Maverick's mature determination has different sparkle to his youthful bling
Ex-captain dismisses all the doubts by putting team first, writes James Lawton at Lord's
There are times when Kevin Pietersen makes cricket seem so easy it is quite near ridiculous. In his hands the bat can be not so much a work tool as a plaything.
Seven months ago on a most beautiful day at the Adelaide Oval he punished the Australian bowlers so unmercifully he might well have provoked an emergency meeting of the League Against Cruel Sports. He reached his double hundred with batting of almost casual splendour.
So many of the 17 Test centuries he brought in his cricket bag to this historically vital Test match against No 1-ranked India carried such a classic hallmark but then something else is also true.
It is that if your knowledge of his work, the range of his natural facility, stretched back no further than the last two days you could hardly guess at such a pedigree.
This would be a pity because in many ways the 18th hundred he completed yesterday, perhaps more than any of the others, demanded to be seen in an entirely separate light.
This was a rival to the one he scored at The Oval in 2005 when England broke 16 years of Australian Ashes domination but only in the weight of history, and his team's hopes now of winning official recognition as the best Test team in the world.
In all other respects they were divided by rather more than the passage of the years.
When The Oval stood for the brash, uncomplicated young man from South Africa they were saluting a foreign cricket mercenary who had brought to the English cause talent worth vastly more than its own weight in bling.
Here yesterday there was another kind of acknowledgement. It was to a 31-year-old who more unequivocally than ever before had put the interests of his team much higher than any fleeting hope that he might smash his way through the self-doubts, even maybe a questioning of how long he wanted to go on surviving the pressures of superstardom.
There have been times recently when you had to question both the strength of Pietersen's commitment to the old priorities and his ability to recover fully from the devastating loss of the England captaincy. In some ways that seemed to undo the man who was once so serene in his personal ambition.
After Adelaide he talked almost lyrically of the new England shaped under his successor Andrew Strauss and his own satisfaction at being just part, albeit an extremely valuable one, of a re-born team.
Yet many still wondered about Pietersen and his enduring appetite for the game whose challenges he had once dealt with so easily. At one point without a county team and any clear sense of the way forward, his form and confidence flickered and then he twittered his outrage at being omitted from the England team.
Yet here these last two days Pietersen has produced a performance many believed they would never see – a performance that was not about extraordinary talent or the chasing of elusive form with one risk piled on another.
No, it has been about the graft that the hardest competitors are from time to time required to produce when the best of their talent runs thin. "This," said one old England Test player last night as Pietersen began to pummel the Indians beyond any possibility they might just win this potentially pivotal first Test, "has been one of his worst big knocks for England – and may be one of the best.
"His talent has not been as apparent as his determination to succeed. He has worked so hard and his determination has been amazing."
It is not something that has always been the key to Pietersen's competitive character. In the 2009 Ashes series in England Pietersen's dismay began to build when he gave his wicket away in the first Test in Cardiff with a shot of bewildering irresponsibility.
For some it was a sign that the glory of Kevin Pietersen was heading down the wrong side of the mountain. He had had the years of freedom, the times when scoring runs seemed like the easiest task ever handed to anyone in any kind of arena, but now there were injuries and doubts and a sudden sense that what lay ahead was more work, more trial, than he could ever have imagined.
Here he grasped a basic obligation. It was to be the backbone of his team, the guarantee of a solid start to one of the most important Test series England have ever played. He met it with an unswerving concentration and when Rahul Dravid dived for a catch that was rejected by the third official Pietersen's reaction was a perfect symbol of his vast body of work.
He chose to ignore the Indian appeals, utterly, and proceed with the building of an innings which might just prove to be the most significant of the summer. The details tell of escalating authority. In the end he finished in the kind of imperious hurry most familiar to his warmest admirers, reaching his third double century in Test match cricket just before Strauss waved in the declaration.
His final 50 had come in just 25 balls but before that had been the accumulation of a man who had quickly decided that there would be no lapses, no light-headedness, just the steady pursuit of a winning position. His 150 came off 301 balls and took 445 minutes. Fourteen fours irrigated this otherwise dry bed of resolve.
When it was over he raised his arms and his bat to the lightening sky and ran into a huge wave of acclaim in the Long Room. It was the admiration that goes to a man who has put himself on the line and delivered one of the performances of his career – not one filled with drama or pyrotechnics or more than a handful of shots that took away your breath, but the steady breath of an unbreakable resolution.
Those who doubted the backbone of Kevin Pietersen had reason to do a little recanting here last night. Let's hope we did it with at least a fraction of the honesty he brought to his extraordinary triumph.
Today: Dry and overcast. Max temp: 21C
Tomorrow: Cool and windy, staying mainly dry. Max temp: 20C.
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