LEEDS: Kevin Pietersen hit an undefeated 90 but his one-day era began with a game of patience in the first Headingley floodlit international.
He did not hit a boundary for 51 balls when he was 41 and Andrew Flintoff, the great striker of sixes, was chained down in his first 40 deliveries. Together these two giants put on 158 in 129 balls, England’s path to glory.
The last 13 overs brought 145 runs and devastation. Still, England’s 275 for four looked to be beyond South Africa, especially under floodlights. South Africa fielded poorly and you don’t see that every day.
Prior might have been caught twice in the first ten overs. He edged four through the slips in the first over off Dale Steyn, back from injury, when the ball might have gone anywhere.
In the 11th he was dropped from a catch so simple that it is a pity Geoff Boycott was not here to make allusions to his mum and her apron.
For once it would have been entirely justified; I cannot recall an easier chance after watching 300 Tests and too many one-dayers to count.
Bell and Prior rattled along at five an over until Ntini found the right length to contain them and Steyn, clearly needing match play, was replaced by Nel.
It was Nel who suffered when Vernon Philander shelled that lobbed catch and if there was nothing else to enliven the afternoon the sight of Nel portraying a mixture of horror and apoplexy was worth the admission money.
The sky was filled by storm clouds as Kallis and Nel applied the brakes to the Bell-Prior stand so that one boundary came in 12 overs and across to my left the new skipper Pietersen seemed to be restless as Bell chipped a weak shot to a leaping de Villiers.
Bell had batted almost 20 overs without hitting a boundary. Prior tried to break loose but after he hit Kallis into the crowd at long on he was caught just as Bell had been off Kallis who seems to have reinvented himself as a bowling all-rounder.
Even Pietersen began diffidently, a curious concept when he arrived with 90 runs scored and 27 overs ahead, an ideal position for an attacking batsman. Kallis had found a channel and Botha some turn but Smith turned to Philander whose brisk medium pace could be milked but not churned.
Pietersen and Flintoff, the biggest men in the side and on their day hit-masters supreme, were content to trot ones, but at 128 they tried a single that almost cost Pietersen his wicket.
Ntini’s long flat throw was right in Bouchers gloves and Pietersen’s bat looked as if it was in the air but he survived detailed analysis by the TV umpire and his plan to launch an attack in the last 15 oversSCOREBOARD
England: I. Bell c de Villiers b Kallis 35, M. Prior c de Villiers b Kallis 42, O. Shah c Philander b Botha 12, K. Pietersen (not out) 90, A. Flintoff b Steyn 78, L. Wright (not out) 2, Extras (nb-1, w-6, b-4, lb-5): 16; Total (for four wkts. in 50 overs): 275.
Fall of wickets: 1-77, 2-86, 3-113, 4-271.
South Africa bowling: Steyn 10-0-67-1, Ntini 9-0-38-0, Nel 10-1-53-0, Kallis 5-0-25-2, Botha 7-0-33-1, Philander 9-0-50-0.