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

Time to end Pietersen standoff

England can live without Pietersen, but there should be no doubt that they will be much diminished if they lose him

If ever there was any doubt about the importance of Kevin Pietersen to the England side - and there really should not have been - it was surely dispelled by his remarkable Test century at Headingley.

Against a South Africa seam attack of the highest class, on a pitch showing signs of uneven bounce and with his side in some trouble, Pietersen produced one of the finest hundreds this historic ground can have witnessed.

While some might resist Pietersen's claim to greatness by fault of some soft dismissals and a certain inconsistency, it is doubtful any of those fortunate enough to be present on the third day of this game would agree. Instead they may well reflect for a lifetime on the day they witnessed greatness in action. They can be no doubt that Pietersen is, at his best, a magnificent player.

This was certainly Pietersen at his best. It was not so much the number of runs he scored - impressive though that was - as the manner in which he scored them. In circumstances where his colleagues had prodded and poked, Pietersen thrashed high-quality bowling around the ground as if practising against a village team. Even a bowler as skilled as Dale Steyn was pummelled and plundered. As Allan Donald, South Africa's bowling coach and one of Pietersen's childhood heroes, said afterwards: "It reminded me of when I ran into Brian Lara. It was in the category of a genius."

His batting in recent months - from the ODI centuries in the UAE, to the IPL century, the Colombo century, and a double-century at Guildford of almost dazzling class - has attained standards reached by few. The man who he most resembled in this innings, in terms of mastery, bravado, strength and stature, was Sir Viv Richards. And there really isn't any higher praise than that.

It is far from the first time that Pietersen has rescued England. Just as the 2005 Ashes might well have had a different ending but for Pietersen's swashbuckling century at The Oval, so they might well be still searching for their first global trophy had it not been for Pietersen's brilliance in the Caribbean World Twenty20 in 2010.

It is a shame for all cricket lovers - not just England supporters - that it seems he will miss this year's event. Players like this appear so rarely, and while Pietersen can be drafted into England's World Twenty20 squad until August 18 without complication, it seems unlikely either side will compromise in the standoff over scheduling, rest and other opportunities.

And there is the rub for England. It is just possible that Pietersen is playing his penultimate Test. It is just possible that Pietersen's request to play the entire IPL season could see him decline the offer of a central contract in September. It is also just possible that Pietersen's complaints about the international schedule while making arrangements to play more T20 cricket around the world will have so irritated the England management that he will not be offered one.

England can live without Pietersen. Great players have come and gone before; the sun still set and the tide still came in. But there should be no doubt that England will be much diminished if they lose him. It is hard to think of another man in English cricket who could have played this innings, and without it, they would surely be facing an awkward final two days in this game.

Perhaps the timing of this innings was no coincidence. Perhaps it was Pietersen's way of stating his worth. If so, he made his case eloquently. He transformed an attritional day of cricket, where his side faced the possibility of the follow-on, into a riveting event that all who witnessed it will talk of for years. Cricket does not have so many players who can do that.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the current issues between Pietersen and the ECB, both sides need to try again to resolve their problem. It is time for the coterie of managers who work at the ECB to earn their corn and find a solution. Pietersen wants to play for England and England want him to play for them. Both parties will be weakened by a parting of ways. More importantly, so will world cricket.

"I've never batted better in my life," Pietersen said afterwards as he reflected on his form of the last few months. "My last two Test centuries have been my best two - Colombo for heat reasons - and today against an unbelievable bowling attack that never stops running in. To get runs against that attack is something I'll always cherish.

"I had a big wake-up call against Pakistan last winter. I was a bit overweight and I wasn't physically in as good nick as I should have been in that series. I averaged twelve and a half in those three Tests, which really hurt me, as I set myself high standards. It wasn't good enough.

"But I took it on the chin and I went and spent hours and hours in the nets with Mushtaq Ahmed. I spent all of June doing that in order to get in good nick for this series. It's just hard work and figuring out my game. Hard work pays off."

There was a heartening debut from James Taylor, too. For a 22-year-old who has played all but this season in the bottom tier of the County Championship to come into a high-pressure situation in a Test and help Pietersen add 147 was testament not just to his pluck but to the worth of county cricket. It is lazily denigrated by many, but the fact is that Cook, Strauss, Trott and Prior all scored centuries on Test debut, while Bell and Pietersen scored half-centuries. If players can step up and perform so readily, it must be a decent breeding ground.

Perhaps it was appropriate that Pietersen's best batting came when he was in partnership with the diminutive Taylor. Just as Pietersen dwarfed Taylor in terms of height, so he dwarfed his colleagues in terms of contribution and class.

While his excellence should not mask the flaws in England's batting - Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell were both out to hideous strokes - it has given them a chance to claw their way back into the game. There is still a great deal of work ahead - they trail by 68 - but if Pietersen and Co can build a substantial lead on day four, South Africa might yet face an uncomfortable final day on a wearing pitch.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Randolph on August 7, 2012, 23:30 GMT

    @popcorn - true, but the problem is England have no depth and hence no one to replace him. If you think they are bad now imagine how bad they would be without him!

  • Sharon on August 7, 2012, 9:51 GMT

    @maddy20 on (August 05 2012, 19:54 PM GMT) You are so funny India comedy boy! You talk of a "comfortable perch in the middle of the table". This is eye-watering funny since India is currently finding it sooo comfortabe there in middle of table already! Then you talk of "bunnies"! With Eng 4 Ind 0 AND Aus 4 Ind 0 it is very clear who is "bunny"!? @Haleos - you have no clue either, check your fact and see that England thrashed India in T20 IN India last year... maybe you were asleep through it? Maybe even though only game of cricket that count is one played in India - maybe sometime even these game don't count, eh? Maybe it is the case that ANY India defeat does not count? With so many India defeat impossible now to take you guy seriously.... Why do you even bother to come here to England thread?

  • Karthik on August 6, 2012, 23:06 GMT

    Awesome innings from a batsman I love to hate. Peterson and Cook are THE batsman to watch out for wen they arrive here in Nov. Here's hoping he hasnt improved much against left arm spin yet, els its gonna be a(nother) long winter for India.

  • ra on August 6, 2012, 22:04 GMT

    This guy single handedly made england look decent in this test. Good luck without him...

  • Rahul on August 6, 2012, 19:56 GMT

    Eng can't win even against BD or Zim without imported players. India wil easily win against them this year

  • John on August 6, 2012, 13:11 GMT

    @Haleos on (August 06 2012, 08:38 AM GMT) Time will tell. I'm just saying where we are now. I seem to remember plenty of comms saying that India were going to thrash Australia and look what happened there.Eng have actually done quite well in ODIs/T20s since we lost 5-0 in India , but you're right in that it could well fall apart which is why - apart from being classless - I don't go on threads giving it the big one about we will do this , you will get thrashed etc.

  • Peter on August 6, 2012, 10:09 GMT

    @maddy20. Still bitter from last year I see. Get over it & move on. Anyone with any semblance of cricketing knowledge will agree England have been the form team the past 3 years & deserved their #1 spot. If we Aussies can see that, is it asking too much for you guys too as well? And about Pieterson, he CHOSE to play for England, he wasn't poached. You think your mob or our side wouldn't have taken him in a heartbeat? Move on, man.

  • Atin on August 6, 2012, 9:38 GMT

    I am not really able to figure out that why Kevin has taken such a decision , even when he is playing such good cricket in all forms of the game. The board members of England Cricket should have a chat with Kevin concerning this matter and to clear things. Kevin is such a big asset to the team that England can't afford to lose him at this point of time when he is in sublime form.

  • Rajaram on August 6, 2012, 9:06 GMT

    See how much the ECB is being asked to STOOP to accomodate Kevin Pietersen, an out and out mercenary? Will that create discord in amongst the players who think he is being given preferential treatment? Damn the players,you say? Kevin Pietersen is our Star. For how long? And what are he long term ramifications? What message, what precedent are you setting? At least in Australia,we took action against Andrew Symonds for his wayward ways. No one is indispenaible. o cricketer is bigger than the game, you shout from the other rooftop,where you can't hear what you are saying in this column. Rules are meant to be bent??

  • Saravanan on August 6, 2012, 9:01 GMT

    For a cricketer like Kevin Pieterson to miss this years T20 is loss not only to English cricket, but also to the world cricket. ECB should have lured Kevin with all the things in world to play for England in T20. But they least bothered about it. This incident only highlights how least ECB and English fans care about T20. Its true test crickets No1 status is important, but you guys should also show some interest in short & shortest forms of the game. Guys if you forget, here is a reminder he was the MAN OF THE TOURNAMENT in last edition

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