England v SA, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 3rd day August 4, 2012

Thrilling Pietersen ton ignites Test


England 351 for 5 (Pietersen 149*, Prior 20*) trail South Africa 419 by 68 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

It was brash, it was brilliant and it came almost out of the blue. Even by his own extreme standards, Kevin Pietersen's 21st Test century was one of his most remarkable. It took a Test series that had been characterised throughout by South African discipline and English subjugation and it turned it thoroughly, thrillingly, on its head.

As ever with Pietersen's greatest innings, it grew not just from innate talent but a colossal belief in his own ability. Shortly after tea, he became the fastest batsman, in terms of time, to 7000 Test runs - beating South Africa's captain, Graeme Smith, his compatriot and not exactly his biggest fan, by almost a year. He gazed upon his statistic, adorned with his own image, on the big screen as if drawing new energy, new belief, from the magnitude of his achievement.

One point that has not been stressed enough about Pietersen's retirement from England's one-day side after a stand-off with England's management is that feelgood is not just beneficial to him, but essential to all he achieves. When the ego is not fed, the magic departs.

He was comparatively restrained up to tea, making 43 from 83 balls, but in a prolonged final session of 3 hours 10 minutes something clicked. He destroyed the finest attack in Test cricket, surfing on a wave of self-belief. There was still something in the pitch but it became an irrelevance. In that final session, England made 168 runs in 42 overs and Pietersen got 106 of them. Nobody can suggest this Test is not alive after that. South Africa suffered a further blow shortly before the close when captain Graeme Smith had to be helped from the field after injuring his left knee in chasing a ball to the boundary.

Perhaps South Africa should not have tried to bounce Pietersen out immediately after tea. It was a legitimate tactic and, if Hashim Amla had held on at short leg when Pietersen was 52, a push off his hip against Morne Morkel, Smith's gambit would have succeeded. It fell to earth.

Pietersen then imagined himself invincible. It must be the sort of feeling most of us only ever recognise after about three drinks when the music is playing, except in Pietersen's case, the more he sups the better it gets. He flung his front leg to the leg side, to haul a succession of short balls from Morkel riskily above and beyond three boundary catchers, causing South Africa to abandon the ploy prematurely; he stood tall to drill Dale Steyn through point; and he met Jacques Kallis with the whippiest of straight drives.

As the Test series was transformed, he lacerated Vernon Philander through the offside to reach 99 and then, next ball, stole a single to midwicket for his 100, leaving him level with his captain, Andrew Strauss and one behind those at the top of the pile: Colin Cowdrey, Geoff Boycott and Wally Hammond. His high-hurdle celebration was regarded by some South Africans as rather tasteless, and after he had raised his bat to his wife in the crowd, his hug of celebration with the diminutive James Taylor, on debut, was amusingly chaste. How do you hug a man on public view who you barely know and who is more than a foot shorter than you are? Carefully, according to Pietersen.

Taylor played dutifully on his Test debut, a predominantly back-foot player, like most small batsmen, who fell half-an-hour before the close when he chopped on against Morkel for a considered 34, in a stand of 147, that provided a careful counterpoint to the mayhem around him. He must have observed Pietersen, 22 yards away, and imagined a different world.

On 110, Pietersen lashed Steyn so fiercely back towards him that it was a relief the bowler was not struck. Every onlooker, English or South African alike, would have had their most memorable moment. This might be a bit left field: on 143, he failed to spot a googly from Imran Tahir. No matter, he concluded, I will switch hit the next one. He missed it. He probably never read it. He probably did not even try to. But it spoke volumes about how he believes that attitude can conquer all.

Until Pietersen deemed what had passed before immaterial, the suspicion was growing that South Africa's accession to the No 1 Test ranking by winning this three-Test series was only a matter of time. South Africa looked purposeful; England slightly listless. It was the draining feeling when a side suspected that in the home conditions where it had normally been so dominant, it had finally met its match.

Pietersen's conviction contrasted vividly with the dismissals of Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell as England struggled to break the shackles. Smith's catch at first slip, as Steyn dismissed Trott for 35, came from a cross-batted carve at a length ball and worse was to when Bell, who had announced himself by lofting the legspinner Tahir imperiously for a straight six, chased a curly outswinger from Kallis that swung wide and early.

It was an abysmal shot by Bell, one of the weakest of his 79-Test career, especially considering that his dismissal brought in Taylor, on debut, only five minutes before tea. It did at least allow Taylor to make his first Test runs by the interval, an off drive against a long half-volley from Tahir that would have settled his nerves.

Strauss was the first wicket to fall after lunch, a laborious innings coming to grief when Steyn, who had bowled too wide at him, finally found a tight enough line to force a catch at the wicket. Alastair Cook fell in a rain-affected morning, the sort of Headingley morning when the fancy dressers would have been better coming as frogmen than paying homage, as many did, to the Leeds DJ, TV personality and eccentric, Sir Jimmy Savile, who died last year.

Cook was lbw pushing forward to Philander, the sort of low-trajectory bowler with an ability to swing the ball at a good length who often succeeds at Headingley. He stayed around for an umpiring review, however, which predictably was entirely wasted when the ball was shown to be hitting middle, two thirds of the way up. There might have been a glimmer of hope that the ball was pitching outside leg but it was a wasted review.

Batting relationships, as well as the status of players within a side, can often be revealed by attitudes to reviewing decisions that even in real time seem to have a high probability of being out. Cook is not only one of the most valued wickets in the England side, which gives him a slightly greater claim to a review, he is also Strauss' heir apparent and the relationship between the two men is strong. It all tipped England into a review that Strauss must have agreed to against his better instincts.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Allan on August 6, 2012, 21:22 GMT

    counterstrike said "Australia that is going through re-building phase is way better than full strength Eng team." Haha, thats funny. Didn't look that way last two Ashes series.

  • Allan on August 6, 2012, 21:19 GMT

    sorry g.narsimha I cannot understand a word of what you are trying to say! Alian? ur? abbut?

    The trouble is we are discussing the state of Test cricket NOW and so your references to previous tours are a bit irrelevant. Face it, India and to a lesser extent Australia are not the dominant forces they were. Currently the two teams playing out this series are head and shoulders above all others.

  • John on August 6, 2012, 13:16 GMT

    @counterstrike1.6 on (August 05 2012, 11:49 AM GMT) I read your post properly and if you're mentioning the India result in ODIs , what about the one off T20 in India , the ODI series in UAE which we won 4-0 and the T20 series in UAE won 2-1? If the ODI result in India is relevant to your post then so are these results which go the other way - or did you not think it through so well?

  • Dummy4 on August 6, 2012, 10:04 GMT

    One Question, are you enjoying the match?? No bitching wanted or necessary, are you enjoing it??

  • P Subramani on August 5, 2012, 12:15 GMT

    This is with reference to the comments of The_bowling_Holding. Contrary to his suggestion in India,Kevin Pietersen is immensely popular. Indians had a glimpse of this man in the Duleep Trophy some years ago and they were convinced that he was born to be great.Then after his debut and brilliant play in South Africa, he was bought by the Royal challengers Bangalore in the IPL three years ago.After two seasons with the RCB he was bought by the Delhi Daredevils.His exploits with them in IPL V have made him a household name in India actually.That apart,his image became even larger than life because he was the Captain of the England team that agreed to come to India after the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai. Indians have never forgotten that gesture of Kevin when he agreed to bring the team despite many in England who wanted to cancel that visit.Kevin as we know has South African roots and started as a bowler. But now he is a batsman and a great one at that. Let us just enjoy watching him play

  • narsimha on August 5, 2012, 12:01 GMT

    158 NOT OUT - BEING WHITE WASHED IN ALIAN CONDITIONS ON DOCTORED PITCHES IN DECADES , IF INDIA is worthless, on the same yard stick what about u r team which was WHITE WASHED IN UAE struggled in SL NOW STRUGLING AGAINST SA if we are pathetic in u r place what abbut u r team in our place won nothing in last three decades where as baring the last pathetic tour we fared far better in ENG than ENG in INDIA winning test odiseries u r wins were specially desinged pitches to assist u r so called great bowlers but when they travel to our place ther are not defferent from our bowl;ers in U R PLACE , now u r team is in total dellemma in facing SA U CANT PREPARE JUICY PITCHES as STRAI MORKEL may eatup btter by the lunch break , agreed we were bad in ENG , AUS only last time but check the stats what was u r performance in decades in our place , how we fared in erlier tours than coment u should not draw conclusions basd on just one bad tour .it is not that only wins in ENG COUNT

  • Sharon on August 5, 2012, 11:57 GMT

    How sad are India fan? Many many comment here are by India fan dismissing England. This - coming from DOUBLE WHITEWASH India team, in disgrace after pitiful Test "performance" V Eng and then Aus. Why do India fan draw attention to themself in this way? Incredible lack of any clue.

  • Axe on August 5, 2012, 11:54 GMT

    Lead of 6 runs. Wow ! Nice work by 'All' English batsmen and KP. Come on SA; Good chance to put up target of some 250 runs or so and declare the innings. Eng can't bat in 4th innings.

  • chris on August 5, 2012, 11:53 GMT

    So in the first innings we have South Africa - 419 all out, South Africa B - 338/4 (Strauss, KP, Trott, Prior), and England 87/6... hmmm

  • Steven on August 5, 2012, 11:51 GMT

    Anybody not take note of Pietersens interview with Sky afterwards? How he couldnt commit an answer as to where he will be in a years time? I say, retired from Eng internationals, on the T20 circuit and moved back to Durban. What an Englishman..... Fact remains, he's South African as the rest of the squad playing in England..

  • No featured comments at the moment.