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Kevin Pietersen began his career as an offspinner for Natal before giving up on South Africa and moving to England, forging what would become one of the most flamboyant, but also controversial, careers of recent times*
October 6, 2014
Pietersen had made his international debut in Zimbabwe during the preceding winter and followed that with three hundreds in the ODI series in his homeland, South Africa, before dazzling in the NatWest Series shortly before the Ashes. So his Test bow at Lord's came with huge expectations. He had been preferred to Graham Thorpe after not being selected to face Bangladesh and, with England in tatters against Glenn McGrath, took the attack to the Australians with a brace of half-centuries full of bravado. England lost the Test, but Pietersen (complete with skunk hairstyle) had shown that aggression was the way forward.
England could glimpse the Ashes urn for the first time in early 20 years, but it threatened to slip away on a fretful final day at The Oval as McGrath and Shane Warne did their best to level the series. Step forward Pietersen, dropped on 11 by Warne at slip, with an afternoon assault on Brett Lee that bordered on the reckless and kept a nation in emotions ranging from ecstasy to torment on his way to a phenomenal maiden Test hundred.
A player to push the boundaries of what was possible, Pietersen left cricket watchers gasping and Law makers pondering how to react when he brought out the switch hit for the first time in Test cricket during an audacious innings against Muttiah Muralitharan at Edgbaston. "It was the only place I could hit a boundary," was his simple explanation for something that was, at the time, quite extraordinary.
Having toyed with Warne at Adelaide during another 158, then to see England unravel excruciatingly on the final day, it was perhaps not a huge surprise to see Pietersen regress in the midst of a forgettable tour. Towards the end of the Perth Test, when Australia reclaimed the Ashes, he did not even try to protect England's bowlers, as though to say "what more do you want?"
A freezing, damp May Test at Headingley. The West Indies didn't want to be there. The bowling was woeful. Pietersen took them apart with 226 to cross the significant double-century barrier for the first time.
There was not much flamboyance on show in Hamilton where Pietersen ground his way to 42 off 131 balls amid an England go-slow. Never one for half-measures, he then proclaimed it one of his of his best innings. A few weeks later, in Napier, he had a more decisive role as his 129 rescued England from 4 for 3 and helped set up a series-clinching victory.
In his first Test innings against South Africa, Pietersen hit 152 off 181 balls at Lord's and, for the timing being at least, was feeling all the love in the world.
England were 1-0 down in the series, but had started to build a decent lead at Edgbaston with Pietersen at his domineering best as he took on all South Africa's bowlers. Then, on 94, he skipped down the pitch to Paul Harris and failed to clear mid-on. Although Paul Collingwood made a career-saving hundred, Graeme Smith's colossal innings - including the winning runs off Pietersen - secured the series.
The next day Michael Vaughan tearfully resigned as England captain and the ECB, eager to try and have one captain across all formats, offered the job to Pietersen. He began with a hundred and a win at The Oval, but it was the start of a tumultuous few months for English cricket.
Pietersen led England back to India following the terrorist attack in Mumbai, but was powerless to stop Virender Sehwag in Chennai, where doubts about his tactical acumen began to grow - as well as the deeper-rooted issues which would shortly come to a head. He scored a hundred in Mohali but that was soon forgotten. Shortly after returning home the story emerged on New Year's Eve that he had given the ECB an ultimatum over being unable to work with Peter Moores. A few days later, both men lost their jobs.
A patched up, and still brittle, England team were in the Caribbean with Pietersen among the cast. In his first Test innings since being sacked, Pietersen top-scored with 97 at Sabina Park but was then part of the watershed collapse for 51.
Pietersen's Ashes series was cut short after two Tests when he had to concede an Achilles injury, which he had first picked up running in the Caribbean, became too serious to continue. Complications after the surgery added to the problems and it was a lengthy road to recovery.
His Test comeback came, aptly, against South Africa at Centurion. A second-innings 81 helped England towards a draw, but a mix-up with Jonathan Trott caused a run-out sparking a collapse that almost wasted the effort until Graham Onions saw out the final over. The rest of the series was lean for Pietersen, who was still struggling to regain his mojo.
It had been 18 Tests between hundreds (his previous being in Trinidad) and the emotion was clear when he went to three figures. There was no stopping, either, as he scorched his way to a commanding double century which gave England a huge lead and also enough time to beat the weather to earn a series lead.
Another double hundred, and the best of the three by some distance. He came in on an overcast first day with the ball seaming around, took 134 balls over his first fifty and 216 over his hundred. Then he began to cut loose; the last fifty required just 25 deliveries. It was a complete innings - in the 2000th Test.
None of England's batsmen could consistently combat the threat of Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman. Pietersen's Test series amounted to 67 runs in six innings.
After four Test defeats in a row England were desperate. Pietersen's response was an electrifying 151 which carried the game away from Sri Lanka. While it was not an attack including Muralitharan, England had been making any spinner appear unplayable but Pietersen broke the shackles in thrilling style.
That innings followed by that press conference. From straight driving Dale Steyn back over his head as though he was a club bowler, Pietersen then plunged English cricket into crisis as he revealed a deep split in the dressing after it emerged he had sent derogatory text messages about Andrew Strauss to the South Africans. Pietersen was dropped and, one Test later, Strauss retired.
By now well into his reintegration process, Pietersen produced another innings to be ranked among his best. On a surface that was far from easy for batting, particularly against spin, he pulverised India's attack to set up a series-levelling victory. Some of his batting on the third morning was dismissive.
Missed the last Test in New Zealand due to a knee problem, sustained earlier in the tour, which ended up keeping him out of action until the start of the Ashes series.
Scores a vital hundred at Old Trafford to ensure England avoid the follow-on and eat up enough time to retain the Ashes by the end of the third Test.
It wasn't known at the time, but when Pietersen was dismissed by Ryan Harris on the third (and final) day at the SCG it would be his last innings for England. Rumours soon started circulating about his future and at the start of February his ECB central contact was cancelled by the newly appointed managing director Paul Downton.
*October 6, 2014: this story was first written to mark Pietersen's 100th Test and has since been updated
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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