Kevin Pietersen is not known to lean back and let his opponents take shots unopposed, and on day two at the Kia Oval he provided a forceful riposte to England’s decision to discard him by hitting an unbeaten career-best 326.
In what was his first first-class century since the 2013 Ashes Old Trafford Test, Pietersen set down a timely marker ahead of Andrew Strauss’ first public address tomorrow as England’s new director of cricket, when he is expected to comment on Pietersen’s international future, having spoken directly to his former team-mate tonight.
Previously deemed ‘disengaged’ by then ECB managing director Paul Downton following the humiliating 2013/14 Ashes tour, Pietersen was offered a lifeline when incoming chairman Colin Graves said England players would be picked on merit, encouraging Pietersen to return to county cricket in hope of winnings over the selectors.
And here, resuming the day alongside Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara, both on 35, Pietersen cut a disciplined figure, swaying and blocking, leaving and weaving, lulling Leicestershire, and the gathering spectators, into a false sense of security before unleashing a variety of vintage shots to give Surrey a 236 run lead overnight.
“There was a lot of pressure going into today’s game,” Pietersen said at the close. “I probably shouldn’t have read social media this morning, but a lot of people put me under a lot of pressure, and today was a real big day for my career.
“I have to be careful what I say [about the changes to the England regime]. It’s an interesting time. What more can I do?
“I’m dedicated in getting my England place back. I want my England place and I think I deserve my England place.”
Asked about a Piers Morgan tweet alluding to a meeting with Strauss and ECB CEO Tom Harrison, Pietersen added: “There is a meeting this evening. It is a totally private matter, and I’m not one for giving anything away.
“The pressure I was under this morning, that’s probably one of the best innings I’ve ever played purely because I knew tomorrow there is a press conference and there are things happening this evening. I knew I needed to answer any questions with runs on the board. 326 is a pretty good argument.”
The morning session indicated little of what was to be witnessed later, as in a nod to Muhammad Ali’s 1974 rope-a-dope technique, Pietersen withstood a probing early spell of bowling, requiring 45 deliveries to collect the 10 runs he needed to bring up his half-century. His celebration was anything but Ali-esque, though. Flicking Ben Raine off his hips through midwicket for the two crucial runs, he returned to mark his guard before lifting the bat to all corners.
By that point, Clint McKay and Raine had removed Sangakkara and Steven Davies respectively, both caught by Neil Pinner at second slip. It brought in Pietersen’s prodigy, Jason Roy, a powerful striker of the ball, who once released from the shackles of chaperoning Pietersen to his 50 went after the bowling attack, delightfully driving McKay for four on bended knee, and then pushing Charlie Shreck through midwicket for another boundary.
But his lavish style has lacked substance this season compared to 2014s 1078 first-class runs total, and he departed for 27, clipping Shreck behind to Niall O’Brien. Pietersen carried on, moving through the gears and getting to his belligerent best as he thrust and pulled, going to within four of his ton when Jigar Naik spilt a caught and bowled chance.
It would be the first of four catches Leicestershire dropped off Pietersen, and, had they been snaffled, Surrey’s position in this game would appear quite different. Before the second, however, he reached three figures, a late cut bringing hollers, fist pumps and boyband leaps. There was much more to come.
While those around him lost their heads, Gary Wilson and Gareth Batty both removed by Naik, and Tom Curran deflecting McKay behind, Pietersen trusted his own intuition, flamingo-ing a four through midwicket and lofting Raine into the Bedser Stand.
Pietersen had Chris Tremlett to thank for helping him reach his first double-century in three years, to which a chorus of “Are you watching Andrew Strauss?” rang out around the ground. Importantly for Surrey, their 101-run ninth wicket partnership pushed them beyond Leicestershire’s first innings score.
Upon Tremlett’s demise, bowled by McKay, Pietersen took command of the strike, blunting any resistance the visiting bowlers could muster, Pietersen hit 16 boundaries, including nine sixes, as well as trademark reverse-sweeps and paddle shots to loud applause.
Moving past his previous first-class best of 254 with a leaning slice over point, Pietersen, aware of the Strauss meeting, scampered to his triple century, an aerial sweep over midwicket for six met with raucous cheers from the ever-expanding crowd; Pietersen making history but unlikely to change his past.