Battle within a battle

Published : May 02, 2009 00:00 IST

Andrew Flintoff proved his worth against Kevin Pietersen in their IPL clash, writes Lawrence Booth.

If there were one or two murmurs about the $1.55m price tag slapped on Andrew Flintoff, the night of April 20 quelled the chatter. Pitted against Kevin Pietersen, his fellow English alpha male and the tournament's other record purchase, as early as the fifth game of the Indian Premier League, Flintoff biffed an unbeaten 22 off 13 balls for the Chennai Super Kings, bulldozed his way to figures of one for 11, held the winning catch and generally thrust out his chest. It was all in a night's work.

For Pietersen, dismissed first ball by Muttiah Muralitharan, this was a plop to earth after Bangalore Royal Challengers had begun the tournament at the weekend by dismissing the champions Rajasthan Royals for 58. Since these two will not meet again before they fly home for the Test series against West Indies, the banter in the Lord's dressing room can probably be written in advance.

"It's Definitely disappointing," said Pietersen. "I don't think we turned up today as well as we could have. Maybe we were resting on our laurels. Chennai have pretty much got all departments covered and, if they come off, they'll be pretty hard to beat."

This was a game circled in organisers' diaries as soon as the tournament's revamped schedule was announced. South Africa's former rugby captain Francois Pienaar, working for the IPL as a brand ambassador, publicly singled out the Flintoff-Pietersen clash and a radio advert here has Flintoff ringing up his former captain to ask for a place in his team. "Not now, not tomorrow, not the next day," KP replies. He might just have changed his tune. As so often in this abbreviated format, the individual battle turned out to be a muted affair. But it was one that began with a frisson. Six years ago, in their only previous head-to-head, Pietersen had bowled Flintoff in a county championship match for 97. Now, as Flintoff walked out to bat at No. 5, Pietersen seemed to change his mind about reintroducing his South African express bowler Dale Steyn and chose to use his own dinky off-breaks instead.

It was a clever move, although Pietersen downplayed it later, claiming he brought himself on only because it was "a spinner's wicket." But he had already sent down two skilful overs, bowling Parthiv Patel with the first ball after the time-out and creating such panic in the Chennai ranks that the free-flowing Matthew Hayden was run out for 65 off the next by Rahul Dravid's pinpoint throw from backward point. Now he was trying to mess with Flintoff's mind.

Not a word was said between England's two giants, but then they have never been on Christmas-card terms, and the opening exchanges were cagey - Flintoff defending his first ball, then tapping his second for a single. But when Suresh Raina immediately returned the strike, Flintoff pulled a Pietersen long-hop for four, before bunting the next ball for a single.

That was as far as it went, save for a stunning one-handed stop by Pietersen at backward point as Flintoff got hold of a cut. But with Flintoff keeping his head to flick Steyn over fine-leg for six and marshalling the end of the Chennai innings with aplomb, Pietersen's side suddenly needed 180, more than any team has made at St. George's to win a Twenty20 match.

"I've always said we need good representation from all countries," said Lalit Modi, the IPL commissioner. "Today we saw Pietersen bowling to Flintoff for the first time in an international arena and they're both going great."

Flintoff entered the attack with Bangalore on 46 for two after six overs, knowing that his minor mauling at the hands of Abhishek Nayar at Newlands two days earlier had left his captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, distinctly unimpressed. Ross Taylor slapped his fifth delivery straight up in the air to provide a skied return to Flintoff. That over went for two, as did his second, by which time Muralitharan had trapped Pietersen from around the wicket. A glance at umpire Simon Taufel, then his inside edge, suggested displeasure. It was the moment that sealed Bangalore's fate.

Chennai Super Kings 179 for five in 20 overs (P. Patel 30, M. Hayden 65, S. Raina 28, P. Kumar two for 37) bt Bangalore Royal Challengers 87 in 15.2 overs (L. Balaji two for 18, M. Muralitharan three for 11).

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009

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