He’s a difficult chap, Mr Pietersen. Let me explain where I’m coming from. When I first saw him rack up a few scores on Teletext, for Nottinghamshire, some 12 years ago, I thought I’d better check him out. I logged on the Cricinfo (yes, it was alive all those years ago) and I viewed his profile. Aw! Shame, he’s a South African – that side appears to have another young star in the making.
Months pass and I enviously see him pile on the runs with a first class average of over 50. Scoring rates and match reports make him one of my favourite overseas players. Then, if memory serves, Kevin reported of his childhood ambition to play for England. This puzzled me, but I took it as red, as I’d known a South African who’d long wanted to move to England, and I assumed it may not be that rare … after all, there are well-documented troubled spots in that country. That’s not for discussion here, but it explains how I was able to believe him.
Next came the wait. The wait until he was qualified to play for England. He’d be about 24 by then. I watched on as, eventually, he and Ian Bell featured in a notable number of sizeable partnerships for England A – soon for England “proper” I thought.
2005. Bangladesh were touring England, followed by Australia. Obviously England would try a couple of new players against The Tigers, providing form wasn’t a problem for the regulars. England sort of did; Bell played, but not KP. Bell averaged about 2000 and Graeme Thorpe something similar. England won. Then came the Oz.
For some reason the final XI came down to a choice between Graeme Thorpe, in form though near the end of his extremely good international career, or the young, brash, and untried, Kevin Pietersen. You know by now who the selectors chose.
In the first test, a low scoring affair, Harmison gave Punter a scar and picked up 5-43, and Australia were 190ao. Australia’s most frequent kill-joy wasn’t bothered though. McGrath took 5 early wickets, and left England 21-5. Kevin was in no mood to spoil his début however, and smoked 2 sixes on the way to 57, and England’s top score of the innings.
Australia batted properly in their 2nd innings, scored 384, and set England a laughable total of 420 to win. McGrath, still steaming for some reason, took 4-29, but KP was cross too. He thwacked another 2 sixes on his way to 64 not out from 79 balls. Not a bad début, against an attack featuring two bowlers from the top 5 that the entire history of cricket has offered us – Glenn McGrath, and Shane Warne.
By the 5th game, Marcus “Marvellous” Trescothick had scored the most runs for England leaving KP second, and he wasn’t happy; he thrashed his way to 158 at the Oval to seal the draw for that test, and the Ashes for England. Impressive.
In his first ODI series in South Africa, he hit three hundreds, bringing up one with a six off the last ball of the innings from ~70 balls; to this day England’s quickest ODI ton. As you can imagine, I was a big, big fan and talked about him a lot. I loved his “uncoached” style and attacking approach. I was very glad he wasn’t a “real” South African.
Various highs and lows followed these overly dramatic events, as one would expect from any gifted and exciting cricketer. Then came Peter Moores. Immediately I didn’t like him. No real reason, that kind of thing can just happen. Frequently though, Moores did annoy me at press conferences, speaking like a politician; words came pouring out, but he said nothing. Anyhow, I was delighted when Big Kev took a stand against him which ultimately let to the removal of Moores and the promotion of Andy Flower. Mind you, having said what I have about Moores, he did have the judgement of character to employ Flower as his right-hand man. Kudos for that, at least!
Then there was the captaincy, which I thought was a great idea. It will force him to be more responsible. Be the making of him, it will. Turn him into a real great. I was sure he had a good cricket brain (I’d occasionally hear about how shots, like the switch-hit, were carefully considered and how it is hard, hard practice that makes it all look so effortless).
Well, I was wrong about the captaincy effect! Form that point on, things haven’t been smooth sailing for him. He’s loved the IPL and clearly wants to play more of it, but is accused of being greedy and selfish etc. How many people accused Flintoff of being selfish and greedy when he nipped off to Dubai in order to pay less tax? I hope you did.
I don’t think KP has ever failed to try his best. Sure he has often got out while playing a dumb, or ill-conceived, shot but is that any worse than watching Ian Bell get clean-bowled while playing a “perfect” forward defensive?
KP is a joy to watch when he is batting well. Of that there is no doubt. Unless, perhaps, you’re 22 yards away. To see him miss a game (at least this one) for reasons like these, is crazy and sad. Has he made mistakes? Yes. Has he been childish? Yes. Does he regret it? Yes. Is he alone in all this mistake-making? No. Obviously.
And also less obviously. He sent “provocative” but private messages to his close friends. These message somehow “got out”. That is not KP’s fault – other than perhaps an error of judgement regarding who his real friends are. Pat yourself on the back if that’s a mistake you’ve never made.
It may strike you as odd, but KP is human. Massively so. His childlike enjoyment of hitting sixes and fours, his love for IPL, and big crowds, show us one side of his character. The side we don’t see, unless we really pay attention, is that of the dedicated sports professional who practices hard, and even thinks long and hard about the game he loves. Also, there is another area of his life in which he appears to be unexpectedly mature. He has a gorgeous pop-star wife and, so far as I know, there hasn’t been much talk of his personal life or of any problems within. Well played on that score too Kevin – many, many others have been much more childish in that regard.
As I write this now, the strength of my opinion is changing, I find myself more sympathetic. A twitter friend, Lexi, summed him up very nicely: “He just shoots himself in the foot. I think he just wants to be loved but has no idea how to go about it“. I’m also certain he tries too hard at times, it makes me wonder who his advisers are (I hope they are not any type of professional) and why he listens to them. Everyone assumes he has them, I wonder now, is he just naive?
Now, having sent these messages, and possibly accused his team-mates of going too far with jokes, he can’t feel very welcome. He didn’t even play for Surrey this week – I guess he’d rather have only the ball as his enemy.
Yes, he has been something of a fool, but we’ve all made mistakes – and now his employers, his team-mates, and his old school friends (the South African team) all appear to be trying to exclude him. You know, it might actually be tough being Kevin Pietersen, but I’d sure love his talent and I hope we see him using it again soon.