• England v Australia, 3rd Investec Test, Old Trafford, 3rd day

Pietersen and Bell steady England response

The Report by Daniel Brettig
August 3, 2013
England 211 for 4 (Pietersen 78*, Bell 51*) trail Australia 527 for 7 dec by 316 runs
Live scorecard and ball-by-ball

Kevin Pietersen began scratchily but started to look more comfortable as his innings went on © Getty Images

Fearless strokeplay by Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell, plus a critical moment of indecision by Australia, allowed England to wriggle free of the tourists' clutches on the third afternoon of the Old Trafford Test. Pietersen was at his bold best against Nathan Lyon, but would have been out lbw had Michael Clarke assented to Shane Watson's opinion that his old-ball inswinger was bound for the stumps when the batsman had 62.

Australia had both their reviews intact but a series ledger of two correct referrals out of 15 had to have had an impact on their lack of confidence. So Pietersen stayed, and was able to push on to tea in Bell's company, a wicketless session passing as the partnership reached 101 in quick time. Both batsmen offered glimpses of their very best, Bell pristine through the cover and gully regions while Pietersen struck straight and through the leg side with his typically singular power.

Their calculated attack on Lyon and the waywardness of Starc ensured that the earlier control exerted by Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle in particular was lost. England began to think more optimistically of batting for long enough to ensure they will return the Ashes, needing only a draw in Manchester to make sure of it.

Recovered from an apparent stomach bug, Harris opened up for Clarke alongside Siddle. Their early overs were relentlessly probing, offering only the most occasional scoring chances for Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott, neither of whom looked comfortable despite a ball that was no longer new and a pitch possessing few demons.

Trott, who had begun the series in grand touch, was particularly scratchy, becalmed in much the same way Joe Root had been the previous night. Unable to get off strike, or hit the middle of the bat, Trott ultimately succumbed while doing his best not to play a shot at all, edging to Clarke at second slip while trying to leave Harris.

Pietersen's first few deliveries were no more convincing, as he fiddled loosely at balls zinging past him outside off stump as though wanting to offer a nick to the Australian cordon. Harris nearly burst a yorker through Pietersen also, but the entry of Starc and Watson to the bowling attack - while Lyon was oddly given only two overs - allowed a little pressure to be relaxed.

With Pietersen scoring freely and Cook carrying on stoically, England appeared set to reach lunch without further loss. But 12 minutes before the break a Starc delivery angling towards Cook's hip drew a fine leg glance and a rasping catch by Haddin, clasping the chance in the tip of his right glove as he dived full length. In the dying moments of the session Bell may have given up the thinnest of edges to Haddin off Starc, but only Australia's wicketkeeper went up for the catch.

That moment did not linger too much in Australian minds, but there was to be another midway through the afternoon. Pietersen and Bell had counterattacked confidently and fruitfully, their chief achievement the removal of Lyon from the attack despite Australia's offspinner bowling well on a pitch that offered turn and bounce. Twice Pietersen lofted Lyon for six and Bell followed up with one of his own, and not once could the bowler be said to have offered up something to hit.

Nonetheless, his withdrawal left Clarke searching for wickets, but when Watson found a hint of swing after replacing Lyon, the moment of success passed without the captain realising it. Pietersen had lurched forward and across to play through midwicket, and though Watson seemed adamant in his appeal Haddin and Clarke suggested the ball was swerving down the leg side.

But Hawk-Eye revealed it to be hitting leg stump squarely enough for Tony Hill's verdict to be overturned, and the sight of Darren Lehmann raising a glum finger from the balcony left Clarke pondering whether his moment had passed. Certainly there were few other glimmers offered by Pietersen and Bell, both well entrenched by the time the interval arrived and already taking some shine off the second new ball.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd