Kevin Pietersen proves yet again he’s a big match player
Early on this Ashes tour Kevin Pietersen offered an assurance that he was on fire.
It yielded a chuckle or two from his audience who had just watched a skittish fifty and had trouble spotting faint sparks. How foolish of the doubters.
Pietersen was ablaze in the Second Test yesterday, scoring a resplendent double hundred that took him triumphantly back to his days of wine and roses. Days, to be honest, that had seemed to be gone forever. If ever a sportsman were to give proof to a claim that they like the big stage there could have been no more compelling evidence.
His innings, the 17th century of his career but the first for 21 months, contained everything that was lovely and irrepressible about his batting. He played determinedly straight when he had to but he was not afraid to impose his will on bowlers attempting to restrict him by rigid field placings.
If England batsmen keep redeeming themselves at this rate, Australia may never break loose from the gum tree up which they find themselves. Pietersen followed Alastair Cook in scoring a double hundred in this series, only the tenth England batsman to do so in all Ashes contests.
Both arrived at this series with justifiable doubts being expressed about their continuing ability to succeed at the highest level. Both have swatted them away in the most assertive fashion as if they had their eye on the Ashes all along.
England finished a shortened third day of the Second Test on 551 for three of which Pietersen had made 213 not out. They were within one run (the stand between Pietersen and Ian Bell having reached 99) of having four three figure partnerships in the same innings since The Oval, 1938, also against Australia.
By the close indeed, England had enjoyed such a run of dominance in the series that since the beginning of their second innings in the First Test at Brisbane their cumulative score was 1068 for five. Australia were not broken but they were not whole either. They looked like a side who had spent two days in the field, were hurting and did not know where to turn.
Pietersen's career had taken a turn into a dark corner since he lost the captaincy in early 2009. Although he tried manfully to break out of it on the West Indies tour which followed it, nothing was quite as it had been. Demons of some kind were eating at him. And then came further misfortune in the form of an acute Achilles injury which took months to heal.
That infection was eventually cleared up, but not the one in Pietersen's soul. The England team's management and his colleagues said repeatedly that Pietersen was sure to come back. If they had doubts they disguised them well. “It's wonderful to get runs and put the team into a position where we can win a Test match in Australia,” said Pietersen. “I do love the big occasions, I do love challenging myself against the best players in the world and whenever it's tough I love that. It has been pretty tough over the last 18 months or but this is a challenge I have looked forward to.
“You go through your career and you have good stuff and you have bad stuff. I've had a lot of good stuff fortunately and a little bit of bad stuff. It's gone now and I can look forward.”
Pietersen had to survive an optimistic review of an lbw appeal before reaching his century. Soon after Cook's long vigil at the crease ended — it had been 383 runs and 1052 minutes since his last dismissal and he has batted for more 22 hours in the series — with an inside edge to the deserving Ryan Harris. Paul Collingwood helped Pietersen add 102, Ian Bell was sublime. Australia were resigned.