Brilliant Pietersen stars for England
Kevin Pietersen struck one of his finest international centuries as England batted in a manner that belied their winter struggles to move into a dominant position in the second Test against Sri Lanka.
The touring batsmen were under considerable scrutiny heading into the encounter after Sri Lanka emerged victorious in the first of two Tests.
That extended England’s losing run in the game’s premier form to four following a disappointing 3-0 loss at the hands of Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates.
That such results came when the bowlers were at their best illustrated the pressure on a top order that, following on from last night’s efforts, responded in fine style today.
With Andrew Strauss having departed for 61 yesterday evening, Alastair Cook moved his score from 77 to 94 before falling short of a 20th five-day ton, while Jonathan Trott struck 64.
The best effort, though, undoubtedly came from Pietersen, who, batting on a pitch where others have had to settle for accumulating runs, struck a remarkable 165-ball 151.
Incredibly, he alone hit 88 runs in the afternoon, more than had been managed in any session of the encounter so far, as Sri Lanka’s spin triumvirate - of Rangana Herath, Suraj Randiv and Tillakaratne Dilshan - were ruthlessly taken apart.
The carnage did not stop afterwards as Pietersen, who in registering a 20th Test hundred became England’s leading century-getter with 29 in all forms, continued to mix the outrageous with the breathtaking in moving on to 150.
He departed soon after, but England’s position at the close owed much to his brilliance; they were eventually dismissed for 460 - a lead of 185 - as Herath ended with flattering figures of 6-133.
Sri Lanka were left with one over to face, but it was safely negotiated by nightwatchman Dhammika Prasad and Lahiru Thirimanne; the former clipping a boundary through fine-leg as they finished on four without loss.
Trott and Cook were untroubled for much of the morning, with the former moving to a half-century after a flurry of early boundaries, the best of which was a reverse-swept four.
That came after Cook had greeted the arrival of the new ball with back-to-back cover drives to move into the 90s.
But, with three figures in sight, the left-hander was deceived by a Dilshan delivery that drifted in, edging to Mahela Jayawardene at slip.
Immediately after lunch, Prasanna Jayawardene missed a stumping chance off Herath, but it did not prove costly as the left-arm spinner removed Trott - who edged to slip - in his next over.
Pietersen was beginning to look increasingly dangerous, though, illustrated by him striking consecutive fours off Randiv, followed by an enormous straight six.
Another maximum brought up his half-century and moved England into the lead, after which Ian Bell got in on the act by hitting Herath down the ground for four.
Randiv was eventually taken out of the firing line - a victim of Pietersen’s brilliance - but that merely switched the batsman’s attention to Dilshan and Herath as he continued to hit to all parts.
A switch-hit four signalled the restart of Pietersen’s charge after drinks, though Prasad was able to exert a measure of control.
The seamer missed a sharp caught-and-bowled chance as Pietersen fortuitously hit a slower ball down the ground for four, before the batsman brought up his century in a thrilling 114th over.
Having been given the strike by a Bell single, the number four followed up a boundary through leg with another enormous pulled six over midwicket to move to 98.
That heralded a strange period in which Dilshan kept getting into his delivery stride, only to stop short of bowling as the batsman shaped for a reverse sweep.
Pietersen was given a warning by umpire Asad Rauf for changing his stance too quickly, but the impasse ended as the shot brought two runs as well as his ton.
Bell was then dropped by Angelo Mathews, yet pulled Prasad to midwicket soon after to end a 94-run stand, of which he had contributed just 18.
Pietersen was slightly more reserved after tea, although strike rotation was often complemented by the odd boundary.
Matt Prior also found the fence on two occasions before skying Herath to long-off for 11.
Centurion Pietersen added another couple of maximums - he followed up a straight six off Herath by pulling Suranga Lakmal over midwicket - before reaching 150 with a single.
He was then trapped, sweeping, leg before by Herath, who bowled Tim Bresnan for five with a clever arm ball.
Samit Patel and Graeme Swann batted with relative comfort thereafter, with the latter signalling his intent by launching Herath over midwicket for six.
He fell off the next ball, hitting to cover on 17 as Herath claimed a third five-wicket haul in as many innings in the rubber.
James Anderson also fell to the slow left-armer, trapped leg before attempting a reverse sweep - he opted not to review, with replays showing the ball was missing the stumps - and Patel holed out to midwicket off Randiv for 29.
Prasad and Thirimanne saw out a nervy over, but Sri Lanka still faced an uphill battle.