Two years before he played his first Test in India, a largely unheralded Kevin Pietersen sparkled with the bat in the 2003/04 Duleep Trophy, India’s domestic first-class competition, showing early glimpses of his mettle on Asian pitches.
Back in 2004, when Pietersen was still an uncapped player featuring for Nottinghamshire, he travelled with a 15-member England A team to play zonal first-class cricket in India. Along with Pietersen, the squad contained plenty other future England cricketers, including Matt Prior, Simon Jones, Michael Lumb, Sajid Mahmood, Ed Smith and James Tredwell, who captained the side as well.
It was the first time in Duleep Trophy’s 40-year-old history that an overseas guest team had been included in the competition.
It proved to be a breakthrough series for Pietersen, 23 at that time, who played in both England A games in the tournament. He topped the run-charts in the six-team competition, smashing 345 runs @ 86.25, with two centuries and a fifty in four innings.
The first game saw him blast twin tons in Gurgaon, against a South Zone attack that included a young Sreesanth and veteran left-arm spinner Sunil Joshi – batting at four, he smashed 104 in England A’s 377-run total in the first innings and followed it with a 115 in the second, an innings in which only one other batsman crossed 50. Incredibly, though, England A lost the game, with Venugopal Rao’s 228 helping South Zone chase down 501 in the fourth innings.
In the next game against East Zone in Amritsar, which included future India captain, MS Dhoni, Pietersen scored 32 in the first innings, falling six short of another ton in the second innings during England A’s 367-run chase, which they fell short of by 93 runs. Pietersen’s 94 was the only half-century in the England A innings.
The successful tour played a part in Pietersen’s rise to the England Test team; just over a year later, he made a memorable debut in the 2005 Ashes.
It was an early teaser of Pietersen’s prowess on turning Indian pitches, a trait he exhibited exceptionally well on England’s Test tours to India in the years to follow. In nine Tests in India, Pietersen averaged 43.93 with two centuries and four fifties, with his 186 at Mumbai in 2012, one of his best knocks ever, ranked No.3 in Wisden’s men’s Test innings of the 2010s.
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