England v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Rose Bowl, 3rd day

Composed Pietersen edges back to his best

Kevin Pietersen may never again reach the heights he touched early in his career, but his innings against Sri Lanka showed that he is getting back to his best

Andrew Miller at the Rose Bowl

June 18, 2011

Comments: 15 | Text size: A | A

Kevin Pietersen's zenith as a Test batsman arguably came in the summer of 2006, the last time Sri Lanka were the visitors to these shores. In consecutive Tests at Lord's and Edgbaston, he monstered an attack that still included Muttiah Muralitharan for consecutive innings of 158 and 142, and in so doing unfurled a repertoire that took the breath away. Amid all the flamingo flicks and bludgeoning straight drives that lit up his performances, no single blow was more extraordinary than the switch hit for six with which he dispatched Murali into the Birmingham suburbs.

Better still than the stroke, however, was the manner in which Pietersen justified his apparent recklessness in his press conference at the close of play. "To understand that shot you need to know that I had just come down the wicket to Murali three times," he told the assembled reporters. "I had hit him over mid-off for four, through mid-off for four and then I had cut the doosra for four. Murali moved his mid-off and mid-on back and put men at deep square leg and cow corner. All my options had been blocked." And therefore, once again, necessity proved to be the mother of invention.

Fast forward five years, and Pietersen once again found the Sri Lankan attack to his liking, as he launched into his most fluent innings on home soil since his captaincy summer of 2008. If his 72 at Lord's had been a harbinger of good times to come, then Saturday's 85 from 115 balls at the Rose Bowl was vivid confirmation that his mind is back where it belongs. Even the manner of his downfall was strangely reassuring, as he baulked at the notion of shutting up shop for the night, and carried on climbing into his strokes with the alacrity of old.

That he failed to reach his 18th Test hundred, and his first in England for three seasons, was on the face of it less relevant than his willingness to trust his talent to the max, in the same wholehearted manner that used to enable him to gallop through to century after century with scarcely a pause for thought. "Actually it wasn't frustrating at all," he said of his demise with nine balls of the day remaining. "To play the way I've played today has given me a lot of happiness. The hundreds will come - and a lot of them, I hope."

The only intriguing difference between the Pietersen of then and now was his determination to play within certain self-imposed limitations - not his limitations per se, because as he has shown on numerous occasions in the past, he doesn't have any scoring areas that are strictly off-limits. But the single most alluring feature of his innings was the quality of his straight driving, Twelve of his 14 fours were belted in the arc between extra-cover and mid-on, including his third ball of the day, off Suranga Lakmal, and his first from the slow-left-armer, Rangana Herath, who plopped down one more ball before lunch and was not then seen again until KP had 69 runs to his name.

"To have gone back to basics and hit the ball straight and keep penetrating the opposite stumps, for me that was brilliant," he said. "I had three or four scoring areas I've been really working hard on. One of them was the ball that got me out, the half-volley under the eyes which I was looking to hit through extra-cover, and then there was hitting it down the ground, and then short balls I looked to score off.

"Those are the few areas I looked to score well off. The rest I wanted to bat time and be patient," he added. "I was lucky enough, on a very good wicket, to have played like that. I just did exactly what I'd done the whole time I batted - if it was in my areas, a half-volley out there, I hit it, because point was really far behind. All I needed to do was hit it through extra-cover and pick up some more runs for the team."

He was not at his most forthcoming when speaking to the media afterwards - the mere mention of the name "Herath" made him bristle like Pavlov's dog - but the manner in which he broke down the approach to his innings had distant echoes of that 2006 performance. At any rate, it confirmed the extent to which he is thinking about his cricket again, a crucial factor that has not always been taken for granted of late, certainly not when he slashed his way to five runs in two innings in the opening half of the series.

"I've been promising it for a while," he said. "Lord's was nice, second innings, to get in there and start feeling like I normally feel when I go out and bat. There were a frustrating couple of ways I got out in the first two innings of this series, but I really, really enjoyed the way I played today. They bowled pretty straight to me, and I was lucky enough to line it up really well."

And yet, for all his bravado about missing out on a century, one senses that Pietersen will not fully relax until he has shrugged that monkey clean off his back. It irks him that his career-best 227 in Adelaide - the innings that set up the victory that set up the Ashes, no less - is generally regarded as an anomaly, and that was a point he reinforced when he reminded everyone of his other performances in Australia. "I made 50-odd in Melbourne, then 30-odd in Sydney, then pulled one down fine-leg's throat," he said. "I've not been playing badly; I've just got myself in and then out occasionally."


Kevin Pietersen was in imperious form during his 85, England v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Rose Bowl, June 18, 2011
Kevin Pietersen appeared close to his old self in the course of a confident 85 © Getty Images
Enlarge

As for that unmentionable issue against left-arm spin, Pietersen was unequivocal - even if he was slightly unsure of what he was being unequivocal about. "You guys seem to have a problem with that - I don't," he said. "We realise you guys have got a job to do, and if I give you ammunition you're going to fire the gun.

"I've probably given you enough ammunition - they've got me out quite a few times, but that's the nature of the beast, but it's absolutely no drama to me. What it's probably made me do is play them a lot better than I would have - because I've worked that extra bit harder, thinking 'Have I got a problem ... I've never had a problem with them'."

As it happens, Pietersen's innings made him the second former Hampshire player to make his mark on this contest after Chris Tremlett's six-wicket haul in Sri Lanka's innings, though given how rarely he appeared for the county, and how acrimonious his eventual departure had been, this hardly counted as a homecoming performance.

Still, trust KP to see things differently. "The reception was fantastic, though I don't see why it would be frosty," he demurred. "I just changed county - which I'm sure hundreds and thousands of cricketers have done before."

The pretensions and contradictions are all part of the fascination of KP, but he's never better than when he's sure of his aim. In that regard, there's an awfully long way to go until he scales the heights of invulnerability he enjoyed when Sri Lanka were last in town - and given that there was a time in that summer when many doubted that he had a single chink in his mental armoury, he might never touch those heights again.

But this was undoubtedly a step in the right direction, as a Rose Bowl crowd who had lost two prime hours in a soggy afternoon session were treated to some richly appreciated pyrotechnics. When the man is in full flow, there are few better sights in the game.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

RSS Feeds: Andrew Miller

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by cricket_for_all on (June 19, 2011, 16:33 GMT)

I think that SLC should look for replacements for Sanga and Mahela. If they both love SL cricket they wouldn't resign from the captaincy in the middle. Now they are performing horribly since they already have IPL money (They don't care about SL cricket now). If they want to play IPL let them play but replace them with youngsters.

Posted by voma on (June 19, 2011, 14:22 GMT)

From an England point of view , everything is going very nicely now . Key batsmen like KP and Bell are looking good ! . Because the real test lies ahead , against the Indians . Sri Lanka have struggled on this tour , and i believe apart from Dilshan they have been very dissapointing . Make no mistake the weather has saved Sri Lanka from a major thrashing , from this improving all the time England side .

Posted by arup_g on (June 19, 2011, 13:26 GMT)

Surely 85 against a very poor Sri Lankan attack cannot be considered as getting back to his best? KP at his best is dominating the best in the world, counter attacking against the likes of Warne, Murali, Lee, Steyn etc, but he hasn't done that for years! KP vs India will be a big test - he did very well in 2007 when India last toured, against the likes of Zaheer, Kumble and Bhajji, but that was a different KP. He needs to find some consistency again, and once again go back to dominate attacks as he did!!

Posted by   on (June 19, 2011, 12:41 GMT)

Not a good sign for India...We may bring Pragyan exclusively for KP... :)

Posted by landl47 on (June 19, 2011, 10:45 GMT)

Hi, 5wombats! Yes, I'm looking forward to seeing India. The SL series has been a bit of a disappointment with so much time lost to rain and the two sides not evenly balanced (I see the SL supporters have all but disappeared as it's become obvious that their team can't compete). This will be the last tour for a number of Indian greats and I'm expecting a well-fought series. England are playing well for the most part, but Strauss is going to have to work out a way to play Zaheer and Broad needs to decide what kind of a bowler he's going to be and stick to it. Otherwise, everything looks good.

Posted by 5wombats on (June 19, 2011, 6:57 GMT)

@Sammy_07; you've got a short memory - what about the match winning 227 at Adelaide? Hey @landl47! Are you looking forward to the India series as much as I am??? England are looking good.

Posted by Ahsan_Shere on (June 19, 2011, 6:43 GMT)

Batting line-ups of England & India; one shouldn't ask for more. Pietersen always been a wonderful player to watch, bad patches do come in the way of every batsman but how to coup with them shows your mental strength & passion to the game. Mate, your big strides, control over short balls, fluency of scoring; 60-70 strike rate even in longer format of the game & cover driven fours will always be remembered!

Posted by 9717669381 on (June 19, 2011, 6:34 GMT)

all i want now is to bring back the outrageous flamingos kevin,,and then ur all juices wud be flowing,,u ll feel superconfident and then all the bowlers will start to feel at what beast they are gonna bowl,,just like 4 or 5 years back,,,please kp,,i loved ur flamingo flicks more than any other thing in cricket,,seriously,,wish u reach all the batting heights which ur talent demands...:)

Posted by donda on (June 19, 2011, 4:08 GMT)

I don't get one thing that why we always want a great player to perform in every innings of the every match of the every series of whole year. A player is a human not a machine , a player needs rest, he can get exhausted and he can under perform and can some times don't perform for long time. Its human Nature. Even the Great Michael Jordon or Michael Schumacher won 7 years of championships in their 20 years career that mean in those 13 years they were failure.

No and No. We should all accept the highs and lows of a great player which KP is and we don't need to write article every time her performs and don't perform. It's ridiculousness to accept KP to perform in every match or to any great player.

Media should change their view of analyzing great players and should give them respect all the time whether they are in form or not. Don't make joke of a legend, please.

Posted by   on (June 19, 2011, 2:17 GMT)

The Pietersen haters are getting boring now ....

Comments have now been closed for this article

TopTop
Email Feedback Print
Share
E-mail
Feedback
Print
Andrew MillerClose
Andrew Miller Andrew Miller was saved from a life of drudgery in the City when his car caught fire on the way to an interview. He took this as a sign and fled to Pakistan where he witnessed England's historic victory in the twilight at Karachi (or thought he did, at any rate - it was too dark to tell). He then joined Wisden Online in 2001, and soon graduated from put-upon photocopier to a writer with a penchant for comment and cricket on the subcontinent. In addition to Pakistan, he has covered England tours in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007
Tour Results
Scotland v Sri Lanka at Edinburgh - Jul 13, 2011
Sri Lanka won by 183 runs
Ireland v Sri Lanka at Edinburgh - Jul 11, 2011
Match abandoned without a ball bowled
England v Sri Lanka at Manchester - Jul 9, 2011
England won by 16 runs
England v Sri Lanka at Nottingham - Jul 6, 2011
England won by 10 wickets (with 145 balls remaining) (D/L method)
England v Sri Lanka at Lord's - Jul 3, 2011
Sri Lanka won by 6 wickets (with 10 balls remaining)
More results »
Video / Audio
Highlights: Dhoni run-out lifts England at Trent Bridge
News | Features Last 3 days
News | Features Last 3 days