It matters not that this Adelaide pitch is flatter than the flattest pancake – or perhaps flatter than a medieval map that claims the whole world is flat – Kevin Pietersen’s 213no was an education in precise attacking batting. It was a remarkable effort. But what was even more remarkable, was the fact he didn’t play a single shot off the back foot.
When I was a kid, I was lucky enough to attend a cricket coaching camp run by Tom Graveney. He told us that batting was essentially a simple art: if the ball is full, you go forward and drive through the line of the ball. If the ball is short, you go back and basically play the same shot.
Kevin Pietersen ignores all this. If the ball is full he goes forward, and if the ball is short he … err … goes forward. His eye must be amazing, and his hand-eye coordination awesome. If you want to be successful in Australia, you need to have a strong back-foot game – unless, of course, you’re a genius.
When KP brought up his century yesterday, he hadn’t scored a single run behind square on the offside. Just think about that for a second. No deflections down to third man, no edges through the slips, and not a single back cut.
Pietersen doesn’t cut. He can’t. He just gets on the front foot, no matter how short the ball is, and carves it through the covers, or opens the face and deliberately slices it over point. How can you do this in test cricket against 90mph deliveries?
It’s even more amazing when you consider that KP grew up in a country like South Africa, where the pitches are hard and the bowling is fierce. There must have been a surfeit of fast bowlers queuing to knock his block off.
Although I’d hesitantly suggest that KP is a little vulnerable to the short stuff – Glenn McGrath ended his tour in 2006/07 when KP walked into a rib cracker – the statistics say otherwise. Peter Siddle’s attempts to bounce him out yesterday were laughable. It just brought a flurry of boundaries. Brett Lee tried the same thing at the Oval in 2005, but the ball kept disappearing into the crowd.
However, if I was Ricky Ponting, and thank God I’m not, I wouldn’t give up on the short ball just yet. Ryan Harris almost decapitated KP yesterday morning and I still think a surprise short ball could undo him later in the series. The secret of course, is not to telegraph the ploy by putting three men on the leg-side boundary and then bowling EVERY ball short.
Bouncers are quick enough when you’re twenty two yards away – just ask Michael Clarke – but KP rushes down the pitch and plays bumpers off nineteen yards most of the time. He must have balls of steel.
Shane Warne said on commentary yesterday that KP was the most naturally talented batsman he’d seen in twenty years of playing first class cricket. We concur. There’s no way that anybody other than a genius can bat with a technique so simple – or so one-dimensional.
Kevin Pietersen is effectively half a batsman. Imagine how good he would be if he could actually play off the back foot? My suspicion, however, is that we should enjoy him while we can. He surely can’t have much time left at the top.
Pietersen is only thirty years old, but when his eye starts to deteriorate in three to five years time, it’s surely impossible for him to keep playing the same way. Once his eye starts to go, he won’t be able to fall back on a solid method.
But what do we know? Everything about KP’s batting defies logic. In my opinion, he’s the greatest cricketing entertainer in the world today. And after yesterday’s exploits, who would disagree (except, perhaps Virender Sehwag). Pietersen might only be half a batsman, but he ain’t half good.