WHEN he is good he is very, very good. Kevin Pietersen has thrown the four-match series into a spin with a score of 186 in the second Test that was so commanding and superior to every other batsman’s effort in the match that it is hard not to consider it one of the greatest innings by a visiting batsman in India.
Others were also vital to the England cause. Captain Alastair Cook scored another century and the pairing of Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann took 19 wickets. But the star turn was Pietersen.
Consider this. Cook’s achievement was superb and more notable as it was his second century of the series in very difficult conditions. Panesar and Swann outbowled the Indian twirlers but both benefited from a spin-friendly pitch – specifically requested by Indian captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Pietersen had no such advantage. The pitch was a proper turner with pace and bounce which meant every ball interested the hovering close catchers.
Anyone who scored runs earned them through superb concentration, discipline and diligence. Pietersen showed all those plus a sprinkle of stardust – an array of attacking shots that should have been almost impossible to execute. The reverse sweep which brought up his hundred was audacious but also well thought out. Both conventional and reverse sweeps were risky, so Pietersen changed style depending on the field and the line of the ball. Brilliant.
He forced through extra cover off the back foot because Dhoni left a gap. The fielder in that area was placed squarer – where nearly every other batsman would hit the ball.
Pietersen stood taller and adjusted his hands to find the gap. It was batting of the very highest class.
Considering the debacle in the summer with his disciplinary problems and exile from the England set-up, it was an innings played under the greatest external pressure.
It was also a personal triumph as he craves the adulation and dollars that playing Twenty20 in India can offer and a big innings only helped his image and money-making capability.
So what of the third Test starting in Kolkata on Wednesday?
The groundsman has objected to Dhoni’s demands for another turner and requested a month’s leave. Nevertheless England should hope Dhoni gets his way.
Selection would be straightforward: with Panesar and Swann in tandem, the only issue would be which seamers to pick. If fit, that would be James Anderson and Steven Finn.
Among the bastmen, Cook and Pietersen are the key but Matt Prior has also played very well.
Opener Nick Compton needs to continue to occupy the crease but with a little more strike rotation and aggression. Jonathan Trott just needs form and Ian Bell will, hopefully, come back from paternity leave in England with his mind on cricket and not nappies.
India were surprised by the defeat in Mumbai but Dhoni, ever gracious and competitive, has refused to compromise. He applauded England, told his team they had been outplayed and must do better and then insisted on another spinning pitch.
He argues that is Indian-style cricket and he is absolutely right.
Both Tests so far have provided fascinating duels from the first ball. Not every spicy or bowler-friendly pitch results in a three-day finish. England nearly saved the first Test and, without the brilliance of Pietersen, either side could have won the second.
Test cricket calls for a proper challenge for both bat and ball and for too long the blandness of pitches has discriminated against the bowlers. It is good to see batsmen having to work, bowlers enjoying some fortune and the momentum of a match moving back and forth between the sides.
The locals may prefer a flat pitch to favour Sachin Tendulkar, it is better for cricket that his struggles are so shown as creeping age steals away his genius. If he delivers another match-defining century on a turning pitch then the world would have witnessed a special innings again, just as it did with Pietersen in Mumbai.
Surely that is what Test cricket is about – something special.