Among the many famous knocks that he is known for, Kevin Pietersen’s sparkling 186 in Mumbai in 2012-13 that helped England win that series would rank one of his top knocks of his career. India bowled 102.3 overs of spin from R Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh, and Pragyan Ojhan and Pietersen blasted them around the park. Did he have a secret sauce on the track that aided the turn?
It turns out, he had. On Sky Sports, during rain-forced lunch break on day 3, Pietersen revealed how he picked up and shred Ashwin and Harbhajan’s variations. Especially the former’s carrom ball, and the latter’s doosra.
“People would rave about how I read his carrom balls from the grip and such.. but (the truth) was that he announced to me right at the top of his bowling mark that this was going to be a carrom ball.”
Pietersen went into detail about the process. It turns out Ashwin would load up the ball deep into his palm every time he would bowl the carrom ball, according to Pietersen. It wasn’t at release that Pietersen was picking up the variation but much earlier at the top of the mark itself.
“Every time he lined up the carrom ball, he was holding the ball right back into his palm. (Deeper than for the rest). I knew it was going to spin only one way.
So, every time he would bowl carrom since I knew (it was going to turn away from me) I would try my best to hit it with all my power over covers!” Pietersen says.
He then explained that even Harbhajan would give out cues for his doosra. Again, at the top of the mark itself.
“Harbhajan Singh too when he would bowl a doosra, he would line it up differently. Hold it with fingers spread wider across the ball,” Pietersen would say.
Not quite Agassi vs Becker but sort of. In an interview with Players Tribune Unscriptd, Agassi shared how he picked Becker’s serve just before the serve itself. From Becker’s tongue.
“Well I watched tape after tape of him and stood across the net from him three different times and I started to realise he has this weird tick with his tongue.
“I’m not kidding, he would go into his rocking motion, his same routine and just as he was about to toss the ball, he would stick his tongue out. “And it would either be right in the middle of his lip or it’d be to the left corner of his lip. If he’s serving in the deuce court and he put his tongue in the middle of his lip, he was either serving up the middle or to the body. But if he put it to the side, he was going to serve out wide.”
Pietersen’s revelations came in a chat with Mark Butcher about watching the ball carefully to pick out the bowler’s minds. Pietersen said how it was a struggle to pick Muttiah Muralitharan during a series in Sri Lanka.
“I even went and stood behind him at the nets for 30 minutes to see how the ball came out from his hand. No luck. I couldn’t pick it.”
Butcher had just shared his own experiences of the struggle of picking up Curtly Ambrose in a Test at Guyana. “It was a flat track but that day I just couldn’t pick him up. He was bowling very fast and I had no clue what length it was going to land. It was a horrible place to be. I was hit all over the body and I just didn’t know how I was going to play him that day. When the physio came out once, and I was trying not to show my emotions to the opposition, but I remember thinking how am I going to play him? Luckily, the next time I played him, it got better.”
Pietersen talked about how he doesn’t believe in watching the box – the general area from where a bowler releases the ball. Instead, all his focus would be on the ball. It didn’t matter to him the action of the bowler – be it Lasith Malinga or Bumrah – because he had narrowed his focus just to the ball. And then spoke about how sometimes one has to observe the ball much earlier than just the release position to pick up cues. And that’s how he observed what Ashwin and Harbhajan were doing before their carrom balls and doosras.