In two astonishing moments during England's victory in the opening match of the NatWest Series here yesterday, Kevin Pietersen highlighted just why he is "box office". New Zealand's Scott Styris has never been considered one of the most feared bowlers in the world but his canny medium-pacers warrant respect. Twice, unforgettably, Pietersen nimbly changed his stance from that of a right-hander to a left-hander and smashed the all-rounder over the boundary for six.
The initial shot took him from 68 to 74 and the second, which sent the ball sailing over what would be long off to a right-handed batsman, took the belligerent 28-year-old to 91. The skill, confidence and arrogance required to play strokes of such audacity should not be underestimated, though the International Cricket Council may soon question their legitimacy. Pietersen reached his sixth one-day hundred – 110 not out – in a more orthodox manner, pulling Kyle Mills to fine leg for a single, as England amassed a very healthy total indeed.
If New Zealand were to get close, the dynamic Brendon McCullum, the scorer of a 73-ball 158 in the opening match of this year's Indian Premier League, had to fire. But after a few early shots the outstanding Stuart Broad dismissed him with his first delivery. The tourists never threatened England's huge total following the departure of McCullum, allowing Paul Collingwood's energetic and exciting young side to put on an impressive display in front of a capacity crowd.
This is not the first time Pietersen has shocked spectators with the fearlessness of his stroke play. In 2006 he deposited Sri Lanka's Muttiah Muralitharan, Test cricket's highest wicket-taker, into the Eric Hollies Stand at Edgbaston during a Test. He subsequently perished attempting a similar shot but, if you live by the outrageous, you will occasionally get out by it too.
On each occasion he tried the trick yesterday, Pietersen jumped around 180 degrees and changed his grip on the bat as Styris entered his delivery stride. Plenty of bowlers would have stopped on seeing the batsman move so alarmingly, but Styris continued. The first shot would have caught him by surprise, but he reacted to Pietersen's alteration second time around and delivered a slower ball. That adaptation highlighted the batsman's genius because he adapted himself, waiting for the ball to arrive before hoisting it over the boundary. Styris is unlikely to have ever felt so inept as a bowler. In reply all he could offer was a wry, slightly embarrassed smile.
Without appearing to be curmudgeonly, however, the legality of Pietersen's shots must be questioned, as Michael Holding, a Sky commentator and a member of the ICC's cricket committee, suggested on air. If a right-arm bowler were to run up and bowl with his left arm without informing the umpire or batsman, it would be called a no-ball. Should it be OK for a batsman to change his stance so significantly?
Nobody questions the legitimacy of the reverse sweep shot, when the batsman's hands remain in their natural position throughout the stroke, but by becoming a left-hander Pietersen completely changes the context of the ball bowled. He plays the shot to open up areas he is struggling to find right-handed, but does the off side suddenly become the leg side? Does an umpire give lbws and wides as though a right or left-hander is facing, and should he call a no-ball if three fielders are found to be behind square leg when the batsman strikes the ball? Good luck to the rule makers.
New Zealand must have realised they were going to see quite a lot of Pietersen, batting in his new position of No 3, when he on-drove the fourth ball he faced, gloriously, down the ground for four. On another day it would have been voted the most striking shot of an innings. Michael Mason was then clipped for four and Daniel Vettori smashed hard and flat, back over his head, for six.
Pietersen's half-century was brought up off the 63rd ball he faced but his next 50 runs were scored off only 41 deliveries. He was not the only batsman to plunder New Zealand's attack. Ian Bell continued his renaissance with 46 and Collingwood made a welcome return to form, scoring 64 in front of his home crowd.
The 136-run stand between Pietersen and Collingwood, his captain, took the hosts past a competitive total but it was a sparkling little gem of an innings from Owais Shah that allowed them to set a daunting one. Shah's 25-ball 49 made Pietersen's efforts seem rather pedestrian. The pair added 73 runs in 35 balls, Shah hitting three huge sixes down the ground and four well-placed boundaries.
Of the statistics available, it is difficult to work out what were the most impressive. Was it 172 runs off the final 20 overs; 151 off the last 15; 71 off the final five overs; or 47 off three? Whatever, New Zealand's bowlers walked off not knowing quite what had hit them.
England's bowling, as at Old Trafford in Friday's Twenty20 international, was aggressive and disciplined. The fielding was sprightly and athletic too. Broad was the pick of the attack, taking 2 for 11 in an excellent seven-over opening spell. McCullum's dismissal was fortunate, in that he cut a short ball straight to extra cover, but there was nothing lucky about the wicket of Jamie How, who was deceived by a superb slower ball.
Bowlers who vary their pace are particularly successful when they are usually bowling fast – the greater the change, the harder it is for the batsman to change his shot – and Broad topped 90mph on several occasions. He also extracted from the pitch steep bounce and away movement, a combination that would cause problems for any batsman.
Graeme Swann and Luke Wright backed up the strike bowlers admirably, sharing three wickets, as did Collingwood, who brilliantly ran out James Marshall from gully and took the final four New Zealand wickets. The match finished in glorious sunshine, with England's players and fans looking forward to a bright one-day future. Are England about to crack this form of the game just when its obituaries are being written?
New Zealand won toss
I R Bell run out 46
L J Wright c Vettori b Mason 11
K P Pietersen not out 110
R S Bopara c and b Styris 4
*P D Collingwood b Vettori 64
O A Shah c How b Southee 49
†T R Ambrose not out 1
Extras (lb3 w9 nb10) 22
Total (for 5, 50 overs) 307
Fall: 1-49 2-84 3-95 4-231 5-304.
Did not bat: G P Swann, S C J Broad, R J Sidebottom, J M Anderson.
Bowling: Mills 10-1-59-0; Southee 10-1-68-1; Mason 10-0-62-1; Vettori 10-0-38-1; Styris 8-0-63-1; Taylor 2-0-14-0.
J M How c Wright b Broad 20
B B McCullum c Bell b Broad 36
J A H Marshall run out 4
L R P Taylor c Sidebottom b Wright 20
S B Styris c Anderson b Swann 18
D R Flynn c Ambrose b Swann 34
†G J Hopkins c Bopara b Collingwood 25
*D L Vettori c Anderson b Collingwood 8
K D Mills c Wright b Collingwood 7
T G Southee c Bell b Collingwood 6
M J Mason not out 0
Extras (b12 w3) 15
Total (42.5 overs) 193
Fall: 1-52 2-61 3-72 4-101 5-116 6-165 7-179 8-180 9-187.
Bowling: Anderson 8-0-45-0; Sidebottom 8-1-43-0; Broad 8-2-16-2; Swann 10-1-45-2; Wright 6-0-17-1; Collingwood 2.5-0-15-4.
Umpires: S J Davis and N J Llong.