Sri Lanka v England, 2nd Test, Colombo, 3rd day

Pietersen's dazzling ton puts England in command

The Report by David Hopps

April 5, 2012

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Sri Lanka 4 for 0 and 275 (Jayawardene 105, Swann 4-75) trail England 352 for 4 (Pietersen 106*, Cook 94) by 181 runs
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Kevin Pietersen celebrates his majestic hundred, Sri Lanka v England, 2nd Test, Colombo, P Sara Oval, 3rd day, April 5, 2012
Kevin Pietersen acknowledges his century after the controversy © Getty Images

A century of great bravado, and not a little theatre, by Kevin Pietersen sharpened England's anticipation of their first Test win of a troubled winter as they took a first-innings lead of 185 runs in the second Test in Colombo.

Pietersen brought chaos to Sri Lanka's ranks with a potent combination of imperious strokeplay and impatient slogs. His 151 came from 165 balls with 16 fours and six sixes and was a flamboyant contradiction of the suspicious, attritional cricket that had gone before. As he struck 88 runs between lunch and tea to transform the game, he batted pretty much as he pleased. "I probably played a bit one-day modish, but I feel as if I'm in very good form so why not," he said.

On a dead pitch that experts galore had agreed made strokeplay almost impossible, Pietersen batted as if such limitations were intended for lesser men, banishing the memories of a demoralising winter. He had been England's least successful batsman in four Tests in Asia, scoring only 100 runs at 13. To draw supreme confidence from that record was quite something. It does not take much to stir his self-belief.

He departed reluctantly, appealing to the DRS for clemency after Sri Lanka's left-arm spinner Rangana Herath defeated his paddle shot with a flatter delivery. As reviews go, it was based on little more than the fact that he fancied an encore or two, and replays predictably judged him plumb, but he had provided such flamboyant entertainment that he could be forgiven his indulgence.

Herath, who had 1 for 102 at one stage, recovered his poise once Pietersen's storm had blown out and finished with 6 for 133, his third six-for in successive innings, but there was none of the pleasure he had felt during Sri Lanka's 75-run win in Galle. There is enough treacherous bounce in this pitch to encourage England's stronger pace attack and Graeme Swann can expect substantial, if slow turn.

There was also a controversial element to Pietersen's innings when the umpires, Asad Rauf and Bruce Oxenford, clamped down on his unconventional switch hit when he was only two runs away from his 20th Test century, issuing a warning on the dubious grounds that he was changing his stance too early. "To bowl before the bowler delivers is unfair," Rauf said afterwards. "There is no intention to outlaw the stroke," Oxenford added.

Smart stats

  • Kevin Pietersen's century is his first in nine Test innings. Between his 175 against India at The Oval and this knock, he had scored 100 runs in eight innings at 12.50. It is also his highest score in Sri Lanka, surpassing his previous best of 45.
  • Pietersen's century is his 20th in Tests, which puts him level with Graham Gooch and Ken Barrington among England batsmen with most hundreds. Wally Hammond, Colin Cowdrey and Geoff Boycott are on top of the list with 22.
  • This was Pietersen's ninth 150-plus score in Tests. He is only one behind Hammond and Len Hutton (10 scores) on the list of England batsmen with the most 150-plus scores.
  • Pietersen's century is the highest score by an England batsman in Sri Lanka, surpassing Robin Smith's 128 in 1993. It is also the third-highest score at the P Sara Oval by a visiting batsman.
  • The strike rate of 91.51 during Pietersen's 151 is the third-highest for a non-subcontinent batsman and the sixth-highest overall for a visiting batsman in Tests in Sri Lanka.
  • England's score is their highest ever in Sri Lanka surpassing their previous best of 387 in Kandy in 2001.
  • Rangana Herath picked up his third consecutive five-wicket haul and became the second bowler after Daniel Vettori (in 2004) to pick up six wickets in an innings three consecutive times. Herath's series haul of 18 wickets makes it his highest ever.
  • England have never lost a Test match after taking a first-innings lead of more than 180. Their highest lead in a losing cause is 177, against Australia at Old Trafford in 1961.

Tillakaratne Dilshan objected to the switch hit, in which Pietersen changes his hands on the bat to become, in effect, a left-hander, and stopped twice in his run-up as he anticipated a repeat. Rauf intervened on the grounds of timewasting - not against Dilshan but Pietersen - and after a conversation with Oxenford warned Pietersen, informing him England would recieve a five-run penalty if he repeated the tactic.

Dilshan's protest came during an over in when Pietersen thrashed his way from 86 to 104. He had unveiled the switch hit in Dilshan's previous over to combat a defensive leg-stump line and when he was rewarded by a woeful long hop it was apparent that Dilshan, until then Sri Lanka's most effective bowler, had lost the psychological game.

After being told by the umpires that he risked a timewasting penalty, he bided his time, reverse swept again with Dilshan committed to the delivery, and reached his hundred to roars of approval from England's sizeable contingent of fans. "No dramas," he said. "They just told me to get my timing right."

Soon afterwards, Ian Bell fell for 18, mistiming a hook to midwicket as a ball from Dhammika Prasad did not get up. It was symptomatic of an innings in which he had rarely timed the ball and he walked off shaking his head at Pietersen's audacity. Batting alongside Pietersen has a tendency to make you feel inadequate. If Bell felt its full force, so did Matt Prior when he tried to hit Herath down the ground and paid the consequences.

For Pietersen, it was all plain sailing. He had been riddled by doubt against Pakistan's spinners, Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman, in the Test series in the UAE, but Sri Lanka's slow bowlers - for all Herath's recovery - were a grade below that class. When Suraj Randiv attempted an Ajmal-style doosra it pitched halfway down. Pietersen had a life on 82, though, when Prasad deceived him with a slower ball but followed up with an even slower attempt to catch.

England produced their most authoritative batting of the winter. They resumed on 154 for 1 and their top three created the platform to enable Pietersen to strut his stuff.

Alastair Cook, six runs short of a century, was the only England batsman to fall before lunch. It was Dilshan who did the trick, finding modest turn to have Cook caught by Mahela Jayawardene at slip. Earlier, when Cook had 84 to his name, it was still a surprise to see him dust off a reverse sweep, especially as he had eschewed the conventional variety. The ball deflected off the pad to Jayawardene at leg slip, umpire Rauf showed no interest, and despite innumerable replays the third umpire could discern no sign of a flick of the glove for which Sri Lanka's captain had appealed.

Randiv's use of DRS for an lbw appeal against Trott, on 42, was even more wasteful. Replays showed an obvious inside edge. Trott communicated this to the umpire with a subtle quizzical look and a peaceful examination of his inside edge, his alibis presented with the tranquillity of his strokeplay. He fell soon after lunch, edging a turning delivery from Herath to slip.

Nothing was going right for Sri Lanka. Appeal began to follow appeal, each one of them increasingly absurd. Sri Lanka entered lunch with one more wicket and an urge to study TV replays that would have only brought more disappointment. Pietersen at his most disrespectful was about to inflame them even more.

Edited by Alan Gardner

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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David Hopps David Hopps joined ESPNcricinfo as UK editor early in 2012. For the previous 20 years he was a senior cricket writer for the Guardian and covered England extensively during that time in all Test-playing nations. He also covered four Olympic Games and has written several cricket books, including collections of cricket quotations. He has been an avid amateur cricketer since he was 12, and so knows the pain of repeated failure only too well. The pile of untouched novels he plans to read, but rarely gets around to, is now almost touching the ceiling. He divides his time between the ESPNcricinfo office in Hammersmith and his beloved Yorkshire.
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