England’s most talked-about cricketer will reach a century of caps tomorrow at the Gabba, when Alastair Cook’s tourists begin their bid for a fourth consecutive Ashes series triumph.
Pietersen will become just the tenth England player with 100 or more Tests to his name.
It all so nearly did not happen, however, for the South Africa-born batsman – because of last year’s breakdown of a working relationship with then captain Andrew Strauss and coach Andy Flower.
Only a period of ‘reintegration’ ensured Pietersen’s return for last winter’s tour of India, and he has since added a historic series victory there and last summer’s Ashes success to his CV.
Pietersen addressed a media conference at the Gabba yesterday, for the first time apart from in a post-match environment since Colombo 14 months ago, and did not seek to hide away from his lows as well as his highs.
The former include sending “provocative” text messages about Strauss to his compatriots in the South Africa touring team, at a time in summer 2012 when differences with his employers at the England and Wales Cricket Board had become intractable.
Pietersen said: “When you’re riding the crest of a wave and everything’s going really well for you, it’s hard to learn. But when you make mistakes in life, business, anything, that’s when you learn. I think as a person, you grow when you make mistakes.
“We’ve all made mistakes in all our lives. That’s when you learn the most, and if I hadn’t learned I wouldn’t be sitting [here] on the eve of my 100th Test match.”
The 33-year-old insists he holds no grudges against those who have chronicled his turbulent yet brilliant career, warts and all.
“I think with the way I’ve played – certainly against the norm – I was clearly going to be identified and targeted by journalists. I’ve clearly had to back it up on the field – and I’ve had fun. It’s been a great journey.
“The good has been good; the bad has been bad.
“Where my career is at now, I don’t think I can be any happier. I’m incredibly happy.”
Recalling his formative years and specifically the decision to leave his native country to pursue his ambitions, he said: “I wanted to chase my dream of playing international sport. It was the furthest dream from my mind, thinking I’d ever play for England – let alone play as much as I’ve played.”
As he stands on the verge of joining an elite group, Pietersen can scarcely believe the company he is about to keep.
Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement after his 200th Test three days ago, and centuries reached by England footballer Frank Lampard and New Zealand rugby player Dan Carter spring to his mind.
“I sit here now still not believing I’ve got 100 in the bank on Thursday. It’s quite surreal. Talking about 100th Test matches is a weird feeling for me personally.
“If you look at what happened last week with Sachin, saw in the rugby with Dan Carter and saw Lampard in the football – these are the kind of guys I look up to and wish I was. As a young kid, you grow up and see all these superstars. I look up to them and go ‘Those guys are proper sportsmen’. It’s hard for me to sit here and talk about myself ... It’s weird, very, very weird.”
He is pinching himself then, but is determined not to be deflected from the job he has to do over the next six weeks – and beyond.
“When it’s you yourself ... I’ll probably look back on it when I’ve finished my career and see it as something quite special. But at the moment I just see it as the start of an important Ashes series. It’s one we’ve come to win.”
There are other goals too, before he retires.
“With this side, we’ve won everything. We’ve won a Twenty20 World Cup, Ashes home and away; we’ve won in India.
“The World Cup 2015 is something I’d love to have a go at with England. So there’s that, and I’ve got home and away hundreds against each major nation – apart from South Africa.
“I think our tour to South Africa is in 2015/16. So if the old man can survive until then, I’d like to get there.”
He still has his eyes on 10,000 Test runs too. “I’d love to. I know there’s been a lot of people talking about my career – because I haven’t been talking about it over the last 12 months – saying that I’m probably going to finish at the end of this [series].
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but it’s my opinion that I’ll be playing for a while yet.”
England’s prospects appeared to improve yesterday, meanwhile, when Matt Prior, able to bat in the nets 24 hours earlier, this time went through his wicketkeeping drills as he seeks to recover from his torn calf in time for tomorrow.