Kevin Pietersen’s breakout knock of 158 at The Oval in 2005 is rated as one of the great Ashes innings, sealing the urn for England after an 18-year absence.
It came with the game and series on the line. At lunch on the fifth day England were five wickets down and leading by just 136 runs, with Australia hopeful of running through the rest of the line-up and chasing down a small total to level the series.
In their way stood Pietersen, who had unconvincingly withstood a pre-break barrage and been dropped twice. He responded in a manner which would become familiar, taking the attack to Australia with devastating effect and taking the game out of reach. The rest, warts’n’all, is history, but what would have happened had one of the two catches been taken, and Australia retained the Ashes as a result? Could Pietersen’s career had been over when it had barely begun.
““It was actually leading into that Test match where there were a load of journalists writing about how I was getting a lot of pretty fifties but actually if you’re going to bat in the middle order for an international team you’ve got to make them count and get hundreds,” KP said on a Sky Sports Watchalong of the finale of the Edgbaston Test. “There was a hell of a lot of pressure. At Lord’s I got 50 and out and 50 not out and here I got 70 and then got out. Manchester I completely missed out like my whole career. At The Oval there was a hell of a lot of pressure.
“They started to question my technique. In one-day cricket I was walking across my stumps and hitting the ball through the leg-side so I thought I’d take that into Test match cricket, and I remember [Geoffrey] Boycott, he was the one saying ‘I’m not so sure about this guy. His average isn’t fantastic,’ and then you [to Shane Warne] decided to knock me over on day one and I started to think to myself, ‘I’ve got one innings here.’”
Warne, one of those who dropped Pietersen early in his Oval hundred, concurred that Pietersen was under pressure, saying that Australia were targetting England’s middle order.
“It got to the last Test match, and I remember, I’m not sure if it was [Australia head coach] John Buchanan or whoever, but I remember someone saying, ‘there’s a lot of talk about these England batsmen, but if we can get some early wickets we can put some pressure on this middle order,’” said Warne.
“I remember thinking KP’s actually done better than that, but he’s got to make a big score at The Oval, and luckily enough you made one of the all-time great hundreds to help England win [the series]. I thought if you got nothing at The Oval, if Gilly had caught you or I had caught you, they might have said ‘Jeez I’m not sure about Kevin Pietersen’, but luckily enough you made that hundred and went on to make some unbelievable hundreds for England.”