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INTRIGUING KEVIN PIETERSEN STAT ALERT. Strap in, numbers fans.
Kevin Pietersen made a carefully constructed and carelessly concluded 73 in Wellington, consolidating the outstanding first-day batting of Nick Compton and Jonathan Trott, before Matt Prior converted it into scoreboard dominance. England's mercurial superstar thus recovered from a dismal game in Dunedin, in which an excusable first-innings golden duck to a fine Neil Wagner inswinger - bucking the team tactics for the innings by getting out to a good ball instead of planking a bad one straight to a fielder - was followed by a second-innings 12 that was pokier than an agoraphobic's secret dungeon.
England's well-documented garbageous form in overseas first Tests, which now stands at a solitary victory over Bangladesh in 14 series since 2005, has coincided with Pietersen's arrival in the team. Pietersen has played in all 14 of those Tests, averaged 29, and scored no centuries (albeit with a couple of very near misses). In the most recent four of those first Tests, he has scored 2 and 0, 3 and 30, 17 and 2, and 0 and 12.
However, in few short days between the first and second Tests of away series, Pietersen locks himself in a special magic cocoon, before exploding out for the second Test, like a caterpillar who swallowed a Lancaster bomber, transmuted into an unstoppable force of batting devastation. In 14 second Tests overseas, Pietersen averages 80. He has hit six centuries - including two big ones in Ashes matches in Adelaide, a brilliant 151 in Galle, and his recent Mumbai masterpiece - plus three more half-centuries.
Then, with the momentum of a series often turned England's way, Pietersen once again dons his cloak of vulnerability, a garment he dons and discards with astonishing rapidity. In the third, fourth and fifth Tests of series: 18 matches, two hundreds, average 34. England, therefore, should drop him immediately before his inevitable comedown in Auckland. Or clonk him on the head with an anvil and hope that he forgets the Wellington Test, and plays the third Test as if it were the second.
Brendon McCullum might have been out of his mind in suggesting that Alastair Cook is second only to Bradman in the annals of batting magnificence (or talking in some form of secret code to let his wife know that he had left the oven on at home), but he would have been on sounder footing to suggest that Pietersen is in fact better than Bradman. Albeit only in second Tests of series away from home. The Don averaged a paltry 78 in the second Tests of the four rubbers he played away from Baggy Greenland. (To be fair to the statistical Zeus that he was, Bradman outshone Pietersen in the latter stages of away series, averaging a useful 133 in third, fourth and fifth Tests combined.)
Pietersen's scoring in away series constitutes a curious pattern. Particularly when you compare it with his equivalent figures in Tests in England - he averages 56 in first Tests, 56 in second Tests, and 51 in third/fourth/fifth Tests. Reliable equilibrium at home. From low to high and back again like a demented Edmund Hillary everywhere else. If anyone can explain these figures, please alert Pietersen, the ECB, and the International Journal of Psychology.
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writerFeeds: Andy Zaltzman
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Andy Zaltzman was born in obscurity in 1974. He has been a sporadically-acclaimed stand-up comedian since 1999, and has appeared regularly on BBC Radio 4. Zaltzman's love of cricket outshone his aptitude for the game by a humiliating margin. He once scored 6 in 75 minutes in an Under-15 match, and failed to hit a six between the ages of 9 and 23. He would have been ideally suited to Tests, had not a congenital defect left him unable to play the game to anything above genuine village standard. He writes the Confectionery Stall blog on ESPNcricinfo.