Pietersen's dazzling ton puts England in command
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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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.
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