Pietersen: 'I've never been able to explain how I play. If the ball's there, I hit it'
In the glorious history of Test cricket there has probably never been an over like it. A batsman inspired by the gods was on the verge of a resounding hundred, making mincemeat of the bowler, when he was warned both casually and then officially for breaching an arcane edict, putting his side at risk of being docked five penalty runs.
It could only happen to Kevin Pietersen. It was the 115th over of England's first innings in the second Test and he was on 86. So far, it had been one of life's treats.
Tillekeratne Dilshan, the occasional off-spinner who has been known to play the odd outrageous stroke himself, stopped in his run-up as Pietersen changed stance to switch hit. When eventually he bowled the ball, he fired it down the leg side and Pietersen swatted him to fine leg for four.
Dilshan, disrupted, pulled the next ball short and Pietersen clubbed it over square leg for six. Several Sri Lankans complained to the umpires who had a word with Pietersen. Next ball, Pietersen changed stance early again and switch hit for two into vacant areas to take him to 98.
As an unamused Dilshan shuffled in for the next ball he again pulled out. Rauf had a word with Pietersen and, it was to transpire, issued an official warning. Unruffled, Pietersen merely changed his grip later and still played an outrageous reverse shot, ran a rapid two and had his 20th Test hundred, his 29th in all internationals, an England record.
It seemed that Pietersen had been in breach of an ICC directive from 2010. This prohibits "the batsman from altering his grip or stance before the bowler enters his delivery stride. Should the bowler see a batsman change his grip or stance prior to the delivery stride the bowler can decide not to bowl the ball." Pietersen was operating outside the directive, Dilshan in it.
But the directive is not yet enshrined in the ICC's Test match playing conditions, although that is something they will now rectify. The Cricket Committee will examine the directive again in May with a view to it being a regulation by October. So that's all right.
Pietersen, who had just played one of the innings of his life, understandably did not want its sheen removed by a pettifogging squabble. "There's no issue, he said. "I just got my timing wrong. He said it was a warning because I moved my hands too quick and I was OK, it was cool. Once I'd been warned I inquired about it. They're such minor issues."
It was Pietersen who first provoked an inquiry into the legitimacy of switch hitting when he unfurled it against New Zealand in 2008. MCC's laws sub-committee subsequently declared it legal adding the sensible but loose caveat that circumstances existed "where the umpires have to exercise judgement about intervening to prevent descent into farce". Rauf, as he has so many things in this match, got it right yesterday.
It would not be Kev without a controversy but it really should not detract from his 20th Test hundred, pulling him level with Gooch and Ken Barrington, and behind Wally Hammond, Colin Cowdrey and Geoff Boycott all of whom have 22. The race seems to be between Pietersen and Alastair Cook about who gets ahead first. Cook was out for 94 yesterday.
"I think when you're in good form you have to cash in," said Pietersen. "When I'm in form I like to play like that. I've never been able to explain how I play. I just go out and if the ball's there to hit I'll hit it. I have quite a simple technique. It just worked." And how.
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