India v England, 2nd Test, Mumbai, 3rd day November 25, 2012

Doubts bring out the best in Pietersen

When others experience problems and he finds a point to prove, Kevin Pietersen flourishes

There may have been more reliable batsmen, there may have been more responsible batsmen and there may have been more consistent batsmen. But there have been very few batsmen to have been so destructive, so often, as Kevin Pietersen.

Certainly it is hard to think of another England batsman of recent vintage who could have played the innings Pietersen played. On a pitch offering substantial assistance to the spinners and on which other batsmen have struggled for fluency, Pietersen created the illusion that he was operating on a batting paradise. Only when others, some of whom are considered experts in such conditions, prodded and struggled were the true nature of the conditions exposed.

This was an innings that many thought could never be played. When Pietersen was dropped from the England team in August, bridges were smouldering and, so deep were the divisions between him and his colleagues, that it looked for a while that there could be no return. It is surely for the best that a rapprochement was achieved. At a time when Test cricket is fighting for relevance and room, talents like Pietersen are to be savoured by anyone from any nation. His return is an asset not just to England, but to the game. Players like this do not come around very often.

Pietersen is often at his best with a point to prove. It was after a poor tour of the UAE earlier this year that he produced the innings of 151 in Colombo; as the chasm between him and his teammates grew that he produced the innings of 149 in Leeds and as he sought to restate his worth after "reintegration" that he produced this innings. Most players are at their best when they feel comfortable; Pietersen is at his best when he feels doubted.

Each great innings has been produced as his colleagues have struggled. Here, apart from the excellent Alastair Cook, no other England batsman could manage more than 29. At Leeds, Matt Prior, with 68, was the only other man to get out of the 30s and, even in Colombo, where England started well, Pietersen's departure saw England lose their last five wickets for 49 runs. He has produced three match-shaping centuries in his last eight Tests. No-one in the world has scored more runs in first-class cricket this year, either. He is a great batsman at the peak of his powers. His worth to the team is immense.

We should not be surprised. After all, before Pietersen, England had never won a global trophy. Before Pietersen, England had not won the Ashes in nearly two decades. Before Pietersen, England could barely dream of reaching No.1 in the ODI, Test or T20 rankings. It is largely through him that all those hurdles were cleared. He was, remember, the man of the tournament when England won the World T20 in the Caribbean in 2010 and it was his century at The Oval that clinched the 2005 Ashes.

It was masterful innings containing a medley of Pietersen's greatest hits. But what made it all possible was the fact that he was prepared to wait for the opportunity to play them.

Yet, despite it all, some will never take to Pietersen. They doubt his motives, his commitment and his loyalty. It is a state of affairs that perhaps says more about the doubters than the doubted. Pietersen, like everyone else who has ever played the game, will be a mixture of virtue and vice and it is often unwise to judge a sportsman on anything other than their performance. Whatever Pietersen's qualities off the pitch - and the truth is that most with an opinion are basing it on presumption rather than evidence - as a batsman it is hard to dispute his greatness.

His technique may, at times, look idiosyncratic, but there is thought and logic behind it. At his best, his eyes, his hands and his feet work in harmony consistent with most great players. It is just that, such is Pietersen's reach, his strength and his range of stroke, that he has more options than most. There will be occasions when he over-reaches or when his ego - so often a power of good in his batting - seduces him into danger. But that's the price you pay for the wild genius. Viv Richards was not so different.

So dominant was Pietersen in the opening session of the third day that he took a game in the balance and stole the initiative for England. He read R Ashwin's variation and, having done so, was confident enough to use his feet to hit the ball into the gaps and produced strong evidence to scotch the theory that he struggles against left-arm spin: at one staging thrashing Pragyan Ojha for two fours and three sixes in a 17-ball spell.

It was masterful stuff containing a medley of Pietersen's greatest hits: the slog-sweep, the reverse sweep, the scoop, the cover drive, the cut and the lofted drive. But what made it all possible was the fact that he was prepared to wait for the opportunity to play them. There was none of the premeditation we saw in Ahmedabad, as Pietersen demonstrated the patience and the technique to block the good balls and wait for the bad ones. And when you have the arsenal of scoring options of Pietersen, you never have to wait too long.

Cook is a different creature but must also be defined as great. Like Pietersen, Cook now has 22 Test centuries - no England player has scored more - and both should have plenty to come. Critics often judge a player's merit or talent not on effectiveness, but on aesthetics. While it is true that Cook may not time the ball with the sweetness of Ian Bell, the more apt criteria for judgement should be who you would rather bat in your team. Cook, by such a benchmark, scores well. His mental strength and determination may not create the pleasing elegance of Bell, but they will win more matches.

The excellence of Pietersen and Cook helped England to a first innings lead of 86 and, just as relevant in the long-term, a score of 400 for two innings in succession. On surfaces designed to exploit their weaknesses, that is an encouraging statistic.

It may be mis-leading, however. Cook and Pietersen apart, England's batsmen continued to struggle against spin. Jonny Bairstow showed some understandable naivety in playing across the left-arm spinner and Samit Patel has yet to justify his reputation against spin. England still look overly reliant for their runs on a couple of individuals.

The success of their spinners was a major boost, though. To lose the toss on a wicket tailor-made for the opposition and beat them at their own game would be a remarkable achievement. It may also provide India with some food for thought going into the rest of the series.

But let us not get ahead of ourselves. Bearing in mind England's struggles against spin this year, and the ghost of Abu Dhabi hanging over them, a target of as little as 120 may still provoke discomfort. This beguiling game may offer us another twist or two yet.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Nicholas on November 27, 2012, 20:51 GMT

    @electric_loco_WAP4 (post on November 27 2012, 14:46 PM GMT); you're seriously comparing an all-rounder with a test batting average less than 40, with a prolific batsman averaging almost 50? Funny how the pitch wasn't so flat when India batted second innings eh! What heavy loss did you have in mind? Have you heard of Cook, Panesar, Swann at all? They've not been doing too badly for England lately...

  • Akshita on November 27, 2012, 18:50 GMT

    @Electric _LOCO_WAP4 You must be joking . A dead flat pitch you said. Did you watch the match? This is the same ground where Australia could not chase a 100 runs with all the greats like Hayden and Gilchrist and this pitch was a minefield and if u dont believe me you should have listen to Warne orDravid speaking about the pitch . The ball was turning square from left to right and right to left . dönt you know what is a rank turner ? Thats what it was . Plz don't make comments without knowing anything about conditions . I guess you have zero knowledge about different cricketing conditions.

  • sam on November 27, 2012, 14:46 GMT

    Can't deny K Pieterson a good knock though a dead flat pitch and listless bowling by Ind .Also no real pace to hurry the batsmen with all spinners- Zaheer Khan 125k med pacers is no good anymore at this level- and absence of the only decent Ind quick Yadav played in Eng's hands. A bit like Watson is Pieterson with the shots and fast scoring- though he is no match for the raw natural talent of Watto who unlucky to be injured would have had a prolific scoring series vs SA with some big tons of his own. Pieterson can be classed a 'poor man's Shane Watson' but he is Eng's best no doubt . Problem for Eng is the rest are very poor and the reason for the heavy loss by Eng for a long period now.

  • Srinivas on November 27, 2012, 5:38 GMT

    Hi KP, if you are reading this - thanks for the tweet in Hindi. Don't know why, but Indians love KP a lot. He is our adopted son. I think the crowd fed his ego and we all know KP feeds off the crowd's energy. I think the crowd needs to stop applauding KP. He will hurt us even more if we start appreciating him. But we just can't stop applauding him, though we know the consequences. Somehow, not for a minute did I want KP to get dismissed though he was hurting us really bad. Hearty congratulations KP - from an Indian fan. Your reintegration is complete bro. The elementary thing about batting in sub-continent - trust your defence. You got it right Champ this time, right on the money. Can't appreciate enough, your brutal onslaught! A timeless masterpiece to boot!

  • Dummy4 on November 26, 2012, 16:08 GMT

    India needs to go back to the drawing board as to how to play world class spin attack.I think is necessary to play batsmen on current form.Sorry , Ten dulkar and Shewag.

  • Matthew on November 26, 2012, 15:39 GMT

    I'd put my house on him not getting runs in the next match. Cook on the other hand is scoring at will and will continue to do so. He will need to find another partner next time. Compton is due a half century at least. Can Trott find some form? Or Bairstow, Bell or Patel or whoever plays in the middle order? Or will it come down to Prior again to help the captain get England out of another hole?

  • Arul on November 26, 2012, 14:26 GMT

    KP is on of the best in subcontinent conditions. That is why ECB always kept doubting Pietersen, to bring best out of him. Great strategy. Poor Monty, he will be out of the team again in the next series.

  • Sriram on November 26, 2012, 13:48 GMT

    No wonder English and Cook 'BEGGED' KP to ignore IPL and focus on England!! Else imagine what would have transpired in Mumbai, but for KP this match was over and that the winning team would have been different despite thier bowling shortcomings.

  • Dummy4 on November 26, 2012, 13:42 GMT

    @Sanjivan. One big innings in three is superb, compared to one in ten, or even more. Sehwag is the best example of the latter. Since he had an exhilarating century in the 1st test, that he will use to ride for the next ten innings, to ward of criticisms and keep the call for his omission by the selectors, at bay. The tragic part is that the selectors buy that bait, and swallow the hook, string, the rod and the guy at the end of the rod, blindly and with relish. And , the show goes on...

  • Owen on November 26, 2012, 12:29 GMT

    @Jonathan Lane - whilst I agree, there are many others who have contributed to Englands successes over the past few years, I think that KP brought a distinct change in attitude with him; a confidence which seems to have rubbed off on some of the other players, and we all know how important a mind-set is in cricket. I don't agree with the author that we are relying too much on runs from Cook & KP only. Sure, they are the ones with the big scores this series, but Compton has done well for a newbie and I think we can expect more from him. Prior too has looked good so far this tour. Trott is a worry, but I would still back him to come through this lean patch.

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