There was a world record crowd in Melbourne for the first day of the Boxing Day Test, after Cricket Australia managed to herd some 91,000 people through the gates of the MCG. However, a cursory glance around the vast stadium would have revealed some rather large gaps in the crowd, meaning that while that number of people may have gone through the turnstiles, not all of them were captivated enough by the entertainment on offer to stick around for the whole day.
It was, admittedly, deathly dull at stages. While fans of the longest form of the game may insist that quick-scoring and big hitting does not necessarily an entertaining game make, neither does England scoring at a rate that seemed to creep inexorably towards two as the afternoon turned into evening, as many who had been at the MCG decided they had slightly better things to do with the latter part of their Boxing Day.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about England's soporific scoring was the identity of the two men who were around for the slowest spell. In Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell, England's most innovative and attacking batsman was partnered by their most natural stroke-maker – not two players you would expect to bore the pants off nearly 100,000 spectators.
Of course, the complaints were wide and varied. There were those that said England were creating a dangerous position by scoring so slowly, as when the wickets come – and with England on this tour, they will come regularly – they would find themselves in the hugely dangerous position of not having nearly enough runs. If they had been a little more dashing with their shots, they would at least have something competitive on the board for their wickets.
And then of course there's the argument that this is a spectator sport, that those many thousands of Victorians and glum Barmy Army members who had flown out for this Test match, contemplating what else they could have spent that hefty wedge of money on rather than a dead rubber, deserve to be entertained. This isn't Pietersen or Bell's concern of course – their priority is to do what they think is best for England, even if it reaches previously un-mined levels of tedium.
There is a sense to which Bell and in particular Pietersen cannot win here. For the whole series, Pietersen has been criticised for being overly-aggressive, for trying too many 'risky' shots and getting himself out. It would thus seem illogical to attack him for then playing too defensively.
Of course, there is a happy medium, but that is a sweet spot incredibly hard to find. In Pietersen's case, that would involve curbing his natural instincts to a degree, but when you ask a player like him to go against what he has been doing for England since that extraordinary one-day series in South Africa in 2004, don't be surprised if he goes too far one way.
More or less everything Pietersen does while batting is exaggerated, from the flamingo shot or the switch-hit, to the wildly extravagant leaves when his back foot frequently ends up about a foot outside off stump, and the reaction comparable to a bullet in the gut when he is hit on the body by a routine delivery. He is a man of extremes, and when he plays a more 'restrained' innings like this one, it is almost as if he's making a point; 'You want me to reign it in? Well, you asked for it...'
Pietersen said before the game, about his supposedly reckless play: "I don't think I've helped myself. But that's the way I play. I don't know how many articles have been written about the fact that I've got myself out, but I'm there to dominate, I'm there to take risks.
"If I see a ball to hit for six or a ball to hit for four, there's something in my body that tells me to hit it. I'm not the kind of guy who can think about knocking the ball down the ground."
He then went out and proved precisely the opposite in his (largely) patiently-compiled 67 not out from 152 balls, something that perhaps speaks to his slightly contrarian nature.
Pietersen doesn't tend to do half-measures, and anyone who criticised him for being too aggressive before only has to watch this innings to see what happens when he does as they ask.
Nick Miller - @NickMiller79