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Remembering five of Kevin Pietersen's best innings

Kevin Pietersen was a controversial character, but a great cricketer. (AFP PHOTO/ANDREW YATES.)
Roar Rookie
1st June, 2016
2

Kevin Pietersen is a South African-born Englishman who, on his day, made batting look ridiculously easy. From being sublime on one day to being terrible on the other, his batting very much resembled his way of life.

Pietersen was like a chirping bird who sang his melodies rather freely in an otherwise quite conservative and disciplined English cricketing culture.

He was as much hated as much as he was loved. But one thing that very much defines Pietersen is his ability to stand up when the chips are down.

Throughout his English career, especially in Test Cricket, he somehow always found a way to excel either when he was pushed in a corner or when the going got really tough against tough opponents under toughest of the situations.

When he began his English career in one-dayers, no one ever thought that he would have a great Test career, but by the time the Ashes series of 2005 ended, his first Test series, people knew that he wasn’t an ordinary player.

Pietersen’s batting was marked by arrogance or confidence, whatever you want to call it and he always loved the centre stage.

He was an impact player that could turn the Test Match on its head within a matter of a session. His stroke-play was sublime and his presence at the crease was breathtaking.

In early 2014, when he had to unceremoniously exit the international cricket following the disastrous Ashes series down under, he had already amassed 8181 Test runs in 104 Tests and is still the highest run-getter for England across all the formats of the game.

While he has 23 Test hundreds in all, let’s take a look at five of his memorable Test hundreds that defined his Test career and made him one of the greatest English batsman to have ever played the game.

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#1: 158 versus Australia, The Oval, September 2005
12th September 2005, last day of an Ashes Series and England were already leading the Ashes series 2-1 and a draw on a final day was good enough for them to regain the Ashes.

England were in a good position at 67/1, but, with two wickets off back to back deliveries from McGrath brought Pietersen to the crease and McGrath was on a hat-trick. Thanks to a good decision from umpire Billy Bowden, Pietersen survived the first ball scare.

In an hour’s time before lunch, Pietersen was roughed up by Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath, but managed to negotiate a serious spell of lethal fast bowling, and not to forget, luck played its part too as Shane Warne dropped a simple catch at first slip.

What followed after lunch was simply phenomenal and it looked like it was destined to be Pietersen’s day.

Pietersen had clear ideas about what had to be done and his stroke-play was breathtaking, something really rare and the way he dominated the Aussies was something unheard of.

Throughout his innings, he was under immense pressure as wickets kept tumbling at the other end until he got the able support of Ashley Giles.

Pulling Brett Lee for a massive six or hitting him straight back over his head are some of scintillating shots that would be always echoed in my memory.

He brought up his hundred, first of his Test career, when he drove Shaun Tait through covers. The way Pietersen celebrated his hundred and the way the capacity crowd erupted expressed what the hundred meant to all of them.

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Neither Warne nor McGrath escaped the Pietersen’s onslaught and by the time KP was dismissed, he had made 158 runs that ended Australia’s streak and helped England regain the Ashes after a wait of 16 long years.

That innings certainly has to be most defining innings of Pietersen’s career where he single-handedly carried the responsibility of his nation on his shoulders.

#2: 227 versus Australia, The Adelaide Oval, December 2010
In the preceding Test series against Pakistan, Pietersen had performed woefully at home. For the first time in his English career, he was dropped from one-day team that played against Pakistan and desperately needed to score some runs.

He was going through a patch where he didn’t score an international hundred for 18 months. In the winter of 2010-11, England were touring down under for the Ashes and after a draw at Gabba, action returned for the second Test, this time at Adelaide Oval.

Pietersen did get a start at Gabba, scoring 43 in the first innings but the big scores that were quite a hallmark of his short career so far were eluding him. Pietersen walked into bat at 176/2 in first innings and looked in sublime touch from the word go.

Pietersen batted with absolute authority and his powerful stroke-play made the Australian attack that comprised Pete Siddle, Ryan Harris, Doug Bollinger and Shane Watson look like a club bowling attack.

KP got his hundred when he tucked Harris for a single and his yelling after he got there expressed a huge sigh of relief and a deep sense of satisfaction. He had achieved the coveted three-figure mark that eluded him for past 18 months.

The highlight of this innings was the way in which KP responded when pampered with short-ball stuff. With three fielders fine leg, square leg and deep midwicket in place, KP toyed with Siddle and Harris’s bowling as his shots hit with immense powers kept bisecting all of them.

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Pietersen scored a double hundred and eventually was dismissed for his career-best Test score of 227 as his innings played a lion’s share not only in winning the Test match but also in breaking the backbone of Australia’s bowling attack.

#3: 151 versus Sri Lanka, Colombo, April 2012
It was a second Test of two-match Test series and England had already lost the first Test. Pietersen was touring the island nation for second time and had a disastrous outing in all of the previous four Test matches in Si Lanka.

He was out of sorts in Test series against Pakistan as well that was played in UAE in early 2012 and was keen on proving a point this time around.

England needed someone in the batting department to stand up and play well if they wanted to level the 2-match series.

Pietersen just as he had done on number of previous occasions took upon himself to change the fortunes of his team and his policy of attack is the best form of defence was just ideal for the situation. Throughout the innings, he took a special liking to spinners and Suraj Randiv and Dilshan faced the brunt of KP’s aggression.

The shots that he hit dancing down the wicket were delightful to watch as he played with the field brilliantly playing sweeps, reverse sweeps and occasional switch hit as well.

Another important aspect about that innings was the way he played left-arm spinner Rangana Herath. Understanding his problems against left-arm spin, KP played Herath through the line and hit him mostly through the offside, over the head of covers.

Fittingly, Pietersen brought up his hundred with a switch hit and capacity crowd had witnessed a whirlwind, breathtaking innings from an extra-ordinary player that they were waiting for throughout the winter.

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Pietersen’s 151 came from just 165 balls as his innings comprised 16 fours and six massive sixes. Pietersen’s 151 ensured England won the second Test convincingly and levelled the 2-match series 1-1.

#4: 149 versus South Africa, Headingley, August 2012
After his heroics against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka and after having a great IPL, Pietersen returned to England for English summer of 2012.

He had a relatively good Test series against the Windies but what made the news rather than his batting in that early part of that summer was his talking, his criticism against the ECB.

His decision to retire from limited overs cricket midway through the WI Test series, his love for the IPL and his criticism against the ECB about not letting him play T20Is while giving up ODIs were in spot-light.

In the later part of that summer, South-Africa visited England for a 3-match Test series. England lost the first Test at Oval and while action headed to Headingley at Leeds, much was at stake for Pietersen and England.

At Headingley, South Africa batted first and scored 419 and at 85/2 in England’s first innings, walked in Kevin Pietersen against his country of birth. Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel were in the middle of a good spell and Pietersen and Jonathan Trott were under pressure.

Right at the start of his innings, Pietersen was pampered with some short ball stuff and Pietersen wasn’t going to be defensive. With some luck and some skill, Pietersen withered the initial storm. His ability to hit the ball on the up was on offer as he neither spared Steyn nor Morkel.

The highlight of his innings was the way he completely dominated the short-ball bowling, first from Steyn and then from Morkel.

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They continued to bowl him short and KP pulled them all day long, not at all giving any chance to the fielders in the deep. Such was the domination and stature of Pietersen’s batting that in the partnership of 147 runs between him and James Taylor, Taylor managed to score only 34.

Following his hundred, Pietersen was on song as he made Steyn look like a school-boy bowler when he hit him for an array of boundaries and sixes and the six that KP hit over Steyn’s head was simply sublime.

Pietersen’s enterprising 149 was an innings worth its weight in gold and he desperately needed that, not only for himself, but for his team as well.

While he talked all summer long, he let his bat do the talking this time around at Headingley and though his innings didn’t secure a win for England, it certainly helped them draw the Test match and saved England from suffering yet another defeat.

#5: 186 versus India, Mumbai, November 2012
It was the second Test of the winter between India and England at Mumbai. In the first Test at Ahmedabad, India thrashed England and Kevin Pietersen, the man who was reintegrated into the team following his derogatory messages saga found himself in hapless situation against the left-arm spin of Pragyan Ojha.

When Pietersen joined captain Alastair Cook in the middle after India had scored 327 in first innings, he looked determined and couldn’t afford to fail this time around, especially after a disastrous outing in the previous Test.

He not only had to win back the trust of English players and fans but also had a point to prove against his old nemesis, the commodity called left-arm spin.

Pietersen was quite fluent right from the start unlike his tentativeness that was quite evident in the previous Test. It seemed that he had done his homework quite well as he picked up the length of the ball quite early and combated the spin by going towards the pitch of the ball.

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He played the spinners beautifully both off the front foot and off the back foot as well. He used his feet and used the long reach that he has got quite effectively to deposit the flighted deliveries into the stands.

Pietersen’s batting on that wicket, that turned square wasn’t about hanging out there but he dictated his own terms on the bowlers. Such was the class of Pietersen and Cook that even the commentators said they don’t think that the wicket has fallen in love of the batsmen but it is the genius of Pietersen and Cook that is making look batting ridiculously easy.

The greatness of Pietersen’s 186 lies in the fact that on a rank-turner where every other English batsman except Cook struggled and wasn’t sure about how much the ball is going to spin, Pietersen showed tremendous self-confidence.

He thoroughly dominated the bowlers and made them to bowl at him and never allowed anyone to settle, be it any of the three spinners and to produce such a knock under grueling conditions after all the things that he had gone through in past six months spoke about his immense character and will-power.

The silent, unPietersen-like celebration after he got to his hundred was a testimony about how focused he was and this innings would have certainly given him a deep sense of satisfaction.

Pietersen’s 186 played a pivotal role in English victory and KP was rightly adjudged the man of the match.

While Pietersen’s England career is already over and even though he plays in various T20 competitions across the globe, he deserves all the credit for his contribution towards English cricket. He has thoroughly entertained cricket fans all over the world.

After he says a final goodbye to the game as player, he should always be remembered as a maverick and perhaps the most charismatic and gifted English player of this generation and not for all the controversies and the clashes that he has been involved in.

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He didn’t get a ceremonious England exit and let’s hope that he gets a grand exit once he finally decides to hang up his boots from all forms of the game.