Cow Corner

KP defies expectations in thrilling knock

Cricket captains have long memories, and in the 80th over of the third day of the second Test at Headingley South Africa skipper Graeme Smith cast his mind back to Edgbaston 2008.

Kevin Pietersen was 94 not out that day in Birmingham, and spinner Paul Harris was bowling. The match was in the balance, but The Ego could not resist it. He tried for a six and was caught on the boundary. South Africa won the match and then the series, results that brought about the end of Michael Vaughan's captaincy.

KP was 91 not out in that 80th over in Headingley, two shots away from a ton. Smith brought on the part-time spin of JP Duminy and put mid-on and mid-off three-quarters of the way back.

The temptation was there, but The Ego was not for tempting this time. He was there for the day, and he indeed got to the close undefeated on 149 not out from 212 balls.

England finished the day on 351-5, trailing by 68 runs with five wickets in hand. Pietersen's innings has probably saved the game, and indeed has given England an outside chance of a win that would square the three-match series 1-1.

It was Pietersen's 21st Test century, and the towering six he clubbed over Steyn's head in the eighth over after the new ball was one that bears comparison with any that have gone before. He admitted afterwards that he was trying to make a statement to Steyn, to prove that he had the talent to dominate the best bowler in the world even when he had the new ball in his hand.

He also showed that he was a team player by nursing James Taylor through his first Test innings. Taylor's stats say that he hit 34 from 104 balls, but the partnership of 147 was crucial in building the England platform. KP took the pressure off Taylor, and allowed the number six to play at his own pace. If Taylor goes on to have a long and successful Test career, he will look back and thank Pietersen for his help in that first innings.

The forecast suggests rain showers on day four on Sunday, but if the weather is kind we could have an intriguing Test match on our hands.

Pietersen and Matt Prior only have to bat for an hour or so and England will go past South Africa's total. The Proteas may have to bat in the second innings with a deficit, and both openers Alviro Petersen and Smith have picked up injuries that could affect their contribution.

Pietersen is not the most popular amongst the South African players. Harsh words were said on both sides when he decided to choose to play for England over the country of his birth. But the South Africa players as one went to shake Pietersen's hand at the close of play.

It was recognition that they had been the fall guys in one of the great Test innings of modern times, and appreciation for a man who has learned from earlier mistakes.

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STAT OF THE DAY: In the final session, England made 168 runs in 42 overs - Pietersen got 106 of them.

TWEET OF THE DAY: "KP's timing way flawed playing this kind of innings during Olympics - this kind of slaughter deserves to podium uncontested." The Daily Telegraph's Derek Pringle appreciates gold when he sees it.

TALKING POINT OF THE DAY: The look of shock on Dale Steyn's face when Pietersen almost took his head off with a straight drive. Steyn is the number one bowler in the world, but KP made him look a village trundler in that final session of the day.