Kevin Pietersen

Kevin Pietersen

Expansive with the bat and explosive with the bombast, the South African-born Kevin Pietersen is not one for the quiet life. Pietersen, an enthusiastic, bold-minded and big-hitting No 5, first ruffled feathers by shunning South Africa - he was disenchanted with the quota system - in favour of England; his eligibility coming courtesy of an English mother. He never doubted he would play for England: he has self-confidence in spades but, fortunately, he has sackfuls of talent too. Sure enough, as soon as he qualified in September 2004, he was invited to tour Zimbabwe for that winter's one-dayers, where he averaged 104 in three innings. Success here earned him a late call into England's team against none other than South Africa in early 2005.

 

Undeterred by hostile receptions from the home crowds, he announced his arrival - loudly, of course - with three centuries in five innings, and in doing so demonstrated his peerless eye for the ball and for making headlines, too. On reaching his maiden ton in the second ODI at Bloemfontein, he kissed his badge with unreserved fervour and afterwards announced his next ambition: getting a tattoo of three lions and his England number. Playing at Test level was next on the Pietersen to-do list, and, as a man who puts his money, if not always his mind, where his mouth is, it was only a matter of time. Overlooked for two Tests against Bangladesh, he made his debut against Australia at Lord's of all places, and responded with a pair of hard-hitting fifties in a losing cause. Six dropped catches in the series appeared to have dented his brash confidence, but with the series at stake, he once again showed his unswerving eye for the limelight by clubbing a phenomenal 158 on the final day at The Oval, to secure the draw that England needed for a first Ashes triumph in 18 years. First to congratulate him on his feat was Shane Warne, his good friend and captain at Hampshire, whom Pietersen had joined at the start of the season after three eventful and fractious years at Nottinghamshire.

Unsurprisingly, that innings proved hard to live up to, but astonishingly Pietersen managed it, clubbing two more big hundreds in his next two Test innings in England, the second of which - against Sri Lanka at Edgbaston - included a remarkable reverse-sweep for six off Muttiah Muralitharan. In Australia the following winter, he once again lived up to his reputation with hard-earned runs, but his tour ended in disappointment when he flew home with a fractured rib, courtesy of Glenn McGrath after the first match of the CB Series. While England's World Cup was a miserable failure for the team it was a personal success for Pietersen who hit two centuries - including his first ODI ton in a winning cause against West Indies - and confirmed his role as England's leading batsman. His dominance continued against West Indies with a majestic 226 at Headingley - finally beating his previous 158, a score he had made three times previously. It was the highest score by an England batsman since Graham Gooch's 333, and his march towards greatness continued.

But then followed the inevitable dip - 10 innings without so much as a fifty - before he bounced back with an uncharacteristically backs-to-wall 129 in England's third Test against New Zealand in Napier. Another tough century followed in the return rubber at Trent Bridge, but that was just the prelude to the innings that he had most craved - a hundred at Lord's in his first appearance against his native South Africa, a performance which quashed once and for all the lingering doubts about his switch of allegiance. After a rapturous reception from the Lord's crowd, he later declared he had never felt "so loved". Just a few weeks later and he had completed his extraordinary journey from naturalised Englishman to England's captain when he took over from Michael Vaughan who announced his retirement just after the third Test against South Africa. As he prepared to lead them in all three forms of the game, Pietersen declared: "I'm going to give it a go like I give everything a go." He was true to his word: a century and a victory in his maiden Test in charge at The Oval, followed by a thumping 4-0 victory in the subsequent ODI series.