Pietersen reaches the pinnacle
Posted in England v South Africa - 2008
It is not known whether Kevin Pietersen is an avid reader of Ernest Hemingway, but he certainly lived up to the great man’s words on the opening day of the first npower Test against South Africa.
“Courage”, the famous scribe once wrote, “is grace under pressure”, a sentiment which echoed throughout Pietersen’s innings of 104 not out.
It was a century of the highest class and, though the series is barely a day old, one suspects there is unlikely to be anything to rival it for the remainder of the summer.
Too outlandish a claim? Consider the circumstances in which Pietersen embarked on his innings.
He came to the crease in the middle of a spell of three wickets in 13 balls that left England tottering on 117 for three, in conditions weighted unquestionably in favour of the seamers.
Faced with tackling what had been billed by many observers as the finest pace attack on the planet and on the opening day of a series seen as the litmus test of England’s credentials, Pietersen cannot fail to have appreciated the enormity of the occasion as he strode out against the country of his birth.
It was a topic which filled countless column inches this week, and no greater compliment can be paid to Pietersen than to say there was a certain inevitability about his reaching three figures.
As his captain, Michael Vaughan, said during the build-up to this match: “He looks like he’s got that little glint in his eye to go on and get big scores.”
Pietersen obliged on that count, but it was as much the manner of his innings - as Hemingway would appreciate - as the volume of runs which will stick in the memory of a sizeable and appreciative crowd at Lord’s.
Admittedly, there was little graceful about the way he ended up in a heap on the floor as he scrambled to complete a single to get him off the mark, nor the way he was put on his backside by a Dale Steyn bouncer that struck him on the helmet moments later.
Thereafter the artistic merit of Pietersen’s strokeplay was almost beyond compare, although Ian Bell batted with remarkable fluency in the early stages of his innings of 75 not out.
Pietersen survived the early barrage of short-pitched deliveries to unfurl his extraordinary range of shots, from powerful straight drives off slow left-armer Paul Harris to deft paddle sweeps.
The presence of a deep square-leg for much of the day did not deter Pietersen from playing the pull, and there were the usual clutch of whips through the leg side, none better than that which sent a good-length delivery from Jacques Kallis that was at least a foot outside off stump fizzing through midwicket to bring up the 150 stand with Bell.
That moment encapsulated Pietersen’s almost complete dominance over an attack containing the best bowler in the world, in Steyn, as well as Morne Morkel and Makhaya Ntini - no slouches themselves with ball in hand.
Speed has been the watchword for much of the week, but it was Pietersen’s rapid progress to a 124-ball hundred which illuminated an unbroken fourth-wicket parternship of 192 with Bell in little more than 46 overs.
He struck 13 fours and a mighty straight six off Harris en route to a 13th Test century, with Bell content to adopt little more than a watching brief.
There can have been few better seats in the house to witness such phenomenal batsmanship, and the words of Hemingway again came to mind as Pietersen put South Africa to the sword in ruthless fashion.
“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master,” he once wrote. That may be true, but Pietersen came mighty close today.