KP, THE SPECIAL ONE

It is not just that Pietersen is now right up there with acknowledged batting giants, that, aged 26, he has a TEST AVERAGE above 50. He is also improving all the time and that is a frightening thought, writes TED CORBETT.

Jose Mourinho, the manager of Chelsea who have just won the Premiership for the second time in succession, calls himself The Special One and I'm here to tell you he has a rival.

How else can you describe Kevin Pietersen who scored his fourth Test hundred in only 25 innings as England beat Sri Lanka in the second Test, his third hundred in successive home Test innings and now has 10th place in the world rankings. It is not just that he is now right up there with such acknowledged giants as Ricky Ponting, Brian Lara and Rahul Dravid, that, aged 26, he has a Test average above 50 and that the retired cricketers turned television pundits are beginning to give him respect. He is also improving all the time and that is a frightening thought.

All the way through the Test you could wander round either the press area or the television section and find old time players trying to mimic the trademark Pietersen shot, a twitchy, cross-batted on drive to a ball pitched around off stump.

I have not seen that knock-on effect since Inzamam-ul-Haq first made his mark on the international scene. Whether they were inventive players themselves, like Mike Gatting who famously lost a World Cup final by reverse sweeping Allan Border's first ball, or more orthodox players content to use the text book to score their runs, they were all treading a path between envy and admiration.

Gatting admitted he was an admirer. "I was critical of some of his shots, his methods and his attitude when he first appeared but he has either heard it from me or someone else and changed," said the former England captain, county coach and selector.

Perhaps the best aspect of the character of the man known as KP — even by his brothers, apparently — is that he is not a modest man. It is a game, especially in England, which will not tolerate outlandish dress or behaviour; or anything that can be considered tacky; or as much controversial behaviour as, for instance, Phil Edmonds brought from Zambia; or the broad vowels of Fred Trueman, David Lloyd and Darren Gough. So Pietersen who sketches his own life in bold colours and likes a theatrical gesture or two will have to score runs to keep his place.

Watching him in the field gives you a fascinating glimpse of his own opinion of himself. No one can keep up with his drama king moments but here are a selection. His celebration after scoring his century was longer than anyone else's in living memory: to his team-mates, to each section of the crowd, and back to the balcony.

When England fielded he dived for a ball that was beyond his reach and missed. So far so good. He could not have done more. But he then rolled over and over and over again.

When he took a big swing at the ball in the second innings he stayed down on one knee like a squire waiting to be knighted. There is still a lot of "look at me, daddy" — which anyone with a child of three will recognise — in this adult. Don't get me wrong. I love it: the sham acting, the flamboyant gestures, the big shots, the changes of hair colour, the dramatic quotes.

Because underneath it all there is a thoroughly competent, well trained, fit and sober young athlete. He is undoubtedly on his way to top place in the world batting rankings and all the irking moments, all the trouble playing a really long innings and all the need to be centre stage will fade away. Essentially KP is a team man. He is solicitous about the welfare of his batting partners, he runs as enthusiastically for them as he expects them to run for him and his fielding, his fitness and his anticipation are right at the top of the tree.

I have never heard a word of criticism of him — only the desire that he matures as a batsman and a person as rapidly as possible.

There is a statistic which tells you something about this man of 6ft 5in, who gains his leverage from short legs and a long body, who often takes guard a yard or more outside the crease, who has yet to show any sign of fear and who has a full range of ordinary strokes as well as the reverse sweep over cover point and that strange, strange on drive.

In the second innings at Edgbaston one ball in five bowled to him was a no-ball which must show how much pressure he puts on the bowlers. One of those bowlers, remember, has 624 Test wickets and is as cunning as anyone who ever tugged on a Test sweater.

Muttiah Muralitharan trapped Pietersen lbw in both innings in this Test but that is a badge of honour and the second was so blatantly out that Pietersen walked.

A couple of hours later one of the England and Wales Cricket Board public relations staff was wandering around the press box asking "Anyone not voting for KP?" and, although I am sure the small Sri Lankan contingent will have felt justified in voting for MM who took 10 wickets, Pietersen was named Man of the Match. There was certainly a case for the Man of the Match award going to Murali, flighting the ball as beguilingly as ever, producing the doosra just often enough to make batting a hazard and the Sri Lankans wish they had had another 100 runs behind them. Getting 78 to win was always going to result in victory for England although I was intrigued to go into a website between the last two innings and find it had made England victors already.

What are they thinking in South Africa? The selectors told Pietersen's father he would always lose out to the young black players as they went through the policy of racial integration and so he went off to Nottinghamshire.

Surely they would welcome him now. Imagine him arriving at the crease after the classy A. B. De Villiers, the muscular Graeme Smith and the clinical Jacques Kallis. Wouldn't that cause pandemonium? Instead he will follow — presumably Trescothick, Strauss and Vaughan — to the crease in Australia this winter. He will be a sensation Down Under where they care less about how a man behaves, a lot less about politeness and much more about the effectiveness of men like KP.

THE SCORES

Second Test, England v Sri Lanka, Edgbaston, Birmingham, May 25-28, 2006. England won by six wickets.

Sri Lanka — 1st innings: M. Vandort c Collingwood b Plunkett 9; U. Tharanga b Hoggard 0; K. Sangakkara c Jones b Plunkett 25; M. Jayawardene c Jones b Plunkett 0; T. Samaraweera c Collingwood b Hoggard 3; T. Dilshan c Trescothick b Flintoff 27; F. Maharoof c Jones b Mahmood 5; C. Vaas (not out) 30; N. Kulasekara c Trescothick b Mahmood 3; L. Malinga lbw b Panesar 26; M. Muralitharan c Plunkett b Flintoff 1; Extras (lb-6, nb-6) 12; Total: 141.

Fall of wkts: 1-3, 2-16, 3-16, 4-25, 5-46, 6-65, 7-79, 8-82, 9-132.

England bowling: Hoggard 15-4-32-2; Flintoff 13.2-4-28-2; Plunkett 12-1-43-3; Mahmood 9-1-25-2; Panesar 2-0-7-1.

England — 1st innings: M. Trescothick c Sangakkara b Muralitharan 27; A. Strauss (run out) 30; A. Cook lbw b Muralitharan 23; K. Pietersen lbw b Muralitharan 142; M. Hoggard b Vaas 3; P. Collingwood c Tharanga b Muralitharan 19; A. Flintoff b Malinga 9; G. Jones c Samaraweera b Muralitharan 4; L. Plunkett c Vandort b Muralitharan 0; S. Mahmood (not out) 0; M. Panesar lbw b Malinga 0; Extras (b-6, lb-13, nb-14, pen-5) 38. Total: 295.

Fall of wkts: 1-56, 2-69, 3-125, 4-169, 5-238, 6-290, 7-290, 8-293, 9-294.

Sri Lanka bowling: Vaas 16-6-30-1; Malinga 13.3-2-68-2; Maharoof 11-3-42-0; Muralitharan 25-2-86-6; Kulasekara 13-2-45-0.

Sri Lanka — 2nd innings: M. Vandort c Jones b Plunkett 105; U. Tharanga c Jones b Hoggard 0; K. Sangakkara c Collingwood b Panesar 18; M. Jayawardene lbw b Hoggard 5; T. Samaraweera st. Jones b Panesar 8; T. Dilshan lbw b Hoggard 59; F. Maharoof c & b Flintoff 13; C. Vaas c Collingwood b Plunkett 1; N. Kulasekara c Collingwood b Plunkett 0; L. Malinga c Strauss b Flintoff 2; M. Muralitharan (not out) 0; Extras (lb-8, w-1, nb-11) 20; Total: 231.

Fall of wkts: 1-2, 2-38, 3-43, 4-56, 5-181, 6-219, 7-223, 8-223, 9-231.

England bowling: Hoggard 22-8-64-3; Flintoff 19-3-50-2; Plunkett 13.2-6-17-3; Panesar 28-6-73-2; Mahmood 9-2-19-0; Collingwood 2-2-0-0.

England — 2nd innings: M. Trescothick lbw b Muralitharan 0; A. Strauss c Jayawardene b Muralitharan 16; A. Cook (not out) 34; K. Pietersen lbw b Muralitharan 13; P. Collingwood c Sangakkara b Muralitharan 3; A. Flintoff (not out) 4; Extras (b-2, nb-9) 11; Total (for four wkts.) 81.

Fall of wkts: 1-9, 2-35, 3-63, 4-73.

Sri Lanka bowling: Vaas 7-2-12-0; Malinga 7-1-29-0; Muralitharan 12.2-3-29-4; Dilshan 1-0-9-0.