Cow Corner

KP’s switch hit sparks stand-off

Cow Corner

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After an innings like the one we saw at the P Sara Stadium in Colombo Stadium today, it's only fitting that Kevin Pietersen's strokeplay is the first point of discussion.

Unfortunately it is the switch hit will dominate the discussion, after a curious confrontation between Pietersen, Sri Lanka and the two umpires as KP arrowed in on his century.

Pietersen had already played the switch hit on a couple of occasions, but in an extraordinary over during which Pietersen moved from 86 to 104, Tillakaratne Dilshan decided he wouldn't put up with it any more, and decided not to release the ball when his opponent changed his guard.

Three times it happened - or rather it didn't — while on a fourth Dilshan released the ball and Pietersen played the stroke for two runs. Dilshan, backed up by his captain and senior players, told the umpires more than once that they were not happy at how early the batsman was changing his stance.

After some consultation, the umpires gave Pietersen an official warning, much to his bemusement — and to that of the predominantly English crowd, who sounded their discontent.

It could easily have upset Pietersen, who by now was on 98, but it was perhaps a measure of his form that he could play a 'textbook' reverse sweep the very next delivery which took him to the landmark.

In the heat of the moment, what had happened was not immediately clear, but it later emerged that the warning was for time-wasting.

The umpires were not vetoing the shot, but Dilshan had a right not to bowl if he felt that Pietersen had changed his stance and nullified the field set for him. With KP keen to do it, and Dilshan unwilling to let him, a stalemate was brewing. Had he persisted, KP's warning could have then been followed up by a five penalty runs against England.

In the event Pietersen defused it by putting the shot away, and battering the Sri Lanka attack regardless. In fact, the most crucial switch Pietersen made was to a belligerent mindframe. Gone was the caution and the tentative approach, and the results were devastating. The value of the runs scored by the top order to give him that freedom was apparent, but Pietersen is simply a better cricketer when he's attacking, regardless of whether it leads to ugly dismissals.

Meanwhile, the side debate about what constituted changing stance too early - for it was a close call exactly how close to releasing the ball Dilshan was when Pietersen made his move - was another confusing addition to the debate.

But that, in itself was the point.

The laws of the game have not truly been tested for the permutations of the switch hit yet, and this is the first time that Pietersen's shot has ever become an issue on the field despite him having played it for several years now across several formats of the game.

There is no appetite to see the shot banned from the game - a poll during play on our website showed 94% of Eurosport readers felt the shot should remain legal, and the MCC themselves have recognised the shot and put on record their belief that it is a good innovation to the game. Indeed, when you start thinking about the complexities, technique and skill required to play it, it is hard to argue that it does not add an extra, valuable nuance to a remarkable game.

The shot remains legal - but what needs to be cleared up is the point at which the batsman can switch, and the point at which the bowler becomes the one in the wrong when he pulls out of the delivery. There was a feeling amongst some pundits and fans that although Pietersen was the man warned, Dilshan was in his way equally culpable.

Besides, without the switch hit, England would be missing a rod to beat Pietersen with when he does fall cheaply.

Pietersen's failures incite the detractors like few others, but today there was simply no faulting an innings which was a quite brilliant example of brutal, dazzling batsmanship in testing conditions.

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The mark of how good a knock he played was how his team-mates struggled on the same surface. Yes, Cook almost compiled a century of his own, but he had to graft through 278 balls to reach 94. Trott was smooth until his exit, yet struck 87 runs fewer than KP. Of the rest of the batsmen in action on day three, none scored 30. Ian Bell, out for a steady 18, looked almost bemused at times by the way Pietersen was able to play so freely on a challenging surface.

His contribution will be thrown into starker relief when Sri Lanka are put to the test in their second innings.

The home side negotiated a single over before stumps, but batting will be harder still on day four.

Pietersen's inspired innings masked the problems the track presented, but England's bowlers would have to dip from the form they have shown all winter to let the Sri Lankans off the hook.


STATS OF THE DAY: 460 — 151 — England's total of 460 all out was their Test best in Sri Lanka, eclipsing the 387 they scored in Kandy in 2001. And Pietersen's knock of 151 was the best by an England batsman in Sri Lanka to boot — beating Robin Smith's 128 in 1993. Best individual score and best innings score in the same innings? Coincidence, surely?

COMMENT OF THE DAY: "I'd love to see KP just faking a few bowlers out with just a hint of sideways movement but still rightie and then call up the bowlers when they refuse to bowl." Siddy has an unorthodox solution (or is it just a wind-up?) to the switch hit stand-off.

TWEET OF THE DAY: "BREAKING: Media announces that media pressure on under-media-pressure England skipper Andrew Strauss has been lifted after his 61 in Colombo" - @Zaltzcricket pokes fun at the press corps after an improved showing from Andrew Strauss.

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