with less than two overs to kick-on in after his departure, Paul Nixon's lone six spoke of minimal inspiration. In the field England were fairly sharp, whilst KP's juggling quasi-catch off Andrew Symonds was almost worthy of redemption - but in reality, those three figures next to our star man's name boosted his average and little else. Okay, granted, the score was the backbone of the innings; but beating Punter and Co. required Pietersen to give them a darn good shellacking from gun to tape, rather than run watchful ones and twos on the way to a hundred. If anyone thinks that Nixon couldn't have done as good a job as Pietersen did after Bell (and Colly and Flints) had fallen, then I'd wager they're wrong - and this from a former avowed Nixon-barracker.
Last week Michael Vaughan spoke of the need for his batsmen to finish the job, so to speak, after reaching 50, and maybe those sentiments factored into Pietersen's thinking as the Aussies turned the screw. I'm certainly of the opinion that slating Pietersen for not being quite as excellent as he could have been, when the rest of the team's performance was mediocre, isn't the way to go. But (yes, another one) we needed at least an extra fifty runs to have made things hard for Australia yesterday, and without significant contributions from either Collingwood or a woefully out of sorts Flintoff, only some made-in-South-Africa pyrotechnics were ever going to get us there. After being dropped twice, this was a perfect opportunity to ram some Australian bluster back where it belongs. Unfortunately, KP's fuse appeared to have been dipped in the Caribbean.