I Was There

Kevin Pietersen: 'Since that Mumbai innings, I absolutely murdered left-arm spin'

Kevin Pietersen, Andy Flower, Gautam Gambhir and Jonathan Trott on KP's stunning 186 at the Wankhede in 2012

Interviews by George Dobell  |  

Kevin Pietersen:

Kevin Pietersen: "Was it my last great Test innings? I don't even know if it was a great innings" © BCCI

By the time England arrived in Mumbai for the second Test of the 2012-13 series, they were 0-1 down, with India having won by nine wickets in Ahmedabad. Kevin Pietersen, recently "reintegrated" into the team following the text-gate saga, had been dismissed cheaply - both times bowled - by Pragyan Ohja in that first Test, reviving talk of his struggles against left-arm spin. For an England team that had been beaten 3-0 by Pakistan in the UAE at the start of the year, there was already a sense of déjà vu.

Andy Flower, England team director: I didn't want the narrative - either in the media or around the squad - to be "here we go again". And there was that danger after the first Test. But we had shown we were learning about spin. Alastair Cook has batted magnificently in the first match - I see his second-innings century there as a turning point in the series - and Matt Prior had made [91] runs too, in the second innings. I did still feel we could win the series. But we were running out of time.

Kevin Pietersen, England batsman: After I lost the captaincy, I was struggling to get runs. They were serving me spin with my cornflakes in Bangladesh [at the start of 2010] and I was at my wit's end. The media was all over me and, yes, it was getting to me. I reached out to Rahul Dravid and we had a long chat. He said, "Let me email you", and he sent a long email. He was very articulate in describing the ways to go about playing. It was very good of him. I knew how I was meant to play by the time we went to India. I practised a hell of a lot and was completely entwined in that way of playing.

Gautam Gambhir, India opener: Throughout his career, Pietersen did struggle against left-arm spinners. It was just the natural variation. But we knew if he got in he could attack us. Even the left-arm bowler.

"The shots you see on highlights shows, they are great, but they come because you are able to trust your defence" Kevin Pietersen

Pietersen: I never had too many issues against spin. My feet were really good. Mushy [former Pakistan legspinner Mushtaq Ahmed] told me he remembers thinking, "Who is this dude?" when he was playing for Sussex. I scored runs against [Shane] Warne too. But there was no DRS then. I used to lunge forward and get given not out when I was probably was out. DRS changed the way that whole operation happened. I averaged about seven [11.16] in that series in the UAE.

Flower: We had played so poorly against Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman in the UAE. Throughout the English summer that followed, we had sessions focused on playing spin because we knew the challenge facing us at the end of the year. Knowing how they had struggled against Pakistan, the whole group was receptive to those sessions.

Pietersen: The media scrutiny was ridiculous. It had been ever since I lost the captaincy in the Caribbean [in 2009]. I don't know if the reintegration thing made it worse. It was absolute mayhem. All day, every day. But it never seemed to affect my batting. My white-line fever meant I was able to concentrate on my batting. I was very free-spirited, happy and comfortable batting.

Gambhir: I wouldn't say we had a plan to exploit the reintegration thing. But there was some banter. There will always be banter when two good sides play each other. It wasn't as friendly as it is now.

Jonathan Trott, England batsman: I always thought the talk of Kev's struggles against left-arm spin were exaggerated. Not too many sides were bowling offspin against him - it just wasn't that successful against right-handers - so he was facing more left-arm spin or legspin. But maybe he started to believe the talk a little bit. He did go through a stage where he struggled for runs - I remember him saying he hadn't scored a century for 18 months [between May 2009 and December 2010] - but all players go through those phases. He was always going to come out the other side.

Andy Flower:

Andy Flower: "Kevin had enjoyed such tremendous success in world cricket, so to be exposed like that on the world stage in India left him receptive to learning and talking" Punit Paranjpe / © AFP/Getty Images

Pietersen: Did I struggle against left-arm spin? I was made to struggle more because the media kept writing about it. But I had to make sure I did everything right against bowlers pitching the ball on the stumps. It was always a work in progress. I had to guard my stumps and make sure I didn't lose my shape or fall over. I was always guarding myself against the fear of the spinner that pitched it on the stumps and straightened.

Flower: Kevin was very receptive at that stage of his career. Like all our batsmen, he had struggled in the UAE. I think he was a bit shocked by how exposed he had been in Ahmedabad too. He had enjoyed such tremendous success in world cricket, so to be exposed like that on the world stage in India, when everyone is watching, left him receptive to learning and talking. He had been humbled by it, I suppose, and he was on a learning journey. He was really pleasant to work with.

Pietersen: My biggest struggle was DRS. Before it came into play, I could get away with using my height and taking a long stride forward. A lot of umpires used to say, "Too tall, too far forward; we can't be sure, so it's not out." But after DRS, we started to be given out lbw on the front foot. Umpires became a lot more confident about doing it and I realised I couldn't whip balls through midwicket and think I've a second line of defence here with my pad. After the introduction of DRS, I realised I had to use my bat more. Whereas I had been a leg-side player, I started to hit through the off side much more. It actually made me a better player in the end.

Trott: As a team we worked very hard on coming to terms with DRS. I only played five Tests before DRS was introduced and can honestly say it didn't make that much difference to me. But of course, it's a massive factor and of course it changed the way a lot of people played. We had really struggled at the start of the year against Pakistan in the UAE, but what gave us confidence was going to Sri Lanka after that and getting a draw. Kev and I both made hundreds there, so we knew we could go away, play the turning ball and do well. That belief was very important to us.

Pietersen: I went to the nets straight after I was out in the second innings in Ahmedabad. I didn't even take off my pads. I just changed my shirt and went straight out with Mushtaq Ahmed [England's spin coach at the time] and Andy Flower. I was frustrated that I hadn't taken my practice into the middle. I'd practised really well, but I got caught like a rabbit in headlights when I went out to bat and didn't play the way I was supposed to. I was so frustrated. I went straight into the nets and batted for at least an hour. Straight away I started playing properly and I took that practice into the match in Mumbai. The whole time leading into the game, I kept saying to myself, "It's a practice game. Take your practice into the middle. Play like you practise."

"Spinners are like babies. You have to take care of them like your kids. They get thrashed at times. You have to be patient with them" Gautam Gambhir

Trott: Kevin had trained really well in the nets. He was doing the basics really well. He had such a great record that if he didn't do well, he would take it quite personally and it would spur him on to try harder and make sure he was ready for the next opportunity. He was determined to do well for England after what had happened in the summer. He liked the big stage and he didn't want to miss out.

Pietersen: The best thing about travelling in the subcontinent is, you get millions of spinners. I used to bat for hours and hours against these guys who just wanted to bowl to me. At that time, I was working with Mushy on my front-foot press and making sure I played off the back foot as much as I could. It was just about reading length and making sure my footwork was really fast. Mushy would just critique my footwork.

Flower: Cook's century in Ahmedabad proved to the whole team that you could stay in and make runs in these conditions. He really led from the front on that tour. I remember those sessions very well.

Pietersen: My defence was really good. My feet were exceptional. I had practised so well. And after the frustrations of not taking that into the Test in Ahmedabad… I wanted to make it count in Mumbai. How confident was I in my defence at that time? Completely.

Despite Cheteshwar Pujara's century, India made a modest 327 in their first innings in Mumbai as Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann shared nine wickets between them. When Pietersen came to the crease, England were 68 for 2 in reply.

Pietersen lost his wicket to left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha three times in the series: twice in the first Test in Ahmedabad, and then in Mumbai after making 186

Pietersen lost his wicket to left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha three times in the series: twice in the first Test in Ahmedabad, and then in Mumbai after making 186 © BCCI

Trott: The pitch was a bit worn and it got dusty quite quickly. Of course it spun. We were in India, you expect that. But it didn't deteriorate that much throughout the game. We had no complaints.

Flower: I thought it was a mistake to prepare that big-turning pitch. It did offer a lot of assistance to the spinners. And with England having Swann and Panesar in our side - and those two guys bowling so quickly - it brought us into the game as long as we could find a way to score runs on it.

Gambhir: We had two early wickets and we thought Ojha could put [Pietersen] under a lot of pressure. In those conditions, we felt we could get anyone out. In retrospect, though, we didn't put enough runs on the board. If India had made 500, Pietersen comes under pressure to save the Test. As it was, he probably batted when the pitch was at its best and without a lot of scoreboard pressure.

Trott: By the time Kevin came in to bat in Mumbai, Ojha had got me out twice in the series. Once he'd spun one sharply and taken the shoulder of the bat; the other had skidded on and trapped me leg before. I went back to one that was too full. Yeah, it was tough. You have to pick length very quickly.

Any nerves Pietersen may have had were assuaged when he drove his first ball, a slightly overpitched delivery from Harbhajan Singh, through the covers for four. There were two more fours in Singh's next over - one a cut, the other a lofted drive after Pietersen skipped down the wicket - and he was away.

"The media scrutiny was ridiculous. It had been ever since I lost the captaincy. But it never seemed to affect my batting" Kevin Pietersen

Pietersen: It was a nice way to start. It wasn't premeditated. I didn't really target anyone in particular. It was about playing as I practised and the ball was there to be hit, so I hit it.

Gambhir: We had noted how he struggled against left-arm spin. And we included three spinners. But he did bat well. He managed to dominate the spinners. He forced us to have in-out fields and he hit well over mid-on and mid-off.

Pietersen: It was spinning like crazy. It actually spun too much. Balls were ripping to slip. There was no way I was hitting them.

Flower: He stamped his authority on the game very early. There were a couple of shots against the spin off Harbhajan - through and over extra cover - that were simply breathtakingly good. The crispness of his attacking play, on a big turning wicket, was astounding. He is an incredibly talented sportsman.

Pietersen: The angle of attack from Ojha was difficult. He pitched a lot of balls on the stumps, whereas Harbhajan and [R] Ashwin were bowling wide outside off stump. There was a lot less risk attached to facing them than there was Ojha.

Gambhir: I wouldn't say Harbhajan was in decline. He had been out of the side, though, and he was making a comeback. Spinners are like babies. You have to take care of them like your kids. They get thrashed at times. You have to be patient with them. When a spinner feels insecure, it shows in his rhythm and his desperation to take wickets. India were playing three spinners and Harby wanted to be the best. He wanted to make things happen and to be among the wickets. When it doesn't happen, you get a bit desperate.

Jonathan Trott:

Jonathan Trott: "Cook's skill and patience were phenomenal. And Kev's brute force and power were incredible" © BCCI

Trott: Sometimes you just get a feeling that something unusual is starting to unfold. You could see by the way Kev was hitting the ball right at the start of his innings that he was right on top of his game. By the time he had about 30, he was hitting the ball pretty much wherever he wanted. I knew we were about to witness something special.

Flower: How early did I realise this could be one of those innings? Quite early, actually. He looked very good almost immediately. The definitive way he was going forward or back was exactly what we had been working on. He was putting all his training into practice. It was chalk and cheese from first to second Test. But the thing with Kevin was that some of those audacious shots - particularly on a wicket where the ball is turning a lot - carry an element of risk. As a coach there was an element of trepidation watching him.

By the close of play on day two, Pietersen was unbeaten on 62. But England were still 149 runs behind.

Pietersen: My wife, Jess, had flown out for the game. We were just in our own bubble, doing our own thing. I was very keen to get through the morning session. I've not looked at the numbers, but I'm sure I have a really, really bad record for starting again the next morning. In fact, Jess always used to laugh and say that whenever she came to watch me, I was always out just after she had sat down. So getting through the next morning was my only concern.

Gambhir: It's tough once Cook and KP are in. We knew that if we could get them out, we were right back in the game. And we felt KP might give us a chance. But we had to get him early. If you didn't, it could come back to haunt you.

Trott: Look at the other scores in that innings. After Cook and KP, the next highest score was 29. And that was from the other opener [Nick Compton] and was made, in part, against the seamer. It was really tough. But Cook's skill and patience were phenomenal. And Kev's brute force and power were incredible.

"I remember every single Test against India. It's series like that which define you as a player" Kevin Pietersen

Pietersen was soon in full flow on the third day. He slog-swept Ojha twice, against the spin, over the leg-side boundary, and drove him for another six over extra cover. One strike, a drive launched for six over long-off off Ashwin, stuck in the mind of many of those watching.

Pietersen: I remember that shot. There are two or three in my career that I look back on and think, "How on earth did you do that?" That was one of them. The other that jumps to mind was at Leeds [also in 2012] when I hit Dale Steyn through midwicket off the front foot. It sort of felt like a slow-motion jab. They played a montage of my career on Sky when I retired and those two shots stood out. Honestly, I've no idea how I did that, really.

Gambhir: His sweep was a real strength, but so was hitting over long-off and long-on. I remember one shot against Harby in Mohali on a previous tour. He switch-hit him for six. It was the first time I had seen that. And it was a huge ground.

He had all the shots and he liked to dominate. There was such a small margin of error when you bowled at him. Once he got his century, he was dominant. He scored at a very good strike rate and it was difficult to stop him. He put Ojha under a lot of pressure.

Mumbai is actually a fabulous place to play once you're in - it's a bit like England, in that respect - because there's some bounce in the wicket. It means you can hit those big shots and hit through the line.

Pietersen: It was probably my back-foot play that made me happiest. If you can play off the back foot like that, it shows you're picking the length. All those other shots, they're the glory shots. But you have to build the foundations. Those shots look great. People tell you how good you are, but I played best when I trusted my defence. The shots you see on highlights shows, they are great, but they come because you are able to trust your defence.

Gambhir: He could sweep a good ball. With the reach he had, he could sweep lots of balls. It unsettles a spinner the most. They understand that if they bowl short, the batsman will cut, and if they overpitch, the batsman will drive, but what irritates them the most is when they bowl a good-length ball and get swept. Then the spinner changes their line and KP reverse-sweeps them. Remember, he could hit those sweeps on both sides of the wicket for six.

The 2012-13 England squad was the last to beat India in a Test series at home

The 2012-13 England squad was the last to beat India in a Test series at home Gareth Copley / © Getty Images

The Mumbai innings was Pietersen's third Test century of the year. All might reasonably be defined as great. He was only to make one more Test century.

Pietersen: I rate the Colombo one as the best of those three in 2012. Just because of the space I was in mentally and physically at the time. I had toured Sri Lanka before and found it hard to bat because of the heat. I made 60-odd in a one-day game in Colombo and by the time I came off… it was so hot. Look, I slept with the air-con on in my house in England last night. And it's the middle of winter. Cook might not sweat, but I do! So I thought getting a hundred in Sri Lanka was impossible. The only way I thought I could do it was if I went out and had a swing. I got lucky in Colombo. It was a good wicket; I was playing well. Any opportunity I got, I tried to hit for six and I did.

Trott: Kevin's told you the Colombo innings was better, hasn't he? Yeah, he's got a thing about the heat. I don't know why. He hardly ran. Just kept hitting sixes. They were both exceptional innings. So was the one in Leeds.

Gambhir: How good an innings was it? It was very good, but Cook in that series was phenomenal. He had to start the innings, he had to provide the platform. I don't want to take anything away from KP, but I think Cook in that series, Hashim Amla in Nagpur, and Jacques Kallis at Eden Gardens might have been even better innings by overseas players in India.

Flower: Cook was batting at his rate - and that was brilliant - but the way KP accelerated and put pressure on their bowlers and captain… that was huge for us. It gave us a cushion.

"I always thought the talk of Kev's struggles against left-arm spin were exaggerated. But maybe he started to believe the talk a little bit" Jonathan Trott

Trott: Relieved isn't quite the right word, but he was pleased to have played an innings like that. There had been such a lot of effort to get him back into the side. He might not say it, but I'm sure he was happy to repay Cooky's faith in him. He was quite humbled by that. And he had realised how special playing for England was. It looked like it had gone for a while, but he been given another chance. After that innings, he knew he had taken the chance.

Pietersen: Was it my last great Test innings? I don't know. I don't even know if it was a great innings. I don't look back at things like that. I got a hundred at Old Trafford in the Ashes the following summer that should be right up there. It was the only hundred I ever made there in any format. But it rained and people forget. Since that Mumbai innings, I absolutely murdered left-arm spin.

England took a first-innings lead of 86. With Panesar and Swann again using conditions brilliantly, only one India batsman - Gambhir - reached double figures in their second innings and England were able to clinch a ten-wicket victory. They went on to win in Kolkata and secured a draw in Nagpur to complete a 2-1 series victory. No side has won a Test series in India since.

Flower: I always thought it was an amazing achievement for an England side to win in India as we did. Historically England batsmen struggle against the exposure to that amount of spin. And when I say "amount of spin", I mean the amount the ball turns, the volume of overs bowled by spinners, and the sustained level of skill you need to remain at the crease to score heavily. I've wonderful memories of that tour. I remember Swann bowling [Virender] Sehwag through the gate in Kolkata and the reverse swing we got there. And I think Joe Root, who made his debut in Nagpur, would have learned a lot from watching the way Cook batted and captained. When we secured the draw in Nagpur, I was sitting near the analyst and so was Kevin. I remember the two of us standing and exchanging a big hug. It felt good. It was a really enjoyable tour.

Trott: Winning in India is a bit achievement in itself, but beating that India side… They were a really good team. It's one of the big achievements of my career. Of any of our careers.

Flower: Given the history of the Ashes, I rate winning in Australia in 2010-11 just a little bit higher, but being able to score runs against spin in India and then taking 20 wickets against batsmen who are pretty damn good against spin bowlers… It was a really significant achievement.

Pietersen: Winning in India was a huge thing. Look, I can hardly remember playing Test cricket against New Zealand, but I remember every single Test against India. It's series like that which define you as a player. So the three series I look back on with most pride were the 2005 Ashes in England, the 2010-11 Ashes in Australia and that 2012 series in India.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo