4 – Kevin Pietersen’s 300
I make no apology for liking Kevin Pietersen, and quite happy to stick my flag at the summit of the “England have dealt poorly with him” hill. I don’t buy the arguments which have been used to try and justify his ‘sacking’ yet all of them can be countered by concessions which have been granted other players who have been ‘difficult’. Very few successful teams have included every single member who likes each other, yet one of the reasons for their success is down to the management of those individuals. Personally, I’d have him in the England team now.
Few expected to see KP again in county cricket. He was told he would never be picked for England again and therefore his motivation to flog himself around the county circuit had gone. Then newly-appointed Chairman, Colin Graves, appeared to hand him a lifeline by saying if KP got a mountain of runs at county level then the selectors would find him difficult to ignore.
So KP hastily did a deal with Surrey where he’d play for nothing, donating any earnings to charity, in a bid to win back his international place. A new broom had swept through the national side with a new coach, new management and a sense things needed to change.
Pietersen’s first outing of the season was a game at The Parks against Oxford University in mid-April. Coming in at 31-2 after Rory Burns was out cheaply, he gave the watching public a masterclass scoring 170 off just 149 balls with 24 fours and 2 sixes. After lunch he was simply brutal and by the time his 209 minute stay had come to an end Surrey were 316-6. Of course people sniped and sneered and questioned his ability against better equipped county attacks.
His first County Championship appearance was at Cardiff where Gareth Batty chose to bat first and saw Burns and Ansari put on a century opening stand. When Ansari followed his partner back to the pavilion, Pietersen strode to the wicket to join Sangakkara. I was lucky to be at the Swalec that day and it was the stuff of dreams to be able to watch these two artists exhibit their craft. KP hit four crisp boundaries before Meschede tempted him to go for yet another wide one and the affair was over. Thirty-seven minutes is all it lasted, out for 19. In the second innings he batted just short of two hours for an unbeaten 53 as Surrey ran out of time to set a meaningful target.
32 and 8 not out against Essex did nothing to dispel the doubters, many claiming he should be putting Second Division bowlers to the sword in a way Sangakkara was. Then Leicestershire visited The Oval as Surrey faced their first home game of the new campaign. Leicester were without a win in the County Championship for almost two years and when they were skittled out for 292 in 66 overs they stood little hope of turning things around.
Ansari and Burns both fell for 15 and KP was at the wicket with just 51 on the board. Again he was joining Sangakkara. He took four balls to get off the mark and six to find his first boundary. The pair remained unbeaten at the close of the first day on 105-2, but not before Pietersen had launched Leicester’s off-spinner, Jigar Naik over the ropes. Eight balls into the second day and any hope the crowd had of watching the famous pair roll back the years was ended when Sanga was caught for 36. Pietersen was in determined mood, though. Davies, a double-centurion at Cardiff, went for just 6 and Surrey were 119-4. But Jason Roy gave KP plenty of the strike and his fifty came up off 90 balls, having hit 6 fours and 1 six. Roy appeared to be looking to match his illustrious partner when he hit Charlie Shreck for three fours in one over before Shreck had the last laugh having Roy caught behind off the last ball of that over. Surrey were 164-5 and by no means in control as Gary Wilson came to the wicket. But he became the foil Pietersen needed.
As he moved towards his century, Pietersen mainly dealt in boundaries with two coming off a Taylor over and another six off Naik. His century came up off 153 balls with 12 fours and 2 sixes. It was greeted by much exuberation from Pietersen, probably in its significance as well as its timing. It was his first First Class century since Old Trafford Ashes 2013. Wilson’s 68-minute stay was then ended by Naik with KP unbeaten at the other end of 116. Boundaries were coming virtually every over as Batty joined KP, but then he too fell to Naik after 35 minutes.
Surrey were now 283-7, still behind and it looked as if KP may run out of partners. Young Tom Curran walked to the wicket and did the sensible thing in giving KP most of the strike. Pietersen’s 150 came up off 228 balls with 20 fours and 2 sixes and the 300 had been reached with Surrey now in front. Cue more fist pumps.
Curran’s entertaining knock came to an end as he became Clint McKay’s second victim and this was where KP really went to town. At 317-8 and with a lead of just 25, any more runs would be a bonus, but few imagined a bonus such as this. Chris Tremlett, one of the players on the 2013-14 Australian tour who publicly backed KP, walked to the wicket and seemed quite happy to enjoy the show from the non-strikers end.
Charlie Shreck saw the first two balls of his nineteenth over disappear for four and then for good measure Pietersen repeated the feat off the last ball. Naik was disapatched too in the next over as KP entered the 190’s, before Shreck’s next over saw Tremlett launch him into the crowd. In twelve overs the pair had plundered 63 runs and when Taylor came back on, Pietersen took the necessary single to reach his double century. 200 runs had come off 276 balls with 26 fours and 2 sixes. His last fifty had been off just 48 balls as Surrey’s lead approached 100. The crowd were really into this by now and Pietersen lapped up the attention.
Tremlett was certainly enjoying himself and the crowd were treated to a real festival of runs as Naik was hit for a six and a four off successive balls of his 21st over and the 400 came up. Tremlett finally succumbed to McKay on 30 as the century partnership had just been acknowledged. It had been a whirlwind 69 minutes and Tremlett had certainly played his part. Pietersen was 223 not out at this stage and was still not finished. Sensing the end may be near he put McKay into the stands and then did the same to Raine next over. Poor Raine saw his 26th over go for 16 runs as Pietersen hit him for 2 sixes. McKay’s 26th over saw Pietersen hit his 30th boundary to bring up a memorable 250. His fourth fifty had come off 48 balls, yet this one was more impressive, coming off 35 balls. His 250 had taken 311 balls with 30 fours and 6 sixes.
Further boundaries off McKay and Taylor was followed by Matt Dunn seeing out a whole over from Shreck. This seemed to give KP further confidence in his partner and he hit Taylor for six and then did the same to Shreck the following over. After giving Dunn one ball to face he then welcomed Naik back into the attack with successive boundaries. It was savage stuff and one which probably should’ve carried a health warning for the poor Leicester bowlers, who had at one stage dreamed of a first innings lead. In Naik’s next over Pietersen hit him for his ninth and tenth sixes of the innings, with the second one taking him to 300. Often criticised for going for the big shot to reach a milestone, KP suffered no such negativity here as the crowd stood to acknowledge what they had been witnessing. 300 had come up off 349 balls with 34 fours and 10 sixes. His sixth fifty of the innings had come up off 38 balls.
Shreck was then walloped for another couple of sixes in his 25th over with Naik receiving similar treatment in the next over. The day was finally over for the visitors and Surrey were in a commanding position on 528-9. Pietersen was unbeaten on 326 with his loyal partner, Dunn on just 5. The pair had added 108 for the final wicket. Pietersen’s contribution was 103 off 80 balls with 6 fours and an incredible 10 sixes.
Overnight all the talk was of Pietersen and England. It was widely rumoured KP would be meeting up with Andrew Strauss and Tom Harrison. Evidently contact had been made via text and KP was initially reluctant unless definite talks about his interenational future were to be discussed. In the end Pietersen was greeted by a sour-faced Strauss who had entered the meeting with the intention of leaving KP in no doubt he wasn’t wanted in the England team.
Next morning, clearly disappointed and upset, Pietersen resumed his innings hitting his fourteenth six. He brought up his 350 with his 36th boundary. His 350 had come off 389 balls with 35 fours and 14 sixes. His seventh fifty had come off 39 balls. When Dunn was finally out to Raine for 5, they had taken their county’s score to 557, a lead of 265. Pietersen was left unbeaten on 355.
His fifties had come off 90, 63, 75, 48, 35, 38 and 39 balls in that order.
It was a remarkable innings, and a mark of the man intent on giving the selectors little choice. In the end they had clearly made up their mind and no matter what Colin Graves may have thought were little impressed by it.
Some poured scorn on the innings claiming it was against one of the worst counties in the country but five months on it remains the highest individual first-class score all season. Whether KP will be seen again in this country remains to be seen, but for those who witnessed his brief appearance during those four weeks at the beginning of the season have memories to keep with them forever and pass onto their grandkids.
No one can deny Pietersen has had an effect on English cricket, and it would appear fitting his best ever score could well be his last on these shores.