He promised something like this. All winter long Kevin Pietersen's Test batting had lain dormant, shackled by slow pitches, good bowling and poor shots. It came back into glorious life yesterday with the force of the sun bursting through dark clouds.
Pietersen's innings of 151 was a pyrotechnical masterpiece which put the second Test against Sri Lanka in England's pocket. They were left with some work to do, such as taking 10 Sri Lankan second-innings wickets for starters, but bowling has been the easy part of the game of late. England carved out a lead of 185 in losing nine wickets on the day, Sri Lanka would seem bankers to lose all 10 on the fourth.
Before this series began, Pietersen had told the world that he was back, that something had clicked suddenly in the nets, that he was ready to rumble. Of course, this might have been wishful thinking or bluster, a suspicion reinforced by two culpable dismissals in the first Test in Galle.
But Pietersen, it was pretty clear from the start yesterday, meant every word. His strokeplay was thunderous and precise, yielding 16 fours and six sixes and the whole affair took only 163 balls. It was batting of a wholly different sort produced by England or any of their opponents on their Asian sojourn. He was scoring at virtually a run a ball, three times more quickly than England have managed all winter.
As almost always with Pietersen, there was something else. In the over in which he reached his 20th Test hundred he was warned by the umpire, Asad Rauf, about his switch-hitting. The shot is perfectly legal, but there are regulations governing when the batsman can alter his stance or grip.
Tillekeratne Dilshan, the bowler, no doubt thoroughly miffed at the mauling he and his colleagues were receiving, twice pulled out in his run-up. Pietersen was duly given an official warning after Rauf consulted with his colleague Bruce Oxenford but around all this he hit four, six, two and two, the last two with switch hits to bring up his century from 109 balls.
It was his third fastest in Tests but it was as clinically entertaining as anything he had played since his maiden hundred against Australia in the 2005 Ashes when his 158 contained seven sixes and propelled him into the stratosphere. Next week, Pietersen is off to the Indian Premier League and while that and the sort of cricket which he was playing yesterday might as well be in different galaxies, it will have reminded India that a star will soon be in their midst.
On days like these Pietersen is worth all the annoying extravagances that sometimes cause his downfall, all the swagger and bravado. It is probably as he always says the way he plays and maybe it has to be put up with.
That this great innings meant a great deal to him was thrillingly clear from the way he greeted his century. He continued his run, stopped near the boundary, got to his knees and punched the air vigorously several times. Now that really was a case of Pietersen being back.
He was out having exacted punishment on all of Sri Lanka's bowlers who must have wondered what they had walked into. Either side of this brilliance, at the beginning and the end of the day, it was all quiet on the Colombo front.
At least, England did not give away their wickets with the abandon they had exhibited in most of the previous three months. They had taken a policy decision to grind down Sri Lanka with straight bats to the fore, embodied by the modern-day master of crease occupation, Alastair Cook.
It would have been worth putting the house on him reaching his 20th hundred as he burst into the nineties with two fours in an over. But he became another of Dilshan's victims, edging low to slip, actually the fifth time he has been out in the nineties in Tests and the second this year.
While Pietersen was moving up the gears, starting in fourth and ramping up swiftly to fifth, those around him vigilantly chugged along. Jonathan Trott edged Rangana Herath to slip before Ian Bell came in to drop anchor in the place where Trott's had been.
This has been a grim couple of tours for Bell and it became grimmer. While Pietersen was upping the ante, Bell dug in. He had scored 18 from a partnership of 94 when he pulled a long hop to mid-wicket. The shake of the head said it all. The Oval and his 235 in August seems another lifetime: he has made 132 in nine innings on tour. English pitches cannot come soon enough for him.
There was time for Matt Prior to show why he should still be residing at No 7, not No 6, though he played as selflessly as ever. Pietersen was out leg before sweeping Herath and the rest of the innings may as well have been played for the benefit of Rangana Herath's third six-wicket haul of the series.
The difference was that England batted for 46.4 overs in their first innings in Galle last week when Herath took his sextet, this time they stayed around for 152.3. It is a considerable difference.
He bowled Tim Bresnan with one that went straight on, had Graeme Swann poking tamely to cover and Jimmy Anderson leg before reverse sweeping (without exercising the umpire's attention).
Last man out was Samit Patel, who hung around diligently for 72 balls, scrapping mostly for singles. It was small beer after Pietersen but it might be significant. The Nottinghamshire all-rounder did not take the game by the scruff of the neck, far from it, but he fought his and England's corner.
Called into the Test squad for the first time on this tour, it was easy to think this series might be the start and end of Patel's career. He gave reason to reconsider yesterday that he might be worth more. But the day belonged entirely, thrillingly, to Pietersen.
Timeline: How the Third day unfolded
6.54am (UK time): England 213-2
Having started the day well, Alastair Cook loses his wicket just six runs short of a century, edging a turning ball into the grateful hands of Mahela Jayawardene at first slip.
8.25am: England 253-3
A beautiful spinning delivery from Rangana Herath takes a little edge from the forward defensive stroke of Jonathan Trott and lands safely in the hands of Jayawardene at slip once again – Trott making 64.
9.40am: England 341-3
England's batsmen have had their critics but Kevin Pietersen answers them. The enigmatic batsman races to a magnificent century from just 109 balls – dismantling the Sri Lankan attack.
9.54am: England 341-3
As if to dampen the jubilation surrounding Pietersen's innings, Ian Bell ends his stay at the crease as a pull to midwicket is caught with aplomb by Suraj Randiv. Bell walks having made just 18.
10.54am: England 380-5
Pietersen's attacking brilliance rubs off on Matt Prior, and England's wicketkeeper smashes an elegant cover drive for four. But he gets carried away and is caught in the deep for just 11.
11.28am: England 411-6
All good things must come to an end, as is the case with Pietersen's innings. A magnificent performance that adds 151 to England's total is concluded as Herath catches him lbw – confirmed by a review.
11.28am: England 460 all out
The final four wickets fall for 49 with Graeme Swann (17) and Samit Patel (29) improving the scoreboard. A magnificent performance by the tourists leaves them in pole position.
Facts in figures
20 Pietersen's 20th Test ton puts him fourth in England's all-time list, two behind Wally Hammond, Geoffrey Boycott and Colin Cowdrey, and level with Ken Barrington and Graham Gooch.
7 Sixes hit by England yesterday – six from KP and one from Swann.
62 Jonathan Trott's average against Sri Lanka this series – his overall Test average is 53.
Second Test (Third day of five): Sri Lanka are trailing England by 181 runs with all second-innings wickets in hand; Sri Lanka won toss
Sri Lanka: First Innings 275 (D P M D Jayawardene 105, Mathews 57, Samaraweera 54, Swann 4-75)
England: First Innings Overnight 154-1 (Strauss 61)
A N Cook c D P M D Jayawardene b Dilshan 94, 278 balls 0 sixes 9 fours
I J L Trott c D P M D Jayawardene b Herath 64, 137 balls 0 sixes 7 fours
K P Pietersen lbw b Herath 151, 165 balls 6 sixes 16 fours
I R Bell c Randiv b Prasad 18, 53 balls 0 sixes 1 fours
†M J Prior c Prasad b Herath 11, 26 balls 0 sixes 2 fours
S R Patel c Prasad b Randiv 29, 72 balls 0 sixes 1 fours
T T Bresnan b Herath 5, 17 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
G P Swann c Dilshan b Herath 17, 33 balls 1 sixes 1 fours
J M Anderson lbw b Herath 2, 6 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
S T Finn not out 2, 4 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
Extras (b1 lb2 w1 nb2) 6
Total (152.3 overs) 460
Fall 1-122, 2-213, 3-253, 4-347, 5-380, 6-411, 7-419, 8-454, 9-458.
Bowling RAS Lakmal: 22-4-81-0 (2nb) (4-0-17-0; 7-2-13-0; 2-1-4-0; 2-1-8-0; 2-0-11-0; 5-0-28-0), KTGD Prasad: 23-8-63-1 (1wd) (6-3-13-0; 3-1-11-0; 3-0-14-0; 2-0-12-0; 6-3-5-1; 3-1-8-0), HMRKB Herath: 53-9-133-6 (12-0-33-0; 3-0-9-0; 3-1-4-0; 8-3-13-0; 1-0-3-0; 9-3-18-1; 1-0-2-0; 14-2-41-3; 2-0-10-2), TM Dilshan: 20-4-73-2 (3-1-3-0; 5-0-13-1; 7-2-23-1; 5-1-34-0), S Randiv: 34.3-4-107-1 (4-1-3-0; 6-1-13-0; 7-1-18-0; 4-1-10-0; 4-0-37-0; 6-0-17-0; 3.3-0-9-1).
Progress Day Three: Ehgland 200 in 82.6 overs. Lunch: 239-2 in 93 overs (Trott 62, Pietersen 18), 250 in 96.2 overs, 300 in 104.3 overs, 350 in 120.3 overs. Tea: 352-4 in 121 overs (Pietersen 106, Prior 4), 400 in 131.1 overs, 450 in 149.3 overs, 460 all out in 152.3 overs. Trott 50 off 100 balls (5 fours). Pietersen 50 off 59 balls (4 fours, 3 sixes), 100 off 109 balls (11 fours, 4 sixes), 150 off 162 balls (16 fours, 6 sixes).
Sri Lanka: Second Innings
K T G D Prasad not out 0, 6 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
H D R L Thirimanne not out 0, 0 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
Extras (lb4) 4
Total (for 0, 1 overs) 4
To bat T M Dilshan, K C Sangakkara, *D P M D Jayawardene, T T Samaraweera, A D Mathews, †H A P W Jayawardene, S Randiv, H M R K B Herath, R A S Lakmal.
Bowling JM Anderson 1-1-0-0 (one spell).
Umpires Asad Rauf (Pak) & BNJ Oxenford (Aus).
Third Umpire RJ Tucker (Aus).
Match Referee J Srinath (Ind).
- More about:
- Alastair Cook
- Graeme Swann
- Ian Bell
- Kevin Pietersen
- Sea And Ocean
- South Asia
- Sri Lanka