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March 22, 2008
Normal service has been resumed for Kevin Pietersen. After the longest and most frustrating lean spell of his international career, he crashed back to form on the first day at Napier with his 11th Test century, a superb innings of 129 from 208 balls. The circumstances of the knock, however, were not quite as he had envisaged. In his mind's eye, he would have been leading England on a run-spree, en route to a memorable series win. In reality, his was a backs-to-the-wall effort that saved his side from humiliation, but not as yet from defeat.
Nothing demonstrated Pietersen's mindset better than the celebration of his century. The shot he brought it up with was streaky, a thick edge through gully off Chris Martin, but the reaction was low-key in the extreme. A puff of the cheeks and a modest wave to all corners of the ground. England were 170 for 6 at the time, and Pietersen rightly said that the match situation, rather than his personal fortune, was foremost in his mind.
"I didn't have it in me to go prance, and jump around like a cake," he said. "I knew I had to stick in there. It was a really important time for us, and I was working in tens, and trying to get a partnership going. I'm sure if we had been two-down, and in a whole lot better position, I'd have been more extravagant. But my head just wasn't in that space."
His head hasn't been in that space for quite some time. Pietersen hadn't managed even a half-century in his previous ten innings of the winter, and even for a man with his levels of self-assurance, the pressure was beginning to tell. Not least at the start of today's innings. "At 4 for 3, there was me thinking, 'crikey, I've got to get a score here even more'," said Pietersen. "It's been a tough time, but to be honest with you, that's the cycle of life, these things happen. Hopefully I've come through it and I can continue scoring. At the end of the day. I'm pretty happy with 11 hundreds in 30 games."
When he did end the drought, the first person he picked out with his bat-waving was his wife, Jessica, who he acknowledged for her role in maintaining his morale. She had originally intended to fly home on March 12 for a wedding, but remained out in New Zealand for the final two Tests of the series. "She knew I wasn't in as happy a place as I could have been, and she stayed on," said Pietersen. "It's great, I love having family around. I hate being away from home."
He'll be rather happier with his travels now, regardless of the match situation. "I'm not a robot, I've got to go through a patch where I don't score for a while," he said. "Hopefully that patch is finished now and the cricket gods are smiling. How fun would life be if everything was hunky dory all the time. I like to fight and be challenged, and I've worked harder on this trip than I have done any stage [of my career], because I've really strived for success. The cycle of life says the harder you work you're going to be rewarded."
Pietersen picked out Ricky Ponting, who managed one score in excess of 25 in the recent VB Series, as an example of a cricketer who's enduring a rough trot that cannot last. "I've been playing well in the five Tests leading up to this, and I've got a 30 or 40 in every single match. If that's your bad patch it's not all bad," said Pietersen. "It's frustrating because I've let a load of people down who come and watch all the time, and I like to entertain, play good innings, and keep people going."
At 4 for 3, entertainment wasn't the first thought that crossed Pietersen's mind, and yet, as he demonstrated so memorably with his incredible 158 in the 2005 Ashes, match-saving and crowd-pleasing needn't be mutually exclusive. "There was pressure, definitely," said Pietersen. "But I reminded myself of that big day [at The Oval] in 2005. There was more pressure on that day than there has been on an England team in a long time. And I played okay that day. I just walked out to bat backing myself, because for two nets sessions leading into this game, I've played well.
"Steve Waugh always said back yourself, because preparation is what you look after," said Pietersen. "I can't work any harder, and I'll continue to work as hard as I have done. It's how you work through your bad patches that make you a better person. When I got to fifty today, I really wanted to make it count."