A gift: Kevin Pietersen is bowled for 71 by Mitchell Johnson after attempting an uncultured swipe over cow corner. Photo: Pat Scala
Kevin Pietersen bristled at suggestions on Christmas Eve that he no longer had the hunger and pride to play for England. Three days later he showed why those doubts remain.
The controversial batsman was responsible for an innings that not only saved England from a Boxing Day embarrassment but gave his team the upper hand, however, the reckless nature of his dismissal overshadowed the 4.5 hours of application and resilience preceding it.
England vs Australia: Day 2 of the Ashes
Melbourne hosts another bumper day of record crowd numbers at the MCG for Day 2 of the fourth Ashes Test. Photo: Pat Scala
Pietersen's 71 remains the highest score this match but a century was up for grabs had his diligence not disappeared overnight. At a time when his team needed him to display a "head down, bum up" attitude, Pietersen unleashed a stroke befitting the unnamed international players Graeme Swann said "have no idea how far up their own backsides they are".
It was the type of shot expected of one of his most high-profile supporters, Piers Morgan, rather than a man who sits fourth on England's Test run-scorers' list.
England had been banking on Pietersen to lead the lower order to 300 but instead, the star batsman gifted his wicket to Australia, bowled by Mitchell Johnson attempting an uncultured swipe over cow corner.
Earlier in the over, he had stepped away for another heave at Johnson but was beaten for pace and failed to lay bat on ball. It was the sort of dismissal that had prompted Geoffrey Boycott, whom Pietersen overtook this game, to describe him as a "mug" earlier this week.
England's public reaction was more measured, though James Anderson could not entirely conceal his disappointment at Pietersen's approach.
"I'm not sure, you'll have to ask Kev about that – he obviously felt that was the right way to go this morning," said Anderson, who survived for 40 minutes to make 11.
"The lower order still tried to get stuck in to get us up to as high a score as we could. To get up to 250 now looks like a pretty decent effort. We would have liked a few more runs this morning. We talked about getting up to 300 being a challenging score."
Australia have preyed on Pietersen's considerable ego throughout this series and Friday's was the latest in a string of cavalier get-out shots by the South African-born showman, who raised his bat to the crowd as he left the arena.
Gallingly for England, whose batsmen have endured a horror run this summer, Pietersen has made a decent start in all but one of his seven innings, but failed to cash in.
But apart from his first-innings dismissal in Adelaide, after which he admitted he felt like a "clown", there has been little sign of contrition from Pietersen.
On the other occasions, he said earlier this week, "fortune didn't favour the brave".
Pietersen, however, made it clear he would not deviate from the game plan that has yielded him more than 8000 Test runs and made him one of the best batsmen of his generation, backing his ability to read the state of a game. But on this occasion Pietersen's extravagance was perplexing given his partner Stuart Broad, who has made a Test century and averages 24, is more than capable with the bat.
Pietersen remains committed to his goal of reaching 10,000 Test runs and winning the 2015 World Cup but an average of only 35 this year is not encouraging and suggests a player who has either hit a flat spot in a decorated career or is on the wane.
Despite his lean series, Pietersen is England's leading run-scorer and still worthy of a place in the team.
His departure was part of another stunning England collapse, in which the visitors lost their final four wickets for 25 runs on the second day.
But Pietersen's innings has proven invaluable in such a low-scoring game. Of the 58 occasions he has passed 50, only four times has he scored at a slower rate.