Pietersen knock entices England
Surrey 430 for 5 (Pietersen 234*, de Bruyn 94) trail Lancashire 485 (Croft 154*, Horton 110) by 55 runs
Kevin Pietersen, with a double-century of the highest class, did not so much nudge the England selectors as grab them by the throat and roar 'pick me' in their faces.
The selectors meet this weekend to pick the 30-man preliminary England squad for September's World T20. This squad must be submitted to the ICC on July 18 and, while Pietersen had previously announced his retirement from limited-overs international cricket, all the evidence of recent days suggest he is having second thoughts
While Pietersen and Co. may hope to persuade the ECB to rethink their policy of insisting that players must be available for both forms of limited-overs cricket to be considered for either, there seems little chance of that happening. Andy Flower refused to back down when confronted by Robert Mugabe; he is most unlikely to back down now.
It is hard to see a middle course, a course where Pietersen is rested for more ODIs than his colleagues, but perhaps it may be found. His Test career and his IPL future seemingly remain assured.
There may be other doubts. There may be doubts over whether his teammates want him back; whether his request for a somewhat easier schedule should be heeded and whether it is fair for the likes of Alex Hales, Ravi Bopara and Ian Bell - the men who have flourished in his place - to potentially make way for his return. There may be doubts, too, over whether England need such a distraction just as they begin an important Test series against South Africa.
But there should be no doubting Pietersen's class. He was, after all, man of the tournament when England won the World T20 in 2010 and, since returning to form in the ODI series against Pakistan, has produced some of the finest performances of his life.
This, by any standards, was an extraordinary innings. It was not just that Pietersen hit the fastest first-class century of the season - 93 balls with 13 fours and three sixes - or that he went on to hit the fastest double-century of the season - 170 balls, 25 fours and seven sixes - but that he bullied the bowling - the bowling of the county champions, no less - with a dominance rarely witnessed in the professional game. It was an innings that would have made Sri Viv Richards proud. And there really isn't higher praise than that.
Indeed, in years to come, those lucky enough to have been at Guildford for the third day of this game may reflect that they were blessed to witness greatness in action. Pietersen, in compiling the seventh double-century of his first-class career, a chanceless affair, provided a medley of his greatest hits: the ferocious cut shot; the impudent scoop; the outrageous switch-hit; the murderous pull; the dismissive slog-sweep and the gentle sweep; the magical flick through mid-wicket and, most of all, the thundering drive over the bowlers' heads that brought majority of his sixes.
And, it was interspersed throughout with quick singles and deft touches that spoke volumes for his fitness and his hunger for runs. Some of us are fortunate to watch many fine innings and many worthy centuries. This one, for its range of stroke and its complete mastery over decent opposition, stood out. It really does not get any better.
Poor Simon Kerrigan bore the brunt of Pietersen's assault. Kerrigan, a left-arm spinner of unusual skill and promise, was the victim of seven of Pietersen's eight sixes and conceded 152 in his 23 overs. Only late in the day did Kerrigan allow the assault to affect him. For the most part he bowled well, but was unfortunate enough to come up against a great batsmen in murderous mood. Even Pietersen admitted that this innings was "right up there" among his best
"Simon has bowled at a very good international cricketer on a tough pitch with short boundaries," Lancashire coach Peter Moores said. "It won't be the first time KP's attacked a spinner. Simon's had his days. He got his nine-for against Hampshire, but you've got to take both sides as a cricketer."
Some perspective is probably required. The pitch was flat, the bowling decent, though far from exceptional and the outfield is both short and fast. But Surrey were actually under some pressure when Pietersen walked to the crease and, bearing in mind the traumatic events of recent weeks, this was an important innings. Bearing in mind he remains unbeaten, Pietersen may even be able to build a match-winning lead on the final day.
"It's been a very traumatic time for the management and everyone at the club," Pietersen said afterwards as he reflected on the death of Tom Maynard. "Today was a day that the boys needed. I said that I wanted to come back and put smiles on the guys' faces. The boys have gelled real tight in the dressing room, some of them will be lifelong friends after all the stuff that they've been through and this was just a good day for Surrey."
It was, oddly enough, only Pietersen's second championship century since his Test debut in 2005. He has made 20 Test centuries in that time, but his last in the championship came on May 7, 2008 at Taunton. It is his 43rd first-class century, but his first for Surrey.
Pietersen's brilliance utterly overshadowed several other worthy performances on an enjoyable day's cricket. Not only did Zander de Bruyn make a splendid 94 in helping Pietersen add 181 in 35 overs, but Steven Croft extended his overnight total to the highest score of career in the morning session. Croft added 50 in 35 balls with six fours and a six as Lancashire scored 60 in 37 minutes to set up their declaration.
It left Surrey requiring 336 just to avoid the follow-on. And, after Rory Burns, having fielded for two-and-half days, was bowled first ball, leaving one that turned out to be very straight, that looked some way distant. But, on a wonderful day of almost 500 runs, everything else seemed trivial compared to the excellence of Pietersen.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo