After 30,329 professional runs, the great England batsman has hung up his blade for good. We select the 10 defining moments from an outstanding, colourful and unforgettable international career.
South Africa v England
Seventh ODI, Centurion, 2005
A baptism of fire for the South Africa-born naturalised Englishman. Having eloped to England as an ambitious 19-year-old at the suggestion of his mentor Clive Rice, Pietersen’s brilliance for Notts had seen him fast-tracked into the England set-up, and he duly made his ODI debut against Zimbabwe in 2004, as a prelude to a fiery seven-match series against the country of his birth.
Pietersen was subjected to a hostile reception from the locals, but the jeers and whistles turned to cheers in the final match from Centurion, as a third century of the series was greeted with a standing ovation. Pietersen’s sheer brilliance had won over a public that had regarded him with suspicion. It would be the story of his career.
England v Australia
First ODI, Bristol, 2005
Much of the talk before the 2005 Ashes concerned whether Pietersen would be included in the first squad. The first ODI of the pre-Ashes series settled the debate, his staggering 65-ball 90* propelling England to victory against a stunned Australia side, for whom Jason Gillespie in particular was subjected to fearsome punishment.
Pietersen had rescued England from a parlous position in the match to establish himself as their No.1 one-day player, less than a year after his debut. The Test career, now inevitable, was just around the corner.
England v Australia
First Test, Lord’s, 2005
57 & 64*
England may have lost the match, but they unearthed a star. Glenn McGrath, as was his custom at Lord’s, dominated the game, his spell of five wickets for two runs on the first afternoon effectively sealing the result there and then, but Pietersen was unbowed, and if anything, brashly disrespectful of McGrath’s towering reputation, depositing the fast bowler into the Lord’s pavilion on the second morning, and climbing into Shane Warne in the second innings, as back-to-back fifties confirmed his readiness for Test cricket. The summer was just getting going…
England v Australia
Fifth Test, Oval, 2005
The day the KP legend was born. On day 25 of 25, the Ashes series was still anyone’s. The London ground was heaving on Monday 12 September, and conspicuously nervous. England needed to draw the match. Australia had to force victory to halve the series and retain the urn. At 127/5 at lunch, England were tottering, just 133 runs ahead.
At least Pietersen was still there, but barely, Brett Lee having dished out one of the fastest spells ever seen at the ground. At the break, Pietersen turned to his captain, Michael Vaughan, and asked him what to do. Vaughan told him to go out and have a whack.
The period post-lunch has entered into Ashes folklore. The more Lee pounded in, the further Pietersen hit him. Hook shots landed in the crowd; flat-bat straight drives off the back foot flew at waist height past the sprawling umpire: when Lee was finally removed from the attack post-lunch, Pietersen had smashed 41 in 19 balls, moving from 35 from 60 balls to 76 from 79.
Stage set, damage done, the century was inevitable. In all he would hit seven sixes in his innings. This was how to save a cricket match, Pietersen-style. The complexion of English cricket changed that very day.
England v Sri Lanka
Second Test, Edgbaston, 2006
Pure genius. Muttiah Muralitharan had rarely been reverse-swept in his career. He had certainly never been reverse-swept – or switch-hit – for six. He was that day.
In an innings in which no other player made a score in excess of 30, Pietersen had demonstrated his capacity to dominate a match situation like few others in history.
Australia v England
Second Test, Adelaide, 2010
England had been trying, without luck, to win an Ashes series in Australia for 24 years. A draw at Brisbane after falling behind in the match preceded a tussle at Adelaide which Pietersen would come to dominate, his double century – relentlessly compiled, within himself, shorn of much of his flamboyance – setting the platform for an innings victory. They would take the series 3-1.
England v Australia
ICC World T20 final, Barbados, 2010
For all their strides in Test cricket, England’s limited-overs teams remained behind the best in the world. Pietersen ensured their barren run in world tournaments would stop here in the West Indies.
The Player of the Tournament was irresistible with the bat, making more runs than any other player and lending a calm hand against Australia in an eventually one-sided final. His position as one of the most complete batsmen in the world, in any format, was assured.
Sri Lanka v England
Second Test, Colombo, 2012
151 & 42*
With temperatures soaring into the forties and the tourists already one-down in the series, KP played perhaps his most purely audacious knock since that life-changing day at The Oval.
He later explained that with the heat so oppressive, any thoughts of playing a conventional innings were inconceivable, and so he’d turned to all-out attack, launching six sixes and belting 16 fours in barely over three hours of breathless batsmanship. England won the match to square the series.
England v South Africa
Second Test, Headingley, 2012
Pietersen’s penultimate Test century on English soil was probably his most contentious and compelling. It was an open secret that there were issues behind the scenes, and the extent of the unrest would lead to KP infamously declaring in a post-day press conference that it was “hard being me in that dressing room”.
The innings itself, studded with 22 fours and a six, contained one particular shot which he later claimed to be one of his two best shots in Test cricket.
In a 2013 interview with All Out Cricket magazine, he recalled the moment. “In terms of shots, there was one shot off Dale Steyn where I pulled him through mid-wicket, which will probably rank up there as one of the two best shots I’ve ever played.
“It was one of those shots when the bowler is running up and you’re anticipating – and having anticipated from the way that Dale ran in, and from what I’d done previously and how his mindset was and the state of the game – it was one of those balls that I just knew the shot to play.
“I just thought, this is the only ball that he can bowl and the only ball that he’s going to bowl, and I had the shot pre-planned in my head, and it hit the middle of the bat and it just looked so… slow in the way it just went.”
India v England
Second Test, Mumbai, 2012
His final hundred in an England shirt away from home, and a masterpiece on a turning track that not just underscored an England victory, but cemented his reputation among an adoring Indian public.
If the pull shot against Steyn was one of his two greatest shots, the other would come here, against the left-arm spin of Pragyan Ojha.
Ojha was bowling over the wicket and turning the ball away from Pietersen to a packed off-side field. KP waited for the wide one and hit him clean, in slow motion, over extra cover for six. “You look at the switch-hits and stuff because it’s fun and it’s adventurous, but just the slowness of my bat speed in that shot was what stands out to me. I look at those two shots – against Steyn and Ojha – and I don’t normally like to talk about my shots – but I do occasionally look at those and go, ‘How the hell did you do that!’”
It was a question that observers had asked many times over. The most talked-about, obsessed-over and beguiling batsman of his era finishes up with 8,181 runs from 104 Tests, with 23 hundreds and 35 fifties; nine centuries and 25 fifties from 136 ODIs; seven fifties from 37 T20Is, a hand in four Ashes series wins, an ICC World T20 title, and a reputation as the modern game’s most thrilling compiler of match-winning innings.