Great sportsmen produce their best on the biggest of occasions and Kevin Pietersen did exactly that yesterday on the opening day of the first Test, scoring an almost faultless hundred against South Africa, the country of his birth. It was Pietersen's 13th Test hundred and his fourth at Lord's but not one of the previous 12, not even the Ashes-winning 158 against Australia at The Oval, can have given him such satisfaction.
Pietersen's brilliance and the defiance of Ian Bell, who finished a compelling day unbeaten on 75, allowed England to seize control of the Test, closing on 309 for 3. The position is better than England would dared to have dreamt at 10.30am when they had been invited to bat in what appeared to be bowler friendly conditions, and at the halfway point of the day when they had lost three wickets in 13 balls and were precariously placed on 117 for 3.
But a magnificent undefeated 192-run partnership between Pietersen and Bell turned the frowns on the faces of England supporters to smiles. Neither player gave a chance, although Pietersen could have been run out on nought when he attempted a suicidal single to Makhaya Ntini at mid-on off the second ball he faced. Ntini's throw missed the stumps by a whisker and it was as close as the South Africans came to dismissing their former countryman.
Pietersen's relationship with the country of his birth has often been acrimonious, with a desire to show commitment to his adopted country coming at the expense of appreciation for the former. Inflammatory words have been exchanged between himself and Graeme Smith, but the South Africa captain was one of the first to congratulate Pietersen on reaching his hundred.
The occasion seemed to be getting the better of Pietersen to begin with, a fact highlighted by the ridiculous run to Ntini. He was hit on the head by Dale Steyn before adding to his score, a blow that needed treatment.
So it was Bell who took the initiative to the South Africans, racing to 30 before his team-mate had reached double figures. Pietersen was nervous when he first played against South Africa during a one-day series in the winter of 2004-05. During the series the South African players and crowd sledged him endlessly but the tactic failed to work – Pietersen flogged them for three hundreds in seven games.
The tourists changed their tactics yesterday, but it made little difference. South Africa seem to bring out the absolute best in Pietersen and once he got going there was no stopping him. South Africa's seamers were clipped through midwicket when they strayed on to his legs but it was Paul Harris who was singled out for special treatment. Pietersen swept the spinner mercilessly for four on several occasions and once hoisted him high over long on into the Compton Stand.
Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook, who batted superbly during the morning session, giving England just the start they wanted, and needed, made Pietersen's task easier. The pair benefited from wayward South African bowling, bowling that failed to live up to its billing. On a heavy overcast morning and after three days of inclement weather most toss-winning captains would have chosen to bowl, but South Africa's attack failed to make the most of helpful conditions.
On far too many occasions the South African fast men were guilty of bowling too short or wide, giving Strauss and Cook ample time to watch the ball pass harmlessly through to the keeper. The England openers could not have believed their luck. South Africa will put the issue down to their preparations, which were badly affected by weather, and to some extent they have a point. But like England often do abroad, South Africa gave themselves little room for manoeuvre by agreeing to play just two three-day games before the first Test.
Steyn and Morne Morkel had never bowled at Lord's before and it showed. It takes time to get used to the vagaries of the slope and the new ball was wasted as the pair acclimatised. Ntini, who took 10 for 220 on his last visit to the venue in 2003, fared little better and the sight of Harris bowling before lunch highlighted South Africa's plight. With England in total control, the umpire Daryl Harper then wrongly adjudged Strauss lbw. Morkel had shown glimpses of his potential, extracting steep, uncomfortable bounce from the sluggish pitch, but it was a full ball that beat Strauss's bat and rapped him on the pad. Replays confirmed that the ball had pitched three inches outside leg stump and the batsmen should not have been given out.
How Strauss, as he forlornly walked off, must have wished that the England and Wales Cricket Board had accepted the International Cricket Council's invitation to give the three appeals trial a go. The ICC is pushing for the increased use of technology and the trial would have allowed Strauss to ask for the decision to be referred to the third umpire.
Vaughan, like every batsman, is vulnerable at the start of an innings but there very little he could do about the fast leg-cutter that fizzed past the outside edge of his bat and knocked back off-stump. Cook made the same journey as his captain five balls later when, on 60, he spliced a short ball from Morkel towards the slips and A B de Villiers took a simple catch. Cook did not play the delivery particularly well but the steep bounce highlighted what a handful Morkel will be in years to come.
The hat-trick of wickets undermined England and suddenly Smith's decision to bowl did not appear such a shocker. And the decision would have seemed even better had Ntini's shy hit wood and run Pietersen out. Even the best give the occasional chance but potentially great players, as South Africa found out, make errors very, very costly.
Anatomy of a brilliant innings
Sets off for suicidal single after hitting second ball to short midwicket. Makhaya Ntini's throw misses by inches with Pietersen yards short.
Felled by Dale Steyn bouncer. Clearly groggy after ball thuds into side of helmet.
First boundary, struck from outside off through mid-on.
Morne Morkel gives long stare after advancing down pitch – Pietersen pulls next for four.
Strikes spinner Paul Harris for first six over long on.
Paddle stroke to fine leg and scrambles two for his fifty in 73 balls.
Into the nineties with a disdainful four to fine leg off Harris.
Pietersen crunches four through cover to reach his 13th Test hundred after three hours and 127 balls.
Shot of the Day
The England batsman Ian Bell can be an infuriating player to watch, but during his time at the crease he plays glorious shots. The best was a drive through mid-off off the bowling of Dale Steyn. The ball hit advertising boards underneath the South African dressing-room balcony.
Ball of the Day
Dale Steyn had caused few problems with the new ball, but the dismissal of Michael Vaughan underlined his danger. There was little the England captain could do about the leg-cutter that knocked back his off-stump. It pitched on the line off middle and off stump and hit the top off. Unplayable.
Moment of Day
Much has been made of the supposed ill feeling between Kevin Pietersen and the South Africans, but they showed England's No 4 compassion when a Dale Steyn bouncer floored him. The South Africans even offered him a drink when their 12th man came out. Obviously it wasn't spiked.
Scoreboard from Lord's
South Africa won toss
England – First innings
A J Strauss lbw b Morkel 44
178 mins, 131 balls, 6 fours
A N Cook c de Villiers b Morkel 60
191 mins, 132 balls, 9 fours
*M P Vaughan b Steyn 2
7 mins, 3 balls
K P Pietersen not out 104
202 mins, 133 balls, 13 fours, 1 six
I R Bell not out 75
197 mins, 148 balls, 8 fours
Extras (b 10, lb 2, w 1, nb 11, pens 0) 24
Total (3 wkts, 389 mins, 90 overs) 309
Fall: 1-114 (Strauss), 2-117 (Vaughan), 3-117 (Cook).
To bat: P D Collingwood, +T R Ambrose, S C J Broad, R J Sidebottom, M S Panesar, J M Anderson.
Bowling: Steyn 21-4-68-1 (nb5,w1) (3-2-1-0 7-2-23-0 2-0-10-1 2-0-9-0 3-0-14-0 4-0-11-0), Ntini 18-2-58-0 (5-2-10-0 2-0-8-0 5-0-17-0 1-0-6-0 3-0-7-0 2-0-10-0), Morkel 21-3-66-2 (nb3) (2-0-12-0 6-0-16-0 5-1-13-2 5-0-16-0 3-2-9-0), Kallis 15-3-49-0 (6-2-12-0 4-0-19-0 5-1-18-0), Harris 15-4-56-0 (nb3) (1-1-0-0 2-1-2-0 12-2-54-0).
Progress: First day: 50: 87 mins, 20.2 overs. Lunch: 71-0 (Strauss 26, Cook 39) 28 overs. 100: 160 mins, 36.5 overs. 150: 225 mins, 50.1 overs. Tea: 163-3 (Bell 33, Pietersen 13) 54 overs. 200: 282 mins, 64.3 overs. 250: 326 mins, 74.2 overs. New ball taken after 81 overs at 276-3. 300: 378 mins, 87.3 overs.
Cook's 50: 140 mins, 92 balls, 9 fours. Pietersen's 50: 106 mins, 73 balls, 6 fours, 1 six. 100: 180 mins, 124 balls, 13 fours, 1 six. Bell's 50: 132 mins, 89 balls, 5 fours.
South Africa: *G C Smith, N D McKenzie, H M Amla, J H Kallis, A F Prince, A B de Villiers, +M V Boucher, M Morkel, P L Harris, D W Steyn, M Ntini.
Umpires: B F Bowden (NZ) and D J Harper (Aus).
TV replay umpire: N J Llong.
Match referee: J J Crowe.Reuse content