They sat together at a table on the outfield joshing like a pair of chat show guests. Their viewers searched for the chemistry between them: the punk and the choirboy. Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell, England's modern middle order, had presented substantial evidence earlier, in the form of a fourth-wicket partnership of 174 which had kept England in the second Test. It was possible to imagine them doing this on the grounds of the world for another 10 years.
Now they expressed their mutual admiration. It is astonishing how frequently a cricketer's personality reflects his method. Bell was diffident but firm when he needed to be, Pietersen was assertive and brushed aside loaded questions he did not care for, utterly confident in his opinion, which was perhaps not as considered as his colleague's.
"He's very entertaining to watch from the other end," said Bell. "I can just knock it around, take the ones, get Kev on strike." While KP said more forcefully: "He's fantastic, cool, calm, collected. His technique is fantastic and he has played some fantastic cricket in his last three knocks. He works away, manoeuvres, plays some fine shots. I'm probably a little more positive."
This stand was a turning point. Pietersen had made his reputation with that innings at The Oval, the one that ensured the Ashes, the 158 that will live forever.
Bell had been struggling. Having been dropped for the first Test last week he was recalled when the captain, Michael Vaughan, injured a knee, and scored 71 and 31. His 115 yesterday ensures that the axe will not fall again awhile.
Arguments about the old guard, who served England so well (but never won the Ashes), were laid to rest here. Not so the place's reputation for potential needle involving these teams.
When Pietersen was out the ball after hooking Shoaib Akhtar for six to bring up his century, Shoaib proceeded to run down the pitch imitating a chicken.
It transpired he thinks Pietersen walks like a chicken, which takes a leap of the imagination. A man who can stand up to hook a ball travelling at 90mph can walk anyway he likes and should never be compared to poultry of any kind, least of all a chicken. Safe to say, there is no chemistry between KP and Shoaib.Reuse content