Ranking Kevin Pietersen's 158 in the Top 10 England Innings of the 21st Century
Eight years ago today, Kevin Pietersen played one of the greatest innings in living memory when, at the Oval on the final day of a staggering series, he scored 158 scintillating runs to regain the Ashes for England after 18 years of pain.
On the anniversary of that great innings, B/R looks back and considers where that innings stands amongst the great England Test innings of the 21st century.
B/R has considered the quality of the innings itself, the match situation and indeed its wider implications.
Michael Vaughan: 183 Versus Australia, 2003
In all honesty, you could choose one of a number of Michael Vaughan innings.
This century was no different to many of the others in that it was elegant, classy and composed, and it is testament to Vaughan that there are indeed so many innings of this ilk in the 21st century.
This one stands out because it was the zenith of his p̶u̶r̶p̶l̶e̶ deep indigo patch of form. He scored 900 runs at an average of 90 in 2002 and this innings kickstarted his 2003 in similar style.
While England hurtled towards another Ashes series defeat, Vaughan was a beacon of brilliance for the touring side.
Graham Thorpe: 113 Versus Sri Lanka, 2000
Before Vaughan, Graham Thorpe stood out as England's most talented batsmen and never was it clearer than in Colombo in 2003 where he battled for 267 balls on a turning wicket against Muttiah Muralitharan to carve out 113 match-defining runs.
Andrew Strauss: 177 Versus New Zealand, 2008
Here is one where the innings itself was not that spectacular. More important was the backstory.
Andrew Strauss was, to most people's understanding, one more failure away from being dropped from the Test team, perhaps for good.
However, his 177 runs kept him in the side and, two years later, he became the England captain and went on to become one of the most successful ever.
This was an innings of enormous significance in the modern history of English cricket.
Jonathan Trott: 184 Versus Pakistan, 2010
This innings and indeed this match will never be remembered as they should be.
Unfortunately, Trott chose to play his finest innings in the Test match in which Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt were exposed for spot-fixing.
This Test is tarnished—as is the memory of this wonderful innings.
Trott came to the crease with England reeling and the ball hooping around corners. He drew on all his technical proficiency and circumspection to battle through it and play a match-defining innings.
Matt Prior: 110 Versus New Zealand, 2013
A strange choice at first glance, but this innings was representative of many good things.
Firstly, it was an unequivocal confirmation of Prior's brilliance. England had searched for most of the past decade for a replacement for Alec Stewart and failed.
Prior is now well on his way to surpassing the former Surrey gloveman in every respect.
It also represented the hatred this current England team have of losing; a defining feature in their long-term success. It was an innings that saved a match that should never really have been saved.
Thirdly, it was an innings of supreme quality. Despite the flat pitch, the New Zealand bowlers were all over England, and the ball was swinging and turning on a pressurised fifth day, but Prior fought through it and played his finest innings for his country.
Ian Bell: 113 Versus Australia, 2013
You could choose any one of Ian Bell's three Ashes centuries this year, such was their importance and elegance.
But this one tops the lot for being in the Test in which England won the Ashes and also for being the most pressurised.
Bell arrived at the crease with England holding on to a narrow first innings lead, but already three wickets down: 113 Bell runs later, the match had been turned on its head and the Ashes were soon to be England's.
Bellagance at its best.
Kevin Pietersen: 158 Versus Australia, 2005
Here it is then. No. 4 in the list.
The brutal decimation of Australia that won perhaps the best series of all time for England.
Pietersen rode his luck early in the innings but capitalised in spectacular fashion. The hooked sixes off Shaun Tait are imprinted on every England fans' memory.
Alastair Cook: 294 Versus India, 2011
This was the series in which England completed their ascent to the top of the Test rankings—perhaps the pinnacle of achievement in this century.
It is only right, therefore, that an innings from the series is included in this list and Alastair Cook's staggering 294 must be the one.
Kevin Pietersen also scored a brutal double century in this series, but what this Cook innings demonstrated that the Pietersen one didn't so obviously was the restraint and circumspection that saw England's batsmen dominate the world for 12 months and climb to the top of the rankings.
It remains the sixth highest score by an England player in a Test match.
Kevin Pietersen: 149 Versus South Africa, 2012
This innings is not helped by the fact the match ended in a draw due to rain and, in fact, it was merely one innings in a series in which England relinquished their No. 1 ranking.
However, such was its brutal sublimity, it must be ranked second.
Geoffrey Boycott—normally an outspoken pundit—was left speechless as Pietersen clattered the world's best bowler, Dale Steyn, to all corners of the ground.
There were moments in this innings that you had to watch twice to believe they actually happened. It really was that good.
Kevin Pietersen: 186 Versus India, 2012
Perhaps the greatest innings ever played in an England shirt.
Pietersen came to the crease with England 68-2 in their first innings, batting after India's effort of 326.
England had lost the first Test in Ahmedabad comprehensively, succumbing dramatically to spin bowling, and when Pietersen walked to the crease, the match, the series and perhaps even the England team had reached a critical juncture.
The pitch was by no means easy to bat on, but Pietersen paid no regard to this and masterfully took apart the Indian bowling attack. One bowler at a time, he pummelled the hosts into submission.
It was the beginning of England's historic series comeback and eventual victory, an innings that staved off a winter of misery and Pietersen's ultimate riposte to those who said he should never have played again following the text-gate saga.
This innings was breathtaking in every way.
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