Pietersen himself suggested that he batted as well as he ever has in yesterday’s knock, and though he couldn’t push on into the fourth day he’s almost certainly already done enough to save the match for England.
Pietersen was always going to be near the centre of attention, if not in it, during this series, given the furore surrounding his ‘retirement’ from international limited-overs cricket and his omission from England’s provisional 30-man squad for the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka in September.
His match-saving century may well deflect attention back to the cricket and England’s quest to remain at Test cricket’s summit, but the manner in which Pietersen went about collecting his runs also confirmed what we all should already have known: Pietersen is one of the most devastatingly aggressive batsmen in world cricket, and the limited-overs game loses a little of its lustre in his absence.
2. All Ends Up
Imran Tahir had been a little ineffectual in his exchanges with the English top order yesterday, but his variations helped to wrap up the home side’s tail this morning. What was particularly obvious was that, while the top order had generally been able to read Tahir’s variations, the tailenders were clueless.
Tahir quickly dealt with Stuart Broad, and in the 20th over of the day repeatedly beat a befuddled James Anderson with three successive googlies. It was bounce, rather than variation, that did for Matt Prior and Tahir that wrapped up the innings by castling Anderson with a darted legbreak.
Tahir’s quickfire wickets helped to keep England’s lead to just six. Three strikes in the space of four overs is the sort of strike-rate South Africa will increasingly demand from Tahir, particularly if he is unable to tie up an end and stop the opposition from scoring. He didn’t bowl a single maiden in the 23 overs he sent down in England’s innings, but if he’s taking wickets that won’t matter.
3. Injury Troubles
Tahir’s efforts were particularly important as South Africa were without Jacques Kallis, the evergreen allrounder who is usually their fourth seamer and had snaffled the wicket of Ian Bell in England’s innings. Kallis had suffered a back spasm and so was unable to bowl at all during England’s innings. As he spent so much time off the field, he’ll also only bat at No. 8, if he’s needed at all on the fifth day.
Joining Kallis on the injured list - and potentially, also, in an unfamiliar position down the order - was Alviro Petersen, who sustained a hamstring injury during his mammoth 182 in the first innings. Petersen had an MRI scan on the hamstring, which confirmed a grade one strain.
This type of injury usually requires a recovery time of approximately 7-10 days, so Petersen could still play in the third Test at Lord’s, which starts on August 16 and presents South Africa with a chance to claim the position as the world’s top Test side.
4. Third Place
The trumpeter in the stands at Headingley played ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’ when the South Africans came out to start their second innings, but it was more a case of ‘Rudolph the rudimentary opener’ as the crouching left-hander replaced the injured Alviro Petersen at the top of the order.
This was Rudolph’s tenth innings as a Test opener. His best effort in this position to date has been the 90 he scored against Malinga, Maharoof and Murali in Colombo six years ago, and even then he only opened because Herschelle Gibbs had been off the field for the whole of the third day through injury and so could only bat at No. 7.
Rudolph, who, admittedly, spent four years in the cold before returning for South Africa - as an opener - against Australia late last year averages just 33.75 in the position and hasn’t passed fifty as an opener since.
Compare that to his record in the midde order since his return: two fifties and a ton that contributed to series wins over Sri Lanka at home and New Zealand away. Those knocks came from a position in the lower middle order, but the stats suggest that South Africa should be using Rudolph at No. 3. Rudolph spent much of his early career in that position, scoring four centuries (including his 222 not out on debut) and five fifties at an average of 46.06.
Rudolph’s shunting up the order today thus presents him with a good opportunity to stake a claim for a move up from No. 6. His experience at Headingley with Yorkshire will surely stand him in good stead, and if he does well in this match there’s a case to be made for a permanent move up to No. 3, particularly if AB de Villiers is to be Mark Boucher’s long-term replacement as wicketkeeper.
5. Damp Squib
The rain in England definitely wasn’t falling only at Headingley. Several Olympic events in London were played out in wet conditions, although it was only at Wimbledon that the precipitation actually caused a stoppage. Not so in Leeds.
The clouds that had been lurking menacingly finally opened two-and-a-half overs into South Africa’s second innings, prompting an early lunch and a two-hour delay. The Headingley groundstaff, no doubt used to such deluges, removed some 2,880 gallons of water from the ground in order to facilitate a re-start, but play lasted barely an hour before bad weather returned.
The clouds didn’t budge thereafter, and when it was still bucketing down at 5.15pm, local time, play was called off for the day. The forecast for Monday isn’t quite so dire, but barring something truly dramatic this match should still end in a draw.