x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Kevin Pietersen is back in his pomp

The England batsman hits 202 not out as England declare on 474 for eight on the second day of the first Test at Lord's.

Kevin Pietersen celebrates reaching his hundred against India at Lord’s yesterday.
Kevin Pietersen celebrates reaching his hundred against India at Lord’s yesterday.

LONDON // Lord's takes its role as the guardian of seriousness in cricket very seriously, indeed. The ground regulations, as laid out by the MCC Committee, order as much.

"No unnecessary noise or confusion of any kind is permitted in any part of the ground," article 13.2.i of the regulations reads. "The wearing of fancy dress costumes and oversized hats inside the ground is prohibited."

On yesterday's evidence, however, the rules prohibiting chaos do not apply to the playing area.

The meeting between Test cricket's top side, India, and the pretenders to their throne from England is likely to be infused with much tension this summer.

But the second day of the series was as conspicuous for its comedy value as it was for a sparkling double-century from Kevin Pietersen and a heroic bowling display by Praveen Kumar.

Before play had started, Richard Halsall, the assistant coach, was running the three young players who were the potential fielding substitutes for England through some high catching drills.

As one of them, Tom Hampton, an aspiring professional on the MCC Young Cricketers programme, ran at full tilt to take one catch, he proceeded to trip over a bucket of whitewash which had been left out to mark the bowlers' run-ups.

In doing so he covered himself in paint and left a large white puddle on the outfield. It was slapstick more suited to a circus act.

The ground staff managed to mop up the damage before the TV cameras were switched on, leaving little more than a small blemish on the grass.

A can of red spray paint was produced to correct the affected sponsors logo during the lunch interval, after which MS Dhoni took up the theme.

Yuvraj Singh, the all-rounder who famously was once derided as a "pie-chucker" by Pietersen, was not selected for this match.

In his absence, Dhoni took it upon himself to send down the buffet, removing his wicket-keeping pads during the break and giving them to a teammate, Rahul Dravid, then rolling his arm over himself.

It was schoolboy stuff, like when the biggest boy in the Under 12s team does all the batting, all the bowling, and as much of the wicketkeeping as he can fit in.

The last time a wicketkeeper had made any significant contribution as a bowler was in 1884, when an amateur named Alfred Lyttelton, who also played football for England, took four wickets bowling underarm lobs against Australia.

However, Dhoni's quirky ploy, which was brought about by necessity due to the extended absence of India's leading bowler, Zaheer Khan, because of a hamstring strain, nearly bore fruit immediately.

He had a credible lbw appeal against Pietersen turned down from his first ball, then went one better as he had a shout for caught behind upheld shortly afterwards.

The batsman escaped with his wicket intact, however, when the review proved the ball had missed his edge.

With all the excitement, it was beginning to feel a bit like "Barnum & Bailey do Lord's".

By the time England declared in the evening session, Pietersen was back to his masterful best. He blazed the final 50 of his unbeaten 202 in just 25 balls.

That meant he edged his duel with Praveen, his former Royal Challengers Bangalore teammate, who had performed stoutly for India.

With an increased workload because of Zaheer's injury, Praveen sent down 40.3 overs in the innings. He deserved his five wickets, as well as a chance to put his feet up.

The decision of Andrew Strauss, the England captain, to declare when Pietersen reached 202 and leave India with a testing 30 minutes to bat was a bold one - and that from a captain who is often criticised for being defensive.

India made it to the close unscathed, though, meaning the opening Test is now perfectly poised.