Pietersen meets England after triple ton
Surrey 528 for 9 (Pietersen 326*) lead Leicestershire 292 by 236 runs
"Are you watching Andrew Strauss?" sang the crowd, as Kevin Pietersen soared to a career-best unbeaten 326 at The Oval. They were aware of what Strauss' appointment as the new director of England cricket - he will be officially unveiled at Lord's on Tuesday - is likely to mean for Pietersen's future as an England cricketer. But Pietersen is not giving up without a fight.
Pietersen followed up the highest score of his life with a crisis meeting with Strauss and the ECB's chief executive, Tom Harrison.
If a tweet from close ally Piers Morgan was any guide - and Pietersen did not deny it - he expected to be told that he has no England future. The BBC later reported that the ECB's new hierarchy did not budge despite what his supporters saw as 326 reasons to the contrary.
That would render futile Pietersen's desperate attempts to force his way back into the Test team for the Ashes, a quest which had led him to abandon the razzmatazz and riches of the IPL for early April against the students of Oxford.
So there was more than a hint of anger underpinning Pietersen's swat for six over square leg off Jigar Naik, which brought up his maiden first-class triple century. He looted 289 runs in the day. On the ground where he made an indelible mark upon the 2005 Ashes a decade ago, he pummeled 14 sixes, each hit with more venom than the last.
Yet there was also a certain sadness to it all. Pietersen will probably be compelled to play out the final three weeks of the IPL season, owing to the demands of his franchise, Sunrisers Hyderabad. By the time he returns, he might have reconciled himself to not having an England future. This unrelenting assault on Leicestershire could conceivably be the last sight of Pietersen in English cricket.
Pietersen has never been immune to the thrill of the individual landmark, and he was not about to change. When he cut Clint McKay for three, ending a 646-day wait for a first-class century that stretched back to the Old Trafford Ashes Test in 2013, there was nothing restrained about his celebrations. His fist pumping began when he ran through for his 99th run; the 100th was greeted by a characteristic KP leap. Then there was time for some more fist pumping.
When he reached his double-century, Pietersen's celebration lost little by way of exuberance: copious fist pumps once more. By the time he brought up his 250, Pietersen simply raised both his arms aloft in triumph. Spectators were united in getting to their feet. It has been suggested that, for all the opprobrium on Twitter about Pietersen's sacking, there exists a silent majority - cricket's version of "shy Tories" - who are happy he's gone. There was little evidence of that here, but big runs have that effect.
By the end, he had reduced Leicestershire, who had bowled with admirable discipline, to putting seven men on the boundary and hoping Pietersen would provide sympathy. He was not in the mood to do so.
After reaching 200, Pietersen became increasingly contemptuous of the bowling; an awesome flat-batted pull for six over long-on from Clint McKay suggested his relish for attacking Australians remains undimmed. It took only three balls for Pietersen to unfurl a similar shot, this time off Ben Raine; a classic whip to the leg side for four followed immediately after, and a smear over midwicket for another six only two balls later.
After he had sailed past 250, there were two bludgeoned sixes over long-off, which seemed to mock The Oval's not insignificant boundaries. It was a world away from a typical day of Championship cricket at The Oval.
Yet this was a freewheeling Pietersen innings a long time in the making. Resuming on 35, he batted with circumspection and respect for Leicestershire's attack: he took 31 balls over his first eight runs of the morning. This was a man who - in his own mind, at least - was preparing for a return to Test match cricket, not a resumption of life on the T20 franchise circuit. Doubtless many will sneer that the opposition was "only Leicestershire", who are without a Championship win in two years but, led by the indefatigable McKay, they are an improved side, and proved as much by preventing any other Surrey batsman passing 36.
As he often did playing for England, Pietersen created two parallel games, utterly unrelated to each other: the bowlers v KP; and the bowlers v everyone else. Yet for significant periods his innings was defined by struggle outside off stump, especially against McKay and Ben Raine. He also survived four chances: a sharp return catch to Jigar Naik on 95; a fairly routine edge to first slip off Raine on 110; a steepling catch at long-on off Charlie Shreck on 195; and a catch to fine leg off Raine, again, on 223.
No matter. Pietersen had accomplished much more than merely score his 50th first-class hundred, as well as his highest first-class score, and strengthen a superlative first-class record for Surrey, which now reads 1399 runs at 99.93 apiece. He has also won hearts and minds, as the applause for each delivery that No. 11 Matt Dunn survived was testament to. His skilful shepherding of the tail - century stands were added for the ninth and tenth wickets - also belied his reputation as an individual rather than a team player (although they also prolonged his time on centre stage).
Whether it all matters remains a moot point: Strauss has shown no inclination that he wants to be reunited with Pietersen, his fellow centurion at The Oval in 2005, for England's cause. But no one who witnessed Pietersen today will argue, as Strauss did last month, that there is no "pure cricketing logic" for a recall for England's rebel with a cause.
Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts