• Yorkshire v Surrey, Headingley, 3rd day

Pietersen puts concerns to bed with return 177*

Jon Culley at Headingley
June 23, 2013 « Live County Championship coverage | Chartbeat test »
Yorkshire 433 for 9 dec. and 51 for 1 lead Surrey 353 for 7 dec. (Pietersen 177*) by 132 runs
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Kevin Pietersen returned in style with bat in hand © Getty Images
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No need to talk about Kevin, clearly. If there were any suspicions among the England hierarchy that 100 days without a competitive innings while nursing his damaged right knee back to health might have somehow dulled Kevin Pietersen's edge, they can be discounted already, after only one visit to the crease.

Two days in the field had left him moderately sore, and certainly not in a position to dodge any sessions in the ice bath, but the deep-seated bone bruising that had laid him low since the second Test in Wellington in March appears no longer to be a problem. With bat in hand, which is, after all, the way in which he is judged, Pietersen was nothing less than brilliant, responding to his latest challenge with an unbeaten 177, his 48th first-class hundred and his ninth-largest.

As statements go, it was stunningly impressive, even though the quality of his ball-striking, the timing, the frighteningly deceptive power, the spontaneous innovation, is entirely familiar. He began like a coiled spring, almost running himself out off his first ball as he chanced a single from a push into the off side and was lucky that Adil Rashid's shy from cover was poor. But thereafter it became clear that his footwork was good, his eye sharp and that Yorkshire were in for a hard day. Ricky Ponting, regretful that an injured hand robbed him of the chance to play alongside his temporary colleague, can only have worried on behalf of his former Australian team-mates.

It was a decent Yorkshire seam attack, albeit an overworked one after Steven Patterson suffered a broken toe batting. With two former Test bowlers in Liam Plunkett and Ryan Sidebottom and another keen to emulate them in Jack Brooks, they offered Pietersen as tough an examination as England could have lined up for him at this stage, but his response was that of a player determined to quash all doubts.

Once he had settled, he unleashed an awesome repertoire, mixing clean, crisp drives off the front foot with sharp punches off the back and pulling brutally. Adil Rashid, the legspinner, suffered a fair few of those, along with reverse and conventional sweeps, even the odd ramp. He alone went for 73 off 55 deliveries, including four sixes. When he was offered a half-chance in the shape of a return catch, it was struck low and hard and he could not hold on, bravely through he dived.

Sidebottom took his share, too, conceding 36 off 44 balls, Pietersen swatting him over the midwicket boundary so disdainfully late in the piece he must have felt there was nowhere he could safely bowl.

His first half-century spanned 71 balls, the second only 35, with Rashid at his most vulnerable. He went for 34 runs in the space of just 14 deliveries during that onslaught but with only Adam Lyth and the debutant, Jack Leaning, as alternatives, Andrew Gale had little option but to stick with him, or else bowl his three seamers into the ground. Lyth, ironically, was the closest to getting him out when Andy Hodd put down a chance behind the stumps when he was 120.

In the context of the match, the innings began 17 minutes into the third day after a start delayed by an hour following the dismissals of Tim Linley, the nightwatchman, and Vikram Solanki, who was well caught by Andrew Gale at midwicket off a full-blooded pull. It ended when Surrey declared at 353 for 7, taking a fourth batting point but conceding a lead of 80 in the interests of advancing the game, at which point Pietersen's boundary tally comprised 17 fours as well as the seven sixes. He had shared partnerships with Zander de Bruyn of 97 and 118 with Steven Davies.

Pietersen declined to talk about his innings or the state of his right knee but had earlier pronounced himself in good order by tweeting: "And by the way - after fielding for 136 overs, my knee feels top drawer!! All smiles this Sunday!!"

He took a brief time out as Yorkshire began their second innings, but was back on the field after 10 overs, allaying any fears that he might have seized up. By the close, Yorkshire had extended their lead to 132 for the loss of the young opener, Alex Lees.

Captain Gale may set a target at some point on the final day, although with one bowler light and Pietersen in this form, the timing of any declaration will be a particularly unenviable task.

On Pietersen's behalf, it was left to Stuart Barnes, the bowling coach and nominally Ian Salisbury's stand-in following the latter's sacking, to speak. He described the innings as that of "a genius", admitting that the experience of working with Pietersen at close quarters was entirely new.

"I've only seen him in the nets during this game and he is clearly a genius," Barnes said. "What I've seen of him is very impressive. I'm not surprised he is world class cricketer. The one thing that stood out this morning is that he likes to practice in tough ways, getting people to bowl and throw off a short distance. He does the tough stuff very well, which is great because that's the message we want to put across to the lads in the dressing room.

"It was just a brilliant innings. The reverse hits, his signature shots, were superb but his hitting down the ground, the positions he gets into, were unbelievable and consistent too. That's what he was practising this morning, so I'm not surprised he executed them so well."

Jason Gillespie, the Yorkshire coach, said his bowlers were blameless. "I thought our bowlers bowled quite well, to be perfectly honest. I thought our seamers were very good and Rash was very good even though he went for over 100. We just hit a lad in very good form.

"It was pretty obvious he was getting himself enough match practice to get himself ready for England, and he batted that way. He was very positive and played with incredible intent. We bowled well, but couldn't get him out. It was as simple as that."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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