Kevin Pietersen reflected on a “satisfying” century but said his 22nd Test hundred would mean a lot more if, as expected, it is part of a famous victory over India.
The most mercurial cricketer of his generation, Pietersen displayed an uncanny mastery of conditions and of world-class opponents to follow his captain Alastair Cook in equalling the all-time England record for Test tons.
Their double-century partnership put the tourists on course for a total of 413 all out, allowing Monty Panesar (5-61) and Graeme Swann the leeway to exploit spinners’ conditions at the Wankhede Stadium. India closed on 117-7, just 31 runs in front, and surely on course to lose today in a series which will then stand 1-1 with two to play.
There was an understatement in much of what England’s returning hero Pietersen said afterwards, which contrasted with his supreme batsmanship.
“It was a pretty difficult wicket,” he said.
“You knew that at some stage a ball had your name on it, so to have got some (runs) on that was satisfying.”
Pietersen’s performance will inevitably be set in the context of his long summer of contract wrangles, and his “reintegration” as an England cricketer only after a tortuous series of clear-the-air meetings with management and team-mates.
In an environment which prizes the team ethos above all, he was at pains yesterday to stress that his personal glory will count for little without consequent collective success.
“It will mean a lot more if we win (today),” he added.
“Getting hundreds for England, and especially Cookie going to 22 and then saying to me ‘you haven’t got far to go, then you’re there as well’ ... it was a special moment. ‘Chef’ was magnificent, and it’s a great feeling to be at the top of the list with him.”
The wonder of day three in the second Test was that Pietersen (186) – and in his own more functional fashion, Cook (122) – made India’s three-strong spin attack labour so much longer for their successes.
Pietersen, in particular, was largely untroubled by sharp turn and bounce and made a nonsense of a weakness many have perceived against left-arm spin by taking heaviest toll on India’s most dangerous bowler Pragyan Ojha (5-143).
England, nine-wicket losers in the first Test, can realistically again contemplate the possibility of series victory.
“We’ve come here to try and win and want to ‘front up’ to the challenge,” Pietersen added.
“The captain asked that of us, especially before this second Test match, and some of the guys are really going a long way to win us this one.”
Pietersen, who infamously claimed only three months ago that it was “not easy being me” in an apparently dysfunctional England dressing room, is telling a very different tale now.
“The dressing room is absolutely fantastic,” he said.
“We’re sticking together really well, all helping each other out – and not letting things get on top of us.
“If anybody is going through a rough time, everybody else is right behind them. It’s a very united dressing room at the moment, and it will be even more so if we manage to pull off a brilliant victory (today).”
The transformation in Pietersen’s – and England’s – fortunes is hard to credit in the space of a week.
Two fretful innings at the Sardar Patel Stadium amounted to 17 and two, and looked the work of a troubled mind.
Here, he was imperious – just as in Colombo eight months ago and, even amid the disintegration of relations with his employers and colleagues, against South Africa at Headingley Carnegie in August.
“I wasn’t playing well in Ahmedabad,” said Pietersen.
“I didn’t trust my defence as much as I did coming into this Test match.
“As a batter, if you don’t trust your defence as much you try too many things; you try to force the issue.
“I went and did a lot of hard work, as I always do, and luckily it paid off.”
He discounts the suggestion that he was simply trying too hard in his comeback Test after those fraught months of isolation.
“Not at all, no,” he said.
“I like to keep things simple, but I just didn’t go into that fixture with the right defence,” said Pietersen.
“I don’t think the preparation leading into the Test match tested me enough.”
Did he ever fear that his international career might be over, when vexed negotiations with England were at their lowest ebb?
An absence of doubt about that would surely not be human; on the other hand, on yesterday’s physical evidence, Pietersen is perhaps just made of different stuff.
Either way, he insists, he does not and will not waste energy about an uncertain future.
“I never know what’s going to happen tomorrow; I don’t take myself that seriously,” he said.
“I do everything on a day-to-day basis. What will be will be.”
Yesterday, it was magnificent.