In the third of Kevin Pietersen’s favourite five Test innings, England’s No.4 looks back on his series-saving, freewheeling century at Colombo in 2012, as part of an exclusive interview with Phil Walker.
After the elation of the whitewash over India in 2011, which had taken England to the summit of the Test rankings, the wheels had come off and then some in UAE as Pakistan’s twirlymen sent them into a downward spiral. In a series in which no England batsman posted a century, and none of their top six averaged in excess of 27, Pietersen (67 runs from six innings at 11) had come in for particularly fierce criticism.
That criticism only intensified when England lost the first Test on their subsequent tour of Sri Lanka, Pietersen making scores of 3 and 30 in a fourth defeat on the bounce. How could England seriously lay claim to being among the best Test sides in the world when their batsmen cowered and then cracked at the first sign of a turning ball?
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With England’s policy of ‘batting time’ getting them nowhere, Pietersen decided a change of approach was in order. In the second Test at Colombo he made a decision to start taking some risks to redress the balance between bat and ball and gain England a foothold in a two-Test series that was slipping away from them.
“I think 2012 was clearly when some of my best hundreds were scored,” says Pietersen. “With the 150 in Colombo, I just never thought there was any way in this world I would be able to bat for long enough to score a hundred, because of the heat. I honestly thought that. It’s such a hot country and I perspire so much that I changed my gloves nine times during that innings and I batted for something like three hours. It was 45 degrees.
“So the only way for me to get a hundred there was to score quick. It was a conscious effort of attacking the spinners to get us in the game; we needed to win that Test match because we’d lost the one before. The only way we were going to win it was to play positively, play aggressively, and try and get on top of the spinners.
“I was playing the spinners well and picking [Suraj] Randiv’s doosra or the other one and, yeah, the boundaries weren’t that big, a smallish ground, and I thought if I get it – or even if I don’t get it – it’ll go for six. I practised well the day before and I was hitting all my shots. I had the IPL straight after the series, so I was going through the motions [of range hitting], and it was just one of those days when everything seemed to click. I had my scoring options, had my areas, I had my shots and they all played well.”
In three-and-a-half hours and 165 balls at the crease, a rejuvenated Pietersen had completely changed the context of the match and the series. No longer on the back-foot, England had secured a first-innings lead of 185 and the manner in which Pietersen had done it had instilled confidence in a batting line-up that had been subjected to a harrowing few months against the turning ball. Suddenly it didn’t look quite so difficult after all.
Fittingly, Pietersen was there at the finish to complete the job, smashing 42 from 28 balls to see England home by eight wickets and level the series. Pietersen had finished off a winter that England would rather forget with an innings that would stay forever etched in the memory.