KP back with a bang
Posted in England v India 2011
Form is temporary, class is permanent. Cliché it may be but true nonetheless.
The reason for the former is something that baffles all lovers of sport. Form is just something that can come and go with little prior warning.
Just ask Kevin Pietersen.
On August 8 2008, there cannot have been a happier man in Britain than England’s swashbuckling number four.
Captaining in a Test for the first time – against South Africa, the country of his birth – Pietersen lit up the Oval, just as he had three years earlier to seal England’s historic Ashes triumph.
On that occasion he had announced himself on the international stage, with a career-defining 158 against Warne, McGrath and co.
Yet he will have arguably taken more pleasure from his effort 36 months later.
Strolling off the pitch having scored exactly 100, Pietersen was greeted by the warmest applause.
He revelled in it. His post-match claim – which was accompanied by a gleaming smile – that he had ‘never felt more loved’ told a million stories.
Another brilliant century – this time against India – soon followed in his third Test as skipper and, despite England losing the series on the sub-continent, Pietersen seemed thoroughly content.
Then something went awry. Losing the captaincy clearly affected the man affectionately known as ‘KP’, but there was more.
Over the course of the next couple of years, he went from being England’s Mr Reliable to a player who could still produce moments – and innings – of greatness.
Plenty of style, not enough substance some might say.
But, as Pietersen sparkled at Lord’s yesterday on day two of the first npower Test, there was very much a feeling that he was back – and with the biggest of bangs.
The ironic cheers when he safely negotiated Sri Lanka’s left-arm spinner Rangana Herath at this venue earlier in the summer were forgotten, displaced by the sort of standing ovation that became the norm during the start of his career.
Yet this innings carried even more weight.
As I watched on, it was the substance that impressed me most. I’ve seen Pietersen bat in difficult conditions; his 129 against New Zealand in Napier, where he came in with England four for two – they were four for three soon after – was simply breathtaking.
The ease with which he appeared to play on that occasion illustrated the man’s sheer quality.
What earmarked this innings as being so special, though, was the struggle he endured – particularly on day one.
Everyone who watched on then agreed. He was not playing well, illustrated by my colleague regularly saying: “Has he middled one yet?”
He hadn’t but that was not the case by the time he had strolled back to the pavilion with an unbeaten 202 to his name, for he flicked through the gears immensely after reaching three figures.
We saw the Pietersen of old towards the end of the innings – his last 50 runs spanned just 25 balls.
In truth, the 31-year-old’s resurgence actually came during the winter’s Ashes series.
The fact he was criticised in some quarters for scoring 563 runs in five Tests at an average of 60 is perhaps as much a measure of how far England have come in recent times than anything else.
Those doubters claimed if you removed his sensational match-winning 227 at Adelaide from the statistics, his record would have been unimpressive.
A nonsensical argument, surely? The fact is he did score the runs.
If you removed Sachin Tendulkar’s 99 international hundreds from his record, he would not stand on the brink of an unprecedented century of centuries (it may be an extreme example but the point remains).
The argument was, in the eyes of some, Pietersen still had a lot to prove.
His response was typically confident, outlining his desire to score 10,000 Test runs – yesterday he passed 6,000.
At the time, we were all wondering whether this was just Pietersen bravado. Was the hunger really back? Could he really do it?
Well, after watching his scintillating performance at Lord’s, I’m in no doubt that he will. It’s just a question of when.
He may endure losses of form again but the class remains. There will be plenty more standing ovations to come.