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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Thursday July 10 2008

I’m always blaming bad weather on test match cricket, so a word of praise for the weather today, which was day one of the test series between England and South Africa.  The weather in London for the last week or so has been horrid, and it was horrid today, still, in most places.  But not in London, where Lord’s is.

Boycott was his usual brilliantly perceptive self.  That sounds ironic and sneering, but I mean it.  He said at the beginning of play that the big variable wasn’t so much the South Africa bowling as the England batting.  The England batting, he said, can be great or it can be crap depending on its mood.  And England’s batting today was just that, great, and crap.  It was great until it got to 114-0.  Then it lost 3 wickets for 3 runs, which included leaden-footed England captain Vaughan getting clean bowled for next to nothing.  Then it added another 192 with no further losses.

In particular, all are now agreed, the England batting depends far too much on Kevin Pietersen.  When he does well, it does well. When he does badly, it does badly.  That is the current tendency.  Today, he was the better half of that 192.

Pietersen is a plonker when he talks, but what a cricketer!  I always think that the sign of a truly great sportsman is that when it really, really matters, and when it is blindingly obvious to all those present, or even absent but lending it half an eye or ear, like me today, that it really matters, and that he really wants to do really well ... he does really well.  And if ever there was a time when Pietersen wanted to do well it was in his first innings in test cricket against his own country, South Africa.  And you can be equally damn sure that the South Africans really really wanted to get him out for about 10 or thereabouts.  The South Africans had been really cranking up the pressure on Pietersen, basically by telling him about a week ago to shut up and play, after which what could he do except shut up and play?  Which today, he did.  And he did really well, making a century, and the South Africans didn’t get him out at all, let alone get him out for anything resembling 10.

Apparently he made a speech afterwards, at the end of which he said this:

“I’ve never really had any beef with the South Africans. ...”

Sure you haven’t, mate.  No beef whatsoever at all.  All is now forgiven, now you got a hundred against them and made them look like plonkers.

“… Graeme [Smith] and I had a bit of an altercation, but that for me is something that happens in life, and it’s gone. I get on well with the South Africans, and Andre Nel’s just given me a big hug, and said well done.”

Well, what the hell else could they say?

But then Pietersen said this:

“We play sport to make friends around the world and enjoy ourselves, ....”

... which is okay, but then came this:

“… and today I’m humbled.”

Humbled?  No Pietersen, humbled is when you get out for ten, and they are the ones saying that everyone is now friends, now that they’ve humbled you, and when you have to grin like a fool and pretend you love them.  Not when you are not out a hundred and rubbing the other fellows’ faces in it, and telling them all is forgiven and you love them.  You weren’t humbled today.  They were.  And you bloody well know it.  Stop using these emotionally incontinent and irrelevant plasticene cliches.  But if talking properly would mean you not batting so well, then okay, stick with the plasticene.

Apart from that, and a near run out right at the start of his innings, great.  (A direct hit, which it damn near was, and he was gone.) I stopped off in a pub and watched Pietersen just as he was seriously getting into his stride.  In particular, I had the pleasure of seeing his one six, live on Sky TV.  But, the previous ball was a close thing.  It went for four, but he miss-hit it rather, and if it had gone five yards to the left, mid-on would have caught it.  He’d have broken his hand as well, probably, but assuming he’d clung on, that would have made it about 180-4 and a different game.  Strauss was earlier given out lbw, wrongly, and that was the beginning of the England mini-collapse.  Near the end Pietersen was lucky not to be given out lbw.  That’s another thing about great sportsmen.  Great sportsmen are lucky.