'Genius' Kevin Pietersen fires big ton to make Ashes statement of intent

 

Headingley

Any notion that Kevin Pietersen might need a knock or two to rediscover his touch after 100 days without a competitive innings need no longer concern England pre-Ashes. After two days in the field, his right knee apparently fully recovered from the deep-seated bone bruising that had laid him low since the second Test in Wellington in March, Pietersen went about his primary business with bat in hand and responded with 177 not out, his 48th first-class hundred and his ninth biggest.

As statements go, it was pretty unequivocal. In his eagerness, he almost ran himself out off his first ball, chancing a single from a push into the off side that might have left him red-faced had Adil Rashid's shy from cover not bounced harmlessly over the stumps. But thereafter he showed a sharpness of eye and a nimbleness of footwork that Ricky Ponting, his temporary colleague at Surrey, can only have watched with empathetic foreboding on behalf of his successors in the Australian team, while quietly offering thanks it is no longer his problem.

With the Ashes starting in 16 days, batting time is at a premium for Pietersen, who will play in two fixtures for England next week before it begins – a Twenty20 against New Zealand on Thursday, and then a warm-up four-day contest against Essex starting on Sunday.

Stuart Barnes, Surrey's bowling coach and the man standing in for sacked team director Chris Adams, said it was the innings of "a genius".

"It was brilliant, but looking at the way he prepared in the morning it was obvious he meant business," he said. "I've only really seen him in the nets during this game and he is clearly a genius.

"The reverse hits, his signature shots, were impressive but his hitting down the ground, the positions he gets into, were unbelievable and so consistent. That's what he was practising this morning, so I'm not surprised he executed them so well."

Given the quality of the Yorkshire seam attack, overworked after Steve Patterson had to drop out with a broken toe, but nonetheless comprising two former Test bowlers and one with ambitions to emulate them, and with overhead conditions in their favour, it was as difficult a test as England could have organised for Pietersen at this stage.

Then again, despite what happened here last summer, when his relationship with the England dressing room seemed irretrievably broken, he has a good history at Headingley. This was his fifth hundred in only six matches on the ground.

Yesterday, his timing, his eerily deceptive power, his instinctive inventiveness, at times made the jaw drop, even though it was hardly unfamiliar. One shot sent zipping down the ground off Jack Brooks came from little more than a firm push; another, swatted over the mid-wicket boundary off a committed Ryan Sidebottom, confirmed there was nowhere safe to bowl to him.

Pietersen's first half-century, spanning 71 balls, was sedate compared with the next, which came in only 35 strikes, with Rashid taking the most punishment. The leg-spinner, who would have been spared, had Andrew Gale not had so few options, conceded 34 runs in 14 deliveries in the onslaught. Rashid conceded four of Pietersen's seven sixes and a total of 73 runs from 55 deliveries.

Rashid also dropped a return catch, when Pietersen was on 78, although the ball was hit low and hard and you could hardly blame him for failing to hang on. The man who might regret giving him a life was Andrew Hodd, the wicketkeeper, who put him down on 120, off the bowling of Adam Lyth, the part-time off-spinner. The innings, which began after Surrey lost two wickets in the first 17 minutes of the third day, ended when Surrey declared at 353 for 7, taking a fourth batting point but conceding a lead of 80, at which point the boundary tally had risen to 17 fours as well as the seven maximums. Pietersen's partnerships with Zander de Bruyn added 97 and with Steven Davies 118.

Pietersen declined to talk about his innings but had earlier tweeted: "And by the way – after fielding for 136 overs, my knee feels top drawer!!"

He took time out as Yorkshire began their second innings, but allayed fears that he might have seized up by re-emerging for the closing 11 overs, at the end of which Yorkshire had extended their lead to 132 for the loss of the young opener, Alex Lees.

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