The England batsman's journey to his landmark game at Brisbane this week has not been straightforward. Telegraph Sport talks to the people who helped him on the way
A lesson for life at school
Let us start with a question. How could one of the finest batsman ever to play for England — perhaps the finest — go through his school years at Pietermaritzburg College without playing more than a handful of games for the 1st XI?
In his 2006 autobiography, Crossing The Boundary, Kevin Pietersen blamed his then cricket coach Mike Bechet.
“I will never have any time for that man,” Pietersen wrote. “I reckon he showed a real bias towards Matthew Cairns, who was a real teacher’s pet.”
Yet by placing such an obstacle in front of a confident, confrontational schoolboy, Bechet may also be responsible for waking his inner beast.
Pietersen knew from the start — even before he encountered KwaZulu-Natal’s quota system — that if he wanted something, he would have to earn it.
“We put out anything up to 36 cricket teams on a weekend, seven of them for seniors,” Bechet says.
“So going from a D team into a C team, that’s big stuff. Some people say kids get lost in a big school but it teaches you to fight for everything in your life.”
He and Pietersen are now back on speaking terms, but Bechet admits he was hurt by the autobiography.
“That was absolute garbage about Cairns being a teacher’s pet. He was a leggie, and Kevin was an off-spinner who could bat a bit.
"You’re always going to look for the guy who will take it away from the right-hander.
“What he did have was an unbelievable work ethic, and a ‘don’t tell me I can’t do it’ attitude.
"He changed English cricket at international level by asking, ‘Who are these Aussies anyway?’
"He can be difficult at times, but just talk to any of his team-mates: would they rather have him playing with them or against them?”
It was not that Bechet changed his mind between the first cricket term, played between January and March, and the second, between September and November.
Cairns’s family simply took him back to New Zealand.
But Pietersen seized his chance — “he was taking wickets and scoring hard-hitting 50s and 60s” — Grant Rowley, who captained that school 1st XI, recalls.
Soon both men had joined the Dolphins Academy and were making their debuts for KwaZulu-Natal B.
“One thing I remember is Kevin’s way of imitating some senior players’ batting styles or the way they would run up and bowl,” says Rowley, who will join a select group — Pietersen’s parents and three brothers, plus the former Hampshire seamer Richard Logan — to witness his old friend cross the 100-Test barrier this week.
“He could mimic Eldine Baptiste down to a tee. That was typical of his attitude — he wasn’t scared of anyone.
"But it’s true that no one could have predicted back then that he would pay 100 Tests. The only person who knew he would do that was Kevin himself.”
Champion of the Black Country
In the spring of 2000, Pietersen arrived at Cannock — the Staffordshire town where he had arranged to play a season of Birmingham League cricket — expecting to carry the bowling attack.
He found two experienced left-arm spinners in his way — Laurie Potter, the former Leicestershire all-rounder, and Staffordshire stalwart Guy Bulpitt. Like Cairns, they both took the ball away from the right-hander.
No matter. Pietersen reckoned he could bat too. So he went in at No 4 and swatted the local bowlers everywhere.
Then he stalked off in high dudgeon, even failing to attend the victory party when Cannock won the league (for the first and still the only time.)
As with Bechet, Pietersen would use his autobiography to settle a few scores about “those horrible Black Country accents” and an unpaid fee he felt he was owed for his work behind the bar.
Jamie Fleet, Cannock’s chairman at the time, remembers a young man who “was very confident, believed in his own ability”.
He adds: “There was a bit of friction because he wanted to bowl more, but it was a strong, strong team. It’s funny to think that there were two future England batsmen helping to decide the title in 2000: Pietersen at Cannock and Ian Bell at Coventry and North Warwickshire. Which shows how high the standard was.”
In his book, Pietersen is characteristically dismissive about the lodgings offered to him, which he describes as “one room above a squash court”.
This is disputed by Fleet who says “It’s hardly a bedsit — he had a toilet, a kitchen, a lounge and two bedrooms.
"And within a few paces you’ve got a fitness centre, a sauna, satellite TV and so on.
“My biggest gripe is he didn’t recognise what some people did for him.
"But the abiding message from Cannock is that we are happy to have been part of his success story.
"It would be great if he came back to the club one day and acknowledged that we were a stage on the road.”
On to the county stage
County cricket was beginning to notice Pietersen. During his time with Cannock, the TV presenter Nick Owen saw him score a fine century – Owen’s son played for the opponents in that match, Harborne – and recommended him to Warwickshire, who gave him a try in the second team.
Pietersen promptly top-scored with 92, hooking Surrey’s slippery fast bowler Carl Greenidge so meatily that he dislodged roof tiles on a nearby house.
But Warwickshire already had an off-spinning all-rounder in Neil Smith.
In any case, Pietersen was starting to receive admiring looks from Clive Rice, the great South African all-rounder who had recently taken over as Nottinghamshire’s coach. This was a far more natural marriage.
“I had noticed him in South Africa, both playing for Natal Schools and for the senior team, when he made a fifty batting with Shaun Pollock,” Rice recalls.
“I thought, ‘Dead right he can play’. Then he went to Birmingham and was the leading run-getter in the leagues there.
"I contacted him and said ‘KP, I’m not even asking you to come for a trial. Just come and play’.
“He joined in time for our pre-season in South Africa and you could see at once he was much better than what you’d got there.
"Mediocre players get annoyed with people who have real confidence, they feel they are being shown up, and KP caused animosity in the dressing-room.
"He raised people’s hackles. The way he could play, they struggled to handle it.
“When I took over, Nottinghamshire was an incestuous club, a bunch of friends who were playing together but not really performing.
"I couldn’t fire 15 players in one year, but some needed to go. I just tried to deal with the worst of a bad bunch.
“As for KP, they would gang up on him, as shown in the famous holdall story [when captain Jason Gallian threw Pietersen’s kitbag over the balcony with the words ‘If he doesn’t want to play for Notts he can ---- off.’] I had left by then, and KP left soon after.
“I was just trying to educate him and take him to a level where I had played at.
"I set him targets, because that was the way Richard Hadlee and I had operated.
"On that early tour when he came out to South Africa as part of the England one-day team, he made a hundred at East London and I was telling him that he had to do it again in the final match at Centurion, make sure he was man of the series and show the South African public what they had missed out on.
"Then in 2005 I told him that he had to make a big hundred in the Oval Test.”
The glory of 2005
There was nothing relaxed about England’s cricketers as they gathered in the Oval’s dressing room at 1pm on Sept 12, 2005. The scoreboard read 126 for 5 — a slender lead of 132 with two sessions left in this greatest of modern Ashes series.
Pietersen, aided by a bad drop at first slip by Shane Warne, had made 37 of them.
“He just had a look of a bit of fear about him,” remembers Michael Vaughan, who was England’s captain at the time.
“Before lunch, Brett Lee had bowled the fastest spell any of us had seen in a while.
"And it was difficult for the batsmen to know how to play it, because we only needed a draw to win the Ashes.
"I felt that if Kevin kept blocking it against Lee, he would get hurt.
"So we had a chat — not so much a sit-down talk, just a natural conversation that a skipper would have with any of his players.
“First we had a giggle about the ones he had already copped on his body, which is how batsmen react when someone’s bowling that fast. Humour releases the pressure a bit.
"Then I said: ‘If you feel you can hit it, don’t duck the ball. That’s not your style; your way is to hook and pull.
"Just because we’re in a tight situation, don’t feel you can’t take it on. But if you play the shot, commit to it. Put him in the stands a few times if you can.’
“I knew that, with one more hour of Kevin scoring as he can, the game would be out of reach for the Aussies. And that’s pretty much what happened.”
In the first half-hour after lunch, Pietersen faced 13 more balls from Lee and scored 35 runs from them, including two sixes. Lee was promptly removed from the attack.
“I wouldn’t take any credit for that,” says Vaughan. “It’s easy to be a captain when you’re dealing with genius.
"Even in those early games, I could see we were had something special on our hands.”
Sacked over fallout with Moores
On Dec 30, 2009, whispers began to circulate that something big was happening in the England camp.
Something unprecedented, in fact. National team coaches had been around since Mickey Stewart in 1986, but there had never been a rift on the scale of Pietersen’s fallout with Peter Moores.
Pietersen had started it, in playground terms. Asked to submit a report on the recent tour of India, he told his bosses: “I can’t lead this team forward if Peter Moores is coach.”
Whereupon the England and Wales Cricket Board came over like a teacher separating two warring brats. A week later, both men had been sacked.
Few would dispute that the regime that took over — with Andy Flower as coach and Andrew Strauss as captain — was better suited to the task.
Yet Steve Harmison, who was then approaching the end of his England career, believes that Pietersen has a right to feel bitter.
“If your captain and coach don’t get on, you should be able to thrash it out,” Harmison says.
“It was bang out of order that the whole situation went public. A lot of people in the media wanted to have a go at Kevin. This was their chance, and I felt so sorry for the lad.
“He was asked to give his review of the tour and did exactly what he was told, and said, ‘We’re not getting on’. Then suddenly he is stripped of the captaincy.
"The ECB were happy, too, because they had wanted Strauss to be captain all along, but he hadn’t been in the team when Vaughan resigned.
“That’s why I can understand Kevin refusing to be civil with the media now.
"Here’s a guy who has changed the face of cricket in this country. Maybe he didn’t appeal to the old-school-tie brigade who were used to a run-rate of 2.5 per over.”
So what of Pietersen’s captaincy? Graeme Swann was scathing in his autobiography. “He was never the right man,” Swann wrote.
“At one point in India his leadership was reduced to a period of screaming ‘F------ bowl f------ straight’ at everyone.”
Harmison is more charitable, yet he also acknowledges that Pietersen’s reign was destined to be a short one.
“He wasn’t the most confident speaker, as much as he is confident in everything else he does.
"And that was a transition period after the end of Duncan Fletcher, so the team wasn’t quite there.
“Kevin actually has a good cricket brain, but it maybe just isn’t what he is about.
"His first priority is to score hundreds. The marquee names don’t always suit the job.
"Somebody like Jacques Kallis is a great player but he wants to concentrate on his own game.
"And Kevin is the best cricketer I ever played with, without a doubt.”
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