James Lawton: Pietersen follows in Botham's shoes

There is a compelling argument to say what happened here over the last few days, and indeed the entire Ashes series, has simply been beyond compare.

But when a game reaches the height it has achieved all summer, history inevitably presents us with a point of reference, and the obvious one as Pietersen settled the last of the doubts, was the heroically battered century by Botham at Headingley in 1981.

Botham stopped the Aussies of Dennis Lillee, and there was an astonishing symmetry in the fact that such similar young men found a way to conquer the game's master race at an ultimately pivotal point in a collision between the oldest foes. Both have provoked questions about their understanding of the true nature of the game. Both have been seen as the most overtly ambitious of young adventurers in a game which was always supposed to be about a sense of team and tradition. Both might still struggle to earn a benevolent look in the Lord's Long Room. But, 24 years apart, both have made the same point. It is that, ultimately, talent means little if it is not accompanied by an abiding belief in your ability to take hold of a cricket match by its heart and its throat.

When Botham pulled his team up so sensationally, the Aussies sneered that he was the author of a "slog."

"They were quite right," said Botham. "It was a slog - a glorious slog." Ditto, Pietersen's astonishing break-out here yesterday just when the Australians, led again by the most durable and brilliant veterans cricket has ever known, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, had conjured the shocking resistance to the rise of England.

Pietersen was twice dropped when the match still had the properties of an emotional powder keg. Adam Gilchrist fumbled a chance off Warne which could not be quite retrieved by the normally hawk-like Matthew Hayden. Then, of all people, Warne dropped him off McGrath. Pietersen's innings was still in its infancy, as it was when Brett Lee launched an assault, at speeds of up to 94mph, which was quite astonishing when you considered it came from an essentially amiable man.

Lee, though overshadowed by McGrath, has bowled superbly at times this summer, and he has laughed in both glory and pain. Now he had the smile of an assassin as he bowled head and throat balls at the man who represented the last serious English threat to an unforgettable Australian recovery. Pietersen not only survived, he assumed the status of a bludgeoning giant. Some say he is not a young cricket star fashioned in the heavens. His self-interest is palpable, his love of the glory comes without apology. With his dyed hair and his love of bling, he is the antithesis of his team-mate and massive folk hero Freddie Flintoff. But, of course, he shares something quite valuable in a burgeoning sports star. He has talent that you could throw on a bonfire without burning it all away.

His seven sixes smashed the Ashes record, and guess who was supplanted? Yes, Botham, the supreme extrovert whose like some argued would never again appear in an England team. Now England have two men of such explosive performance, Pietersen the herculean egoist, Flintoff the great heart.

They also have in Michael Vaughan a forceful captain of high intelligence who - now that he is so utterly secure in his job - may again be a batsman of classic technique and outstanding performance. They have a pace bowling attack which can bring a surge of concern in any corner of the game.

We saw here again the quality of these deposed champions. We saw Hayden and Justin Langer scoring centuries from the tightest of corners. We saw Warne, who took 12 wickets in his last Test on English soil, and McGrath fighting with the intensity that made them champions.

Yet nothing they did could stop the English tide, one that, long after the issue was closed, was still being expressed by Steve Harmison in a burst of bouncers.

The point of supremacy had been made dramatically enough, and most crushingly by Pietersen. That he belongs to a new age, and another dimension, was maybe underlined by another remnant of history. Sixty seven years earlier, Sir Len Hutton had scored a world record 364 on this ground. He batted for more than than two days and scored 35 fours. He didn't score a six. He belonged to another age, another world.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable