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Kevin Pietersen’s brilliance against South Zone in 2004 rarely comes into the picture when cricket pundits talk about his rise to the stardom © Getty Images (File Photo)

As England’s swashbuckling middle-order batsman Kevin Pietersen prepares to play his 100th Test at the Gabba, Brisbane, Bharath Ramaraj takes a trip down memory lane to pen marvellous centuries from the willowy wielder when he was largely an unknown player.

England’s Kevin Pietersen is a box-office entertainer in the world of cricket. From controversies to sparkling jaw-dropping hundreds to make the world’s best fast bowler Dale Steyn look utterly pedestrian; here is a cricketer who is always hogging the limelight.

Almost a decade ago when Pietersen and his England A (known as England Lions now) teammates touched the shores of India to play as a guest team to take part in the Duleep Trophy, he still hadn’t made his debut for England and very few even knew that a cricketer by the name of Pietersen was playing County cricket.
 
Yes, Pietersen had caused a few ripples in the County circuit back in England for his celestial ability to tear apart opposition attacks to shreds. He was also known as a difficult man to handle which would become evident when he had a public spat with Nottinghamshire’s captain Jason Gallian at the end of 2004 County season. However, he was still largely an unknown player and a long way away from being known as the ruling king of world cricket.
 
So, when the largely unheralded Pietersen along with his teammates travelled to play a four-day game against South Zone at Gurgaon in February 2004, none of South Zone bowlers could have envisaged that they were about to be hit by a gale force that would floor them into submission. After all, batsmen from England were always scared of playing on turning tracks with them what seemed like mysteriously looking out for King Cobras and and Common Indian Kraits hidden underneath the surface.
 
If we turn back the pages to South Zone vs England A game held in 2004 at Gurgoan, Pietersen came into bat with the score reading two for 55 in the first innings. Just when South Zone’s spin twins, Sunil Joshi and Ramkrishnan Ramkumar were about to take a vice like grip over English batsmen with their wily tricks, the 23-year old Pietersen’s merciless devastation left them in a state of complete daze. With twinkling footwork, he made both spinners wince with pain at every shot he essayed. He used his reach to bring out his now famous slog-sweep to good effect too. Even the mercurial and controversial seamer S Sreesanth came in for some harsh treatment. A few years later, while bowing to Pietersen in a Test match at Mohali in 2006, Sreesanth had reminisced about how challenging it was to bowl to the South African-born batsman in that game against England A at Gurgaon. In fact, Pietersen’s hundred took England A to a position of strength in the first innings of the match against South Zone.
 
Unfortunately for South Zone’s bowlers, with a volley of thunderous strokes, Pietersen’s deadly venom again stung the hapless bowlers in the second innings too. From 10 for two, England A recovered to 297 all out largely on the back of Pietersen’s stunning century. Such was his audaciousness that experienced journalist Vijay Lokapally called him as the “best batsman of that tournament.” Poor Ramkumar, as the rising star Pietersen left dreadful scars on the the left-arm spinner’s psyche by thwacking him all over the park. Ramkumar went at almost five runs per over in the second innings. Curiously, the other bowler who came in for some severe treatment was yet again Sreesanth.
 
Pietersen’s heroic efforts in both innings though, wasn’t good enough to take England A to a victory. Venugopal Rao stole the thunder from Pietersen with his believe-it-or-not double hundred to help South Zone chase down a mammoth total of 503. England A had themselves to blame for it, as they dropped a slew of catches. Despite England A flopping miserably in the tournament, it was crystal clear that Pietersen was a cricketer who could become a glittering star in international cricket with his unreal exhibition of batsmanship. Unfortunately, even now the Duleep Trophy tournament held in 2004 is infamous for poor accommodation and poor quality of pitches that were on display. So, Pietersen’s insane brilliance against South Zone in 2004 rarely comes into the picture when cricket pundits talk about his rise to the stardom.
 
Days have turned into months and months into more than nine years now since Pietersen gave a glimpse of his matchless brilliance in India. Pietersen himself has become one of the twinkling stars in world cricket. As he gets ready to play his 100th Test, one can only take a trip down memory lane and marvel at the sheer confidence with which the great man came to the shores of India in 2004 and ruthlessly dominated Indian spinners on his very first tour with experienced Indian journalists even hailing him as the ‘best batsman of the tournament.’ 

(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)