Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Kevin Pietersen fell three runs short of his 16th Test hundred as England stuttered on day one of the first Test against the West Indies in Jamaica.

England 236-5 v West Indies

The ex-captain came to the crease with England reeling at 30-2 inside 10 overs after Andrew Strauss elected to bat.

He put on 86 with Andrew Flintoff (43 not out) but perished top-edging Sulieman Benn to keeper Denesh Ramdin.

Spinner Benn (2-64) was the pick of the home bowlers, receiving fine support from Chris Gayle and Daren Powell.

Despite Flintoff's defiant rearguard resistance, ably assisted by Matt Prior (27 not out), West Indies captain Gayle will be extremely satisfied by an excellent all-round bowling performance - especially after Pietersen's dismissal shifted momentum towards his side.

Just like at Edgbaston last summer, where he needlessly gave his wicket away attempting to bring up his century in the third Test against South Africa with a six, Pietersen was the architect of his own downfall.

Having smashed Benn for two successive boundaries and a six, Pietersen attempted a slog-sweep over mid-wicket for another big hit, but only managed a thick top edge, presenting wicketkeeper Ramdin with a simple catch.

The wicket was a deserved reward for the outstanding Benn, who bowled 33 successive overs after his introduction, extracting sharp turn and bounce on a wicket conducive to slow bowling, a complete contrast to the fast and furious Sabina Park pitches of the 1970s and 1980s.

England named Flintoff in their starting XI after the all-rounder had sufficiently recovered from a side strain, while Ryan Sidebottom was included for the first time since August.

Strauss elected to bat first on what looked a true surface - with tinges of green and the odd crack to keep the seamers and spinners interested.

However, the pitch proved anything but benign as Strauss was given a working over by opening bowlers Taylor and Fidel Edwards.

Having been already given a reprieve when Xavier Marshall dropped a sharp chance at third slip off off Taylor in the third over, Strauss succumbed to the Jamaican two overs later when he nudged a ball holding its line outside off stump into the gloves of Ramdin.

His dismissal brought Ian Bell to the crease and the Warwickshire batsman, whose place has been under scrutiny with Owais Shah waiting on the fringes, began confidently with several eye-catching flicks off his pads.

More worrying for England was Alastair Cook's lack of form. The vice-captain lacked any fluency during his scratchy 20-ball innings, looping a mistimed pull off Powell into the hands of Ramnaresh Sarwan at mid-on.

In stark contrast, Pietersen began his innings with an array of sophisticated glances, drives and cuts after confidently strolling out to the middle with England precariously placed.

Anxious to let his talent dominate headlines rather than the circumstances of his acrimonious resignation from the captaincy, Pietersen looked particularly confident against the faster bowlers.

But Benn proved effective after his introduction, beating Pietersen on several occasions with the classic left-arm spinner's delivery, drifting towards off stump before turning sharply beyond the outside edge.

As the runs dried up, England saw Bell depart just before lunch, edging a well-flighted off-break from Gayle to Devon Smith at first slip for 28 to leave the tourists at 73-3.

A new referral system, on trial in the four-Test series, made its Caribbean debut after the lunch break when Paul Collingwood was struck on his front pad by Gayle.

Umpire Rudi Koertzen turned down the vociferous appeal but Gayle appeared confident there was enough doubt to ask third umpire Daryl Harper to take a second look. However, the Australian official concurred with his on-field colleague, deeming the ball to have pitched outside the line of off stump.

With no loose deliveries as rare as snow in Kingston, Collingwood fell for 16 when he was struck on his front pad attempting to sweep a straight delivery from Benn, with umpire Tony Hills raising his finger.

Play was held up minutes later when a rain shower forced the players off the field for a 23-minute delay, but the weather did not dampen the bowlers' resolve.

Benn continued to beat the outside edge at regular intervals as Pietersen and Flintoff struggled to pierce the infield.

The former brought up his 50 with a thick-edged boundary past gully for four off Powell as the tourists reached tea at a pedestrian 131-4.

But the England duo - and Pietersen in particular - cut loose after the interval, edging closer to his first ever Test ton in the Caribbean.

He moved to with three runs of that feat courtesy of three successive - and typically outrageous - strokes off Benn, but a rush of blood to the head accounted for his unnecessary downfall.

However, an defiant six-wicket stand of 56 between Flintoff and Prior ensured England have a platform to build upon on Thursday.

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