Feb 2005 – Back with a VengeanceNeil Pickup |
As January became February, the cricket world’s focus turned squarely onto one-day Internationals on both sides of the Indian Ocean, as Australia completed another VB series triumph before continuing their relentless path of destruction across the Tasman Sea. Meanwhile, England’s mammoth African winter continued as they donned coloured clothing and took on their Proteas hosts over seven ODIs before Zimbabwe provided comic relief to close the door on the month’s action.
Whereas January built up to a single afternoon’s climax under the Johannesburg sun, this time around the stars shone across time zones and throughout disciplines. Daniel Vettori and Hamish Marshall did their utmost to hold back the canary yellow juggernaut whilst Brett Lee continued his penetrative form to dishevell the Kiwi batsmen, and Matthew Hayden returned to form with devastating effect. Herschelle Gibbs reacted to his demotion to four in the South African order with a brace of centuries, Graeme Smith turned a career total of zero ODI centuries at the beginning of the month to three by its ending and Justin Kemp lived up to his billing as a replacement for Lance Klusener – with bat at least.
Above all, however, Glenn McGrath shone brightest in the Antipodes as the last of the voices questioning his post-injury return to global prominence was finally quietened. As metronomic and as miserly as ever, the spearhead of the Australian attack finished the month with fourteen ODI wickets at just eight and a half runs apiece. McGrath turned in two exceptional displays – even by his high standards – either side of his thirty-fifth birthday. Firstly, 5-27 as he destroyed the Pakistani batting lineup in the second VB series final and then an even more remarkable 4-16 as he single-handedly wrestled his country back into the Trans-Tasman Trophy opener, including the first stumping of his International career as Adam Gilchrist stood up despite the 135kph (84mph) pace.
Two attention-grabbing displays is impressive going – but double that is arguably another level entirely. Kevin Peter Pietersen’s International career started, away from the eyes of the world, in Zimbabwe last November – however the Standard Bank one-day series in the country of his birth would be his true introduction to the world game. Pietersen, born in Natal in 1980, left his homeland to qualify as English – his mother’s nationality – after becoming disillusioned with the quota system in the South African domestic game. Joining Nottinghamshire, he lit up the County Championship with huge scores and, having served the qualification period, was immediately drafted into the England ODI side.
Surviving the first match at Johannesburg unscathed, Pietersen recorded his first century of the month at Bloemfontein, first alongside skipper Michael Vaughan as he rescued his side from 67-3 and then with Paul Collingwood – taking the toll of the South African bowling attack with little respect for names or reputations. The Goodyear Park crowd turned their backs as Pietersen left the field – but this show of petty dissent had no effect on Pietersen’s form and besides, they’d have plenty of chances to see his bat in action in the coming days.
Port Elizabeth brought little, but his efforts at Cape Town were undermined only by a capitulation from his team-mates. Andre Nel was despatched for three boundaries, whilst he found the stands off both Jacques Kallis and Nicky Boje – only falling when an attempted third consecutive maximum off the left-arm spinner was intercepted by AB de Villiers on the midwicket fence.
England’s run-chase in the fifth match seemed impossible as the required run rate broached double figures as early as the 34th over, yet whilst Pietersen remained at the crease it was merely improbable until the dying deliveries. Only Shaun Pollock reined him below a run-a-ball as he recorded the fastest ODI century by an Englishman, and the ninth fastest of all time, finishing unbeaten on a round 100*, clubbing Andre Nel into the stands off only the 69th ball he faced.
The elements prevented any runs from the Pietersen blade at Durban’s Kingsmead ground, extinguishing any English hopes of salvaging the series, with the continual failures of Pietersen’s top order team-mates too often leading to insufficient totals. The final clash at SuperSport Park, Centurion, represented the series in microcosm – England, inserted, capitulated to 68-6 before Pietersen (with a little help from Ashley Giles) turned the innings, first steadily accumulating and then accelerating with venom. His first 34 runs took 73 balls, before a brace of sixes over midwicket against Boje signalled the change of pace. When Pietersen fell, he had 116 runs from 110 balls – the final 78 coming from just 37, including ten boundaries and six maximums – and England recorded a respectable 240.
Whereas in Bloemfontein Pietersen had been snubbed by the crowd, the Centurion crowd provided a standing ovation. Whether his strokeplay had truly turned the crowd’s derision into adulation, or the already-concluded nature of the series minimised the extent of the threat that he was seen as, it was an astonishing transformation.
Whilst not enough to salvage the match, Pietersen’s efforts were enough to edge out McGrath and join last month’s winner, his compatriot Matthew Hoggard, as CricketWeb’s Player of the Month. The coming summer sees ODIs and Tests against Bangladesh and Australia – will he prove the extra ingredient that tips the balance towards the home country as they bid to win their first Ashes series in over eighteen years? If so, this certainly won’t be the last award he’ll win.
CricketWeb Player of the Month