Kevin Pietersen only made his international debut in late 2004 but within less than a year he had cemented his place in both the Test and one-day sides and more importantly helped England reclaim the Ashes. His powerful batting, as well as colourful hairstyles, have helped to make him a fans' favourite and rarely can anyone have burst onto the scene with such an impact.
Pietersen was born in Pietermaritzburg but his mother comes from Canterbury and in 2001 he decided to throw his lot in with England after becoming disillusioned with the selection system in South Africa. He joined Nottinghamshire after talks with their then coach Clive Rice and became an instant success. In his first season he topped Notts' averages with 1,275 runs at 57.95 and in 2002 smashed four centuries in a week including 254 not out against Middlesex. On the 2003-4 ECB National Academy tour of India he proved himself to be a player of the finest quality with four hundreds in four games and finished with a first-class average of 54.48. He continued his fine form throughout the 2004 domestic season as Nottinghamshire won the Division Two title in the Frizzell County Championship and also clinched promotion to the top flight in the totesport League. He was selected for the National Academy in the winter of 2004-5 before he was named in the England squad for the first time for the one-day series in Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Despite Nottinghamshire's success, Pietersen turned down the offer of a new contract to stay at Trent Bridge and in October 2004 signed a three-year deal to play for Hampshire. Having waited four years to qualify to play for England, he finally made his debut in the first one-day international against Zimbabwe in Harare and his unbeaten 27 helped secure a five-wicket win. Things got even better for Pietersen in the second ODI when his unbeaten 77 off just 76 balls helped England take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the four-match series as they won by 161 runs. His performance earned him the man-of-the-match award and he played in all four matches as England went on to win the series 4-0. Pietersen's impressive start to international cricket was rewarded at the start of 2005 when he was added to the squad for the one-day series in South Africa. He began the tour by smashing 97 from 84 balls against South Africa A and then showed tremendous character by ignoring the taunts from the home fans to make an unbeaten 22 and guide England to a 26-run win in the rain-affected series opener. The right-hander dominated the South African bowling throughout the series and finished with three centuries at an average of 151.33, which enabled him to collect the man-of-the-series award despite England going down 4-1 in the series. The 116 he scored in the final match of the series prompted the crowd, who had abused him throughout the series because of his South African origins, to give him a standing ovation. Chairman of selectors David Graveney claimed it was the "greatest one-day innings I have ever seen". Pietersen also climbed to 25th in the LG ICC ODI rankings after he became the fastest man to 500 runs in one-day international history.
He was named in the England Development Squad in May 2005 - and the 14-man squad for The NatWest Series and The NatWest International Twenty20 against Australia. Playing on his home ground at the Rose Bowl, Pietersen fully justified his inclusion in the first "Ashes" Twenty20 international with a man-of-the-match display, smashing 34 off just 18 balls before taking three crucial catches in the field. But he was not done there against Australia, winning another man-of-the-match gong after a breathtaking 91 not out off only 65 deliveries in the NatWest Series clash at Bristol - a knock skipper Michael Vaughan hailed as "genius-like". He continued his form throughout The NatWest Challenge with Australia and gained his first Test call-up - at the expense of Graham Thorpe - in the 12-man squad for the first 2005 npower Ashes match at Lord's. A superb half-century (57) saved England from possible embarrassment in the opening Test as he helped the hosts recover from 21 for five to reach 155 all out in the first innings. He followed that up with an unbeaten 64 as he became only the eighth England player to score a half-century in both innings of their debut Test, although his efforts could not prevent a 239-run defeat. Another half-century at Edgbaston helped England level the series with a dramatic two-run victory and after winning at Trent Bridge, Michael Vaughan’s men went into the final Test at The Oval needing only a draw to reclaim the Ashes. That dream looked to be slipping away when England slipped to 126 for five in their second innings on the final day, but Pietersen produced one of the greatest innings of all time to lead the hosts to safety. He took the attack to Australia, especially Hampshire team-mate Shane Warne, and the draw was secure by the time he was dismissed for a magnificent 158 from 187 balls. His man-of-the-match innings featured an Ashes-record seven sixes and ensured he finished the series as the leading run-scorer with 473 at an average of 52.55.
He was unsurprisingly selected for the winter tour of Pakistan, before which he played in the ICC World XI in three ODIs against Australia. He was also the recipient of the Emerging Player of the Year and the ODI Player of the Year at the second ICC Awards ceremony, in Australia in 2005. The tour of Pakistan saw England's success halted as they lost the three-match Test series 2-0. Pietersen's best performance came in the second Test in Faisalabad when he made 100 in the first innings, including six fours and three sixes. Pietersen smashed 56 from just 39 balls to help England win the opening ODI in Pakistan but was forced to return home after the second game due to a rib problem. While convalescing he received the news that he had been awarded an MBE in the New Year's Honours List. Pietersen was part of the England team that drew 1-1 in the Test series against India, the first English side to win a Test in India for 21 years. However, he could not stop India from taking the one-day series 5-1. He rediscovered his best form at the start of the 2006 summer, matching his best international score of 158 in the first Test against Sri Lanka at Lord's. His 142 in the second Test at Edgbaston included an audacious reverse sweep for six off the bowling of Muttiah Muralitharan. He missed the last two matches of the NatWest series against Sri Lanka with a knee injury but was back in action against Pakistan where he made 135 in the third Test at Headingley.
Pietersen had a quiet one-day series against Pakistan by his own lofty standards but came good again in the ICC Champions Trophy where he scored a match-winning 90 not out to guide England home against West Indies. He was named in the Ashes squad and also awarded an ECB 12-month central contract until the end of the 2007 season. He matched his career-best 158 for a third time against Australia in the second Ashes Test in Adelaide when he put on 310 for the third wicket with Paul Collingwood. Pietersen was named in the 16-man squad to play in the Commonwealth Bank Series against New Zealand and Australia. He suffered a broken rib when he was hit by a Glenn McGrath bouncer in the first game of the Commonwealth Bank one-day series which forced the batsman to fly home. Pietersen was selected in England’s 15-man squad for the 2007 World Cup.