KINGSTON, February 4 – Kevin Pietersen infuriatingly gave his wicket away on the verge of another milestone, as England toiled for runs in the opening Test against West Indies here on Wednesday.
Pietersen was dismissed for 97 as England reached 236 for five in their first innings when stumps were drawn on the opening day of the Test at Sabina Park.
No England batsman looked to have mastered the steady, if not menacing West Indies attack which featured a marathon 33-over spell from Sulieman Benn.
But Pietersen showed his class in three and a half hours at the crease and looked set for another Test hundred, after clattering two fours and a six off successive balls from Benn.
Pietersen told Sky Sports at the close: "The wicket was tough, some balls spun, some didn’t and I think we are in a good position on 236-5," adding he was just loving getting out there and playing. "I came out here to play cricket, and now I’m playing cricket again, I’m happy."
The former England captain appeared to have the beanpole left-arm spin bowler at his mercy, when he tried to clear the wide long-on boundary with another slog/sweep, top-edged, and was caught by the keeper.
His dismissal brought West Indies back into the match, after Pietersen had added 86 for the fifth wicket with Andrew Flintoff to rescue England from a shaky 94 for four.
But Flintoff put his head down and found Matt Prior a steady ally, and they batted through the 1-1/2 hours to add 56 and save England from desperation.
It had looked desperate for England, as they stumbled to 73 for three at lunch after they chose to bat on a hard, easy-paced pitch. The visitors lost their captain Andrew Strauss for seven, their vice-captain Alastair Cook for four, and Ian Bell for 28.
Strauss, playing in his first Test following the upheaval that led to his resignation of Pietersen, looked shaky from the start. He edged the second ball of the match from Jerome Taylor just short of second slip, and in the third over, he edged the same bowler to third slip, where Xavier Marshall dropped him on one.
But Taylor put him out of his misery, when Strauss was caught behind playing forward defensively.
England continued to find it hard to adjust to the slow nature of the pitch, and Daren Powell, whose place in the side is under question, added to their woes, when he had Cook caught at mid-on. The left-hander mistimed a pull to leave the visitors on 30 for two.
Pietersen joined Bell and they spent the next hour and 10 minutes repairing the early damage with a stand of 41 for the third wicket.But both batsmen appeared to find the height, the bounce, and the turn from beanpole left-arm spin bowler Sulieman Benn disconcerting, and in the last half-hour before lunch, edged deliveries just wide of Marshall at second slip.
Bell, whose position at No.3 continues to generate debate, was looking to "shut-up shop", as the interval approached, when he played defensively forward, edged, and was caught at slip.
After lunch, Pietersen continued to erase the bad memories of the last few weeks as he reached his half-century and carried England to 132 for four at tea.
Pietersen slashed his short, wide 117th delivery from Daren Powell through the slips for the sixth of his seven boundaries to reach 50.
He then celebrated when he hooked a slow long hop from Powell through backward square and had held England’s innings together, after they subsided to 94 for four about 45 minutes after lunch.
England’s batsmen were tied down after the interval by the left-arm spin bowling of Benn and the uncomplicated off-spin of Gayle.
For 20 overs, the England batsmen found scoring runs hard, as the two tall slow bowlers wheeled away.
England’s batsmen fought hard to negotiate the appreciable bounce and turn the two extracted from the pitch, and could only add 27 runs during the period which was interrupted by a 22-minute stoppage for rain.
The pressure however, was too much for Paul Collingwood, and he was lbw for 16 struck on the back leg by a delivery that spun through his forward defensive shot.
But Pietersen and Flintoff started to shake the shackles free, when Gayle brought Powell back for a second spell from the northern end and he was wayward.
After the break, Pietersen and Flintoff spent another 40 minutes navigate the treachery before a bit of fortune came West Indies’ way.
Benn has been West Indies’ most successful bowler with two wickets for 64 runs from 33 overs.