England v Australia, 3rd Investec Test, Old Trafford, 3rd day August 3, 2013

KP stocks still on the rise

The Old Trafford bars emptied to witness some Kevin Pietersen magic - let us hope there is still more to come

It was with splendid timing that the producer of Channel 5's cricket coverage called for the graphics that display the list of England's highest run-scorers in Test match cricket. Kevin Pietersen had just gone past Colin Cowdrey and was shown to be nipping at the heels of his captain, Alastair Cook. The figure was 7626.

Two balls later it had moved, like a irresistible commodity, to 7638. A good day indeed to buy KP and, as if to celebrate this improved position in the market, the commodity skipped down to Nathan Lyon, cleared its left hip out of the road and planted an offbreak into the bleachers at wide long-on. Next ball it did much the same, hitting straighter but with equal brutality and even greater distance. The old one-two and the contest with Lyon was over. There had been some polite jostling for position: the trade of a block here and inside edge there for a late cut and a midwicket shovel. But the negotiations were now over. In two hits, the rules of the game had moved on. Man was now playing boy. The market screamed its approval, the bars emptied.

I suppose we should have known. At 11.36am Jonathan Trott nicked a cracking delivery from Ryan Harris and England's No. 4 batsman, at five due to the nightwatchman, reached for gloves and helmet to begin his day. Or should we say, his series. He has been in the nets each morning, tinkering away, waiting for this. The longer Michael Clarke batted, the more certain a Pietersen performance became. As Ronaldo inspires Messi and Woods motivates Mickleson, so Clarke moved Pietersen to a committment. Not required at Trent Bridge or Lord's, where England's batting barely changed gear, it was time to remind everyone who was boss.

The surprise when you meet Pietersen is his size. He is a tall man, slim but built very strong. Flecks of grey run through his short hair and the face hints at days in the sun. He squints and stretches his mouth and, by nature, fidgets a little. His walk to the crease is brisk and his guard unimposing. Those six feet and four inches are reduced in their impression by the exaggerated flex of his knees, which set him low and ready for battle. It is not until he plays a scoring stroke that any real authority is implied. It is not until he plays a few in a row that the feathers begin their preening. It took KP a while to preen today, so single-minded was his vision.

He is at his best when he plays in straight lines, driving down the ground from that big stride forward. It is a kind of march and echoes Matthew Hayden, who seemed to be telling the bowler to get out of the damn way. Pietersen is less obviously cocky than Hayden but more obviously wedded to his own self-belief. Thus Hayden bullied his opponents while Pietersen toys with them. Some of the strokes he plays are just daft in their invention. The swivel pull for example that drove Dale Steyn to despair at Headingley last summer and the outrageous slog-sweeps that confounded even Shane Warne. This invention, the great sense of the unknown, makes for incredible theatre.

There was a wonder to the news that this thoroughly modern man out of Natal, South Africa had passed Lord Cowdrey of Tonbridge, for they could hardly be more different. Cowdrey would have delighted in the sparkle that Pietersen brings to cricket and the entertainment he provides. He would have dropped him a short, simple hand-written note of congratulation and urged him to go on and on, to play the great game until the sun set upon his enthusiasm.

Heaven knows when that might be for KP is an unpredictable fellow. At his dismissal, the walk back to the dressing room was broken by a turn to face the crowd who stood in adoration. He raised his bat to each corner of Manchester, pausing as he did so like an old actor who was leaving the stage. One former England player said, "That's it, he will not be back". I had a fiver with him. The suggestion is that the Ashes in Australia will be the last matches that Pietersen plays in an England shirt. I refuse to believe it, as much as anything because I don't want to. But he is an unpredictable fellow.

This hundred was by no means his best. Like others in blue helmets, he played and missed and edged to third man, but, of course, he lives on thrill hill and is able to ride the mistakes with moments that marvel. The contest with Shane Watson was an epic of this type, each man having their say in a series of exasperated responses to the fortune that followed them. When Darren Lehmann poked his head out of the Australian dressing room to confirm an lbw shout that Australia had not reviewed, Pietersen simply smiled. Sometimes, it just is your day.

With Cowdrey, Walter Hammond and Andrew Strauss already in his wake, Cook was the next to go. The records of these two opposite cricketers are strangely parallel. In 97 Test matches, Pietersen now has 7697 runs at 48.71. In 95 matches, Cook has 7669 at 48.53. And there, in the bare stats, the similarity ends. But they need each other. Their partnership in Mumbai last November was a classic and a game breaker. Theirs is a perfect dovetail, the only question is for how long it will last. The new captain did the lion's share of winning the Pietersen faith back in the dressing room. Let us hope he is rewarded with a year or two more of the magic.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Tom on August 5, 2013, 3:45 GMT

    I saw KP captain England against SA at the Oval in 2008 and it was the usual 2 sweepers out defensive rubbish that you'd see from Strauss and Cook. He got a nice ton though.

  • Dummy4 on August 5, 2013, 1:30 GMT

    yeah more magic please KP!

  • Mark on August 4, 2013, 14:49 GMT

    Great Article. Mark Nicholas writing is almost as good as KP's batsmanship throughout his highlights filled career. KP is an outrageous talent. I for one will be sad to see him go when he decides to hang up his boots.

  • Ray on August 4, 2013, 9:08 GMT

    I also think that he will be off after the series in OZ. His legs seem to be failing him bit by bit, and it's doubtful that he'll last a 5 day Test before too much longer. Nope, I foresee a nice bit of exhibition stuff (IPL) earning bags of money for KP over the next few seasons. Can't say that I blame him.

  • Vineet on August 4, 2013, 6:20 GMT

    @Mad_Hamish: Technically, yes KP was captain. He would have left his mark had he stayed longer. His quirkiness would have been his greatest asset. The opposition would not have a template to visualize. KP compromised the coach's career he was working with Isn't this selfishness? Also the in-swinger is much much easier to play. You play for the in-swinger and if it is not you look beaten to the crowd but you have survived.KP should have been there till follow-on target was met.

  • Hamish on August 4, 2013, 5:14 GMT

    @Crimsonbat KP did captain England, he was stripped of the captaincy after the board leaked that he wanted the Coach replaced. As far as selfish goes for getting out I don't really see how you can call somebody selfish for missing an inswinger and being given lbw (although there might have been a fine edge)

  • Tim on August 4, 2013, 4:24 GMT

    I think he would like to get his average up over 50, and to have another crack at the Proteas. Superb player and entertainer. When he gets going he looks like a man playing against boys. I would love to know what SA crickets administrators have done to make sure we never lose this type of talent again.

  • Vineet on August 4, 2013, 3:30 GMT

    Share Warne and Kevin Pieterson are the best captains their country never had.

  • Vineet on August 4, 2013, 2:29 GMT

    I don't like Pieterson as a bloke or as a cricketer. He is selfish like Geoff Boycott. He relaxed when should have stayed there till end of stumps.What does he do but put his guard down once his ton was in.

    English cricket writers are always fulsome about Cook and Pieterson, they are the second coming of Hammond and Hobbs! Of course the same could be said of Tendulkar and Indian journos.Tendulkar should retire there is high unemployment in India. He would provide employment to at least one other Indian cricketer.

  • Dummy4 on August 4, 2013, 1:19 GMT

    Probably the best article I've read on KP. It's a real, real shame that so many England supporters have it in for him, he's one of the greats.