Test batting winner

Dangerous when doubted

Kevin Pietersen plays at his best when no one gives him a chance. In Mumbai, he was unstoppable

George Dobell

March 11, 2013

Comments: 10 | Text size: A | A

Kevin Pietersen reached his first fifty of the series, India v England, 2nd Test, Mumbai, 2nd day, November 24, 2012
An innings Viv Richards would be proud of © BCCI
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Best Test batting performance

Kevin Pietersen
186, second Test, Mumbai


As the chasm between Kevin Pietersen and his colleagues widened towards the end of the 2012 English season, he memorably complained that "it isn't easy being me" in the England dressing room. But whatever the difficulties behind the scenes, there were times on the pitch when it looked preposterously easy to be him.

Pietersen played, by most reasonable assessments, three great Test innings in 2012. The first in Colombo, the second in Leeds and the third, and perhaps finest of all, in Mumbai.

Some will never warm to him. They will question his motivation, his commitment and his loyalties. They will dislike his accent, his perceived brashness and, perhaps, his commercial success. But to deny him a place among the greats of cricket in the face of such evidence is like disregarding Picasso's worth as an artist because he was occasionally rude to waiters.

Pietersen's century in Mumbai was ridiculous. It was ridiculous in its audacity, ridiculous in its range of strokes and ridiculous in the way it flouted conditions and conventions. This was a wickedly turning surface on which England's spinners, tormenting batsmen renowned as fine players of slow bowling, claimed 19 wickets. It was a wicket on which only Alastair Cook, of Pietersen's colleagues, could pass 29 in the first innings, and a wicket on which only one man in India's second innings passed 11. Yet Pietersen created the illusion that he was operating on a batting paradise. While others prodded with the uncertainty of travellers lost in fog, he played every shot in the coaching manual and a good many more besides. It was, in short, a ridiculously good innings.

Many had thought it was an innings that could never be played. So entrenched were the opposing sides after the "text-gate" debacle that it seemed for a while as if Pietersen's international career might be over. He was dropped after the Leeds century, after all, and from the England World Twenty20 squad despite having been Man of the Tournament when they won it. By the time he stepped out to bat in Mumbai, they were real doubts that he could ever be successfully "reintegrated" into the England environment.

Neither England's or Pietersen's record in Asia offered much encouragement, either. England had only won one Test in India since winning the 1984-85 series and, excluding Bangladesh, just two of their last 23 Tests in Asia since the series victory in Sri Lanka of 2000-2001. They had lost five of the six Tests played in Asia in the year to that point, and Pietersen had been dismissed 25 times by left-arm spinners in Tests since the beginning of 2008, including two cheap dismissals in the previous Test, in Ahmedabad, by Pragyan Ojha. What is more, this pitch had been tailor-made for India's spinners and England had lost the toss. When Pietersen came to the crease, England had just lost two wickets for two runs and were in danger folding once again against an energised spin attack that sensed blood.

The jury says

  • The beauty of KP's innings in Mumbai was that it was unlike any other innings played in that Test - completely unique. His strike rate was far, far superior to any other, and it really did look like he was on a different surface. And he handled Ojha brilliantly, which would've been a big issue because of his record against left-arm spinners. Osman Samiuddin
  • KP destroyed India with a jaw-dropping display of skill against spin on a vicious turner. It was a unique combination of savagery and elegance. He would count the fielders and then charge the spinners against the spin, over the top, against the line with dazzling footwork. Not only did he win England the game but in the process he played probably the greatest innings by a visiting batsman to India. Ramiz Raja

But while most players perform at their best in an environment where they feel appreciated and valued, Pietersen seems to reserve his best for moments when he is doubted. Just as his century in Leeds had been produced as the relationship between him and his team-mates crumbled, his century in Mumbai came when his playing record in such conditions was under scrutiny and his position within the squad appeared fragile.

Pietersen later remarked that the key difference between his performance in Mumbai and Ahmedabad was a renewed confidence in his defence, following some technical work he undertook between games. While in the first Test he had reacted to uncertainty by looking to premeditate or charge down the wicket to negate the spin, here he demonstrated the technique and temperament to defend, wait and build. He used his long reach. He played straight - initially, anyway - and he trusted himself to come through the inevitable tough periods without resorting to a reckless counterattack. In such determined mode, Pietersen's batting has an ominous inevitability to it.

So while he was quickly into his stride against the offspin of Harbhajan Singh, easing his first delivery - a friendly half-volley well outside off stump - to the boundary, he was, initially at least, more cautious against the left-arm spin of Ojha. Pietersen scored just one run from his first eight deliveries against Ojha, and when he did feel confident enough to attack the spin, limited himself to driving through extra cover in conventional style. Even when Ojha returned for a second spell after Pietersen had passed 50, he was content to play out two maidens and scored just four runs in 28 balls from the bowler.

The investment in a cautious start paid a handsome dividend, though. By the time Ojha bowled to him again, on the third day, it was too late. Pietersen was irrepressible, unstoppable and quite masterful. A glorious passage of play contained a medley of Pietersen's greatest hits: the slog sweep, the reverse sweep, the scoop, the cover drive, the cut and the lofted drive. It was fitting that his century was reached off a reverse sweep (off Harbhajan) and his 150 with a slog sweep against the spin of Ojha. It would not quite be true to suggest that, when in such form, he can hit the ball where he wants at will, but, blessed with a vast arsenal of scoring options, he is desperately hard to contain when set.

Cook's contribution should not be played down. Not only had England's captain shown what could be achieved against such opposition, with a century in vain amid the rubble of England's Ahmedabad humbling, he also provided the solid platform upon which Pietersen could capitalise. Cook's was, it its own right, a fine innings.

But to talk of Cook's innings would be to talk of the play on the night on which Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at the theatre. Pietersen's innings overshadowed all else, and, underlining the impression that he had risen above everything around him, England lost their final five wickets for 31 after his departure. But by then the vital contribution of the match had been made and the series had turned. Pietersen had played an innings of which Sir Vivian Richards would have been proud. There really isn't any praise higher.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by FaisalSaudagar on (March 12, 2013, 17:02 GMT)

I think KP's mumbai and headingly innings should have been declared joint winners both were absolutely masterclass!!

Posted by Apocalypse_EX on (March 12, 2013, 16:11 GMT)

Definitely the best innings of the year. The funny thing is that the 2nd and 3rd best were by KP too.

Posted by BDHUNTER on (March 12, 2013, 8:12 GMT)

It shoulb be belongs to Hasim Amla, A prolific Run machine since he starts his career,I actually wonder why he didn't achive any award yet!!!!!

Posted by   on (March 12, 2013, 2:44 GMT)

Vig Whilst Clarke has been superb and has been rightly recognized as such, the award is for a single innings and having watched KP's knock I am in no doubt it was not just the best of the year but probably one of the best I have ever seen. In fact the only innings I can think of that I was more in awe of was when Greenidge made 214 out of 342 on Day 5 at Lords in 1984. In 66 overs BTW

Posted by bitofcricket on (March 11, 2013, 21:03 GMT)

Bit of a joke really. I realise the award batting performance but playing out of your skin for your team rather than a few good indulgent innings should be rewarded. Agree with vignesh, Clarke offered so much through the year under trying circumstances this has the look of robbery.

Posted by   on (March 11, 2013, 20:56 GMT)

After this innings, England team looked like a different unit ....I would go on to say that this innings had changed the outcome of the series ...

Posted by hhillbumper on (March 11, 2013, 19:19 GMT)

i think tendulkar should have won because well he is just the best batsman ever? oh sorry this was based on actual performance so well done KP

Posted by AB_DeVilliers on (March 11, 2013, 16:14 GMT)

Amla in Perth for me..we only have to look at how visiting teams have struggled at the WACA to realise how brilliant scoring run-a-ball 195 was given the series was on the line.

Posted by liz1558 on (March 11, 2013, 16:05 GMT)

Award is spot on as is the comparison with King Viv- the swagger, the arrogance are similar, although KP wears an emotional insecurity on his sleave that Viv Richards never had. More than stats, this is how great batsmanship needs to be judged. There isn't a batsman in the world that could produce the sort of innings KP does when the mood takes him. If the innings against India was the best because it won the match, the best moment was Steyn's expression after being belted back over his head for 6 at Headingly. The only great batsman in world cricket. Sorry, Kallis lovers, averages schmaverages. Not that you should be too bothered - KP is one of your own anyway!

Posted by vigneshvinu on (March 11, 2013, 14:34 GMT)

i think clarke should have won,because his performance was so superb.From january against india to till the end of the year against SL.the main thing was his consistency.

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