England's other hero

Warne appeared to give Pietersen a long lecture, which I suspect probably included a few words about his future conduct. If Pietersen is to succeed he will have done well to heed Warne's words.

AFTER 16 years, seven unsuccessful challenges and the downfall — directly or indirectly — of half a dozen captains from David Gower to Nasser Hussain England regained the Ashes for the next 13 months after drawing with Australia at the Oval.

What happens after that depends mainly on the reception the Australians receive at home. Their ageing team are due for an update, the coach John Buchanan has been in place for so long that he may become the scapegoat and there will be a desperate public relations action as the best possible spin is put on this dramatic and unexpected defeat.

By the time England arrive Down Under in October 2006 they may have trouble identifying the players they face. The captain Ricky Ponting, whose decision to bowl first in the second Test at Edgbaston led directly to the two-run defeat five days later, may have to pay with his job.

For England the glory could not be greater. This great moment in British sport was celebrated with a parade that included an open top bus journey round Trafalgar Square.

Suddenly cricket has wiped football off the front pages and pop stars, actors, sportsmen from every game imaginable and even the cast of Big Brother turned up at this riveting final match to see and be seen.

It has been the only gig in town and it produced a new hero.

I don't suppose in an ideal world the England and Wales Cricket Board would have wanted a South African with a huge sweep of white through his hair and the outlandish gestures of the Veld to be their hero. But they will be glad enough to find anyone who can continue the trend that has made tickets for this game worth 1,000 pounds each on either eBay or from a tout.

Kevin Pietersen, who made himself so unpopular at Nottingham during his four-year qualification there that his team-mates were glad to see the back of him, seems to have turned into Mr. Nice Guy in the intervening six months. He might have been caught three times while facing 187 balls — by Shane Warne and Matthew Hayden at slip and by Shaun Tait trying to stop a six hit — but he applied himself after England had lost 127 for five at lunch and in cricketing terms thoroughly deserved his man of the match award. By the end of his innings of 158 he had hit seven sixes, an Ashes record, and 15 fours with blows so ferocious that they left fielders flat-footed. He was at the crease just short of five hours and set an Oval eighth wicket record with the sensible, highly professional Ashley Giles who made his top Test score of 59 and was clearly angry with himself when he was eventually bowled by Warne.

The proudest moment of Pietersen's day must have been the handshake he received from Warne, who is known to be a generous sportsman and who is Pietersen's captain in his new club Hampshire. He appeared to give Pietersen a long lecture, which I suspect probably included a few words about his future conduct. If Pietersen is to succeed he will have done well to heed Warne's words.

After all, Warne has learnt the consequences of consorting with bookies, loose-mouthed women and the wrong team-mates. But, he is the brainiest bloke in the Australian side and if there was any logic about the choice he would have Ponting's job by the end of the month.

On one subject Pietersen needs no aid. His range of strokes means that he will always succeed against good bowling and that he will destroy poor attacks. So he is sure to be a valuable player in the sub-continent this winter.

England play Pakistan in November and December and India in April and May and on those low, dusty pitches Pietersen's booming drives, pulls and legside clouts will be as profitable as Michael Vaughan's classical drives and Andrew Strauss's neat deflections.

If England are to reach the top of the world rankings he will be a force in the side although he will have to compete with Andrew Flintoff, a lovely personality with a family image and a nice line in self deprecation. Flintoff was man of the series and there are still tales that if anything goes wrong with Vaughan he will be first choice as captain. — Ted Corbett