English or South African? Problem or solution? Villain or victim?
Kevin Pietersen’s talent has never been a doubt or the value he brings to a cricket team yet question marks littered his 10-year stint as ‘England’s best batsman’.
His turbulent, brilliant and seldom dull international career finally looks to be over after he was left out of the England squad for the Caribbean tour and the 2014 World Twenty20.
There has been tolerance of his ‘difficult’ self-centred character because of the runs he scored and the style he brought to the England set-up. But the controversy and fall-outs just would not go away.
He came into the England fold in 2004 in a blaze of runs and colourful shotmaking but his motives were questioned by some. Why was a man who tried and failed to break into the South African team – he should have been given more opportunity there, by the way – now proudly wearing an England kit?
Such doubts, however, were smashed with authority at The Oval in an Ashes-clinching innings in 2005.
The good times were followed by controversy – his ill-fated short reign as captain, his part in the sacking of coach Peter Moores, the never-ending whispers of his bad relationships with teammates and captains and then the texting saga in 2012.
It was then that Pietersen’s time as an England cricketer should have come to an end. Texting friends in the South African dressing room, being less than complimentary about his own dressing room, should have been unforgivable.
Those that excuse this incredible act of disloyalty and unprofessionalism, forgiven by captain Cook, point tiresomely to his batting brilliance, as if cricket isn’t a team game. As if one player, however brilliant with the bat, is irreplaceable.
But if you’re going to talk about individual contributions and back it up, then you have to at least consider the stats. And that Test average of 47.3 intrigues me. It proves he was the best in England, reinforcing what the eyes tell you when he is in the middle. But is this average quite as emphatic as his swooning admirers would have you believe?
Not a great
So while Pietersen, I won’t use the ghastly ‘KP’, has an impressive average, it doesn’t quite match up to the swagger and hype that accompanied his England career. I wouldn’t be calling him a genius, just a very good batsman.
He did play a vital role in England solitary limited-overs triumph – the 2010 World Twenty20 – and is England’s leading run-scorer in all formats. England fans should be grateful for this but not unrealistic about the price to team spirit that often accompanied it.
And as for him being England’s leading scorer in the Ashes, that’s like being the being the best skier in Fiji. He, along with the rest of them, was a complete failure Down Under, with some of his decision-making woeful.
I’m not siding with the England and Wales Cricket Board on this. More heads should still roll after the sheer incompetence in Australia. Cook should be removed at captain. The selection was a shambles and Graeme Swann’s mid-tour retirement will make his forthcoming TV career seem painfully inappropriate. Over 60 staff toured Australia and the majority should hang their heads in shame.
The ECB’s explanation for sacking Pietersen was unsubstantiated and unsatisfactory. Something happened on this tour, perhaps more than once incident that we are not being told about. But the crocodile tears and wailing over Pietersen is unnecessary. It is right that a complete revamp era is needed for England with as little baggage as possible. Nothing should have been considered too drastic after such an unmitigated disaster.
In April, the 33-year-old Pietersen will walk out to packed Indian Premier League crowds, smash the ball around the ground and lap up the adoration. Do you think his huge ego would rather be parked at Lord’s for England v Sri Lanka?
‘You should be able to manage difficult characters’ chime the twitter chorus. Yet the easiest decision was to leave him in the England dressing room and wait for the next problem. Pietersen of all people should understand sometimes you need to forget going through the motions, and make a bold call. Thank you and goodbye.