Kevin Pietersen's beaming smile lit up Lord's yesterday and the third double century of his international career put England in command of the first Test against India. But he admitted he had never had to work harder to reach three figures.
"It is a fantastic feeling and something to be proud of, definitely," said Pietersen after his unbeaten 202 had led England to 474 for 8 declared. "The guys have said some fairly complimentary things to me in the dressing room."
Well before the end of his eight-hour innings, Pietersen was plundering runs much as he pleased against an Indian attack that was left so short by Zaheer Khan's hamstring injury that captain M S Dhoni took off his wicketkeeping pads to deliver eight overs. But it had been such hard graft earlier for England's No 4 that he needed 216 balls to reach his first century in this country for three years.
"They bowled really well when the ball was swinging and seaming – I've never had to work harder," said Pietersen. "This is right up there among my Test hundreds."
Pietersen celebrated reaching his fifth hundred at Lord's like a man relieved to have ended a relatively unproductive period on English soil. But he was smiling broadly after purring past 200.
Inevitably, in conditions that gave India's attack plenty of encouragement at times, Pietersen needed moments of fortune – especially on 49 when Rahul Dravid appeared to catch him at leg slip, only for TV replays to leave enough doubt in the third umpire's mind for the batsman to survive.
Pietersen also had to rely on TV assistance after being given out to Dhoni, on 73, but he clearly missed the ball on that occasion. "I couldn't get out to MS," he joked. "It was a difficult spell when Dhoni was bowling because he swung the ball both ways."
Despite scoring a double hundred in Adelaide last winter, Pietersen has struggled to convince that his career is not in decline. This innings should help a great deal, though. "You go through good patches and bad patches," he said. "But if you keep doing the hard work then you have to be rewarded."
Praveen Kumar, playing only his fourth Test, was the one Indian bowler to make a real mark, taking 5 for 106 and putting his name on the Lord's honours board.