Pietersen’s century confirms return

First published in Sport

ENGLAND are hoping Kevin Pietersen’s fresh beginnings bear plenty more fruit, after he rubber-stamped his ‘reintegration’ with a heartening century.

Pietersen breezed to an 86- ball hundred, one of six England batsmen to find it relatively easy going against an inexperienced Haryana attack, in the tourists’ final warm-up match before next week’s first Test.

The consequence by stumps on day four at the Sardar Patel Stadium B Ground was a commanding total already of 408 for four.

Pietersen’s share was 110, before he retired out, while openers Alastair Cook (97) and Nick Compton (74) and then Ian Bell (57no) all coasted past 50.

It is customary for the day’s outstanding performer to reflect publicly after the match.

But perhaps indicative of a still sensitive issue, following Pietersen’s contract wrangles and other troubles last summer before returning to England colours in the nick of time for this tour of India, it instead fell to Bell to do so.

Unsurprisingly, he depicted an optimistic atmosphere in the England dressing-room – all the more so after Pietersen’s success, in only his second innings back and probably his last before the four- Test series begins.

‘‘Everything’s gone really well for us as a group, and for Kevin,’’ said Bell.

‘‘He’s very much a guy who just likes to get bat on ball, and I think he’ll be very happy going into the first Test match with that kind of innings under his belt.

‘‘I’m sure he’ll be a lot happier today, having scored a hundred. But he’ll be a lot happier if he scores one in the next Test.’’ Only Pietersen’s teammates and England management will know whether they need to treat him with kid gloves, or otherwise, to try to help him reach his full potential.

They know they have a proven match-winner back in their ranks, but Bell for one is wary of feeding expectation levels. ‘‘We don’t want to put too much pressure on him to be the main reason we win a Test series.

‘‘It would be great if he could come out and play some innings like he has in recent times.

‘‘We know if he gets in he can turn a Test match. So we want him in the best nick we can.

‘‘The pressure is a lot more on the bowler when he does things like that.’’ Bell had good reason to be pleased with his own batting, after his own slow start to the tour, particularly because he had to begin his innings against frontline spin – an unusual state of affairs here for England’s middle order to date, but one they know will be routine once the Tests get under way.

He added: ‘‘It was good to start against a quality spinner like [Amit] Mishra, play against him early in my innings – the sort of thing that is going to happen in the Test matches.

‘‘He’s played a lot of Test cricket.

“To start against him was exactly what I needed going into this Test match.’’ Bell’s method was to go immediately on the attack, almost from ball one.

‘‘I feel confident coming down the wicket. I just want to be busy,’’ he said.

‘‘We’ve talked quite a lot about using your feet, forward and backwards, so it was just trying to get as much good footwork going as possible.

‘‘We’ve faced a lot of seam on this tour so far, and we can’t control what we come up against.

‘‘But Mishra’s actually bowled a few overs in the end, which is great for Kevin and me to spend a bit of time against him.’’ England are likely to bat on at least until lunch tomorrow, before giving their back-up attack the opportunity to impress – in the absence of the rested James Anderson, the injured Stuart Broad and Steven Finn and also Graeme Swann who has returned home temporarily because his baby daughter is unwell.

Broad and Finn are making progress from their respective heel and thigh injuries, with the vice-captain most likely at this stage to be fit enough to start the series.

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