Ta-Ra, Kevin

Although it has been on the cards for a while, Kevin Pietersen finally announced his retirement at the weekend. Forgive me for being a bit late to the party on this one. As someone who rarely watches the various T20 leagues around the world these days, I haven’t seen KP play in years; therefore as far as I’m concerned he retired from all meaningful cricket some time ago.

Anyway, Pietersen’s official retirement provides a good opportunity to look back on his career with fondness. It’s human nature to block out the bad and only remember the good as time passes, so I’m hopeful that even Kevin’s fiercest critics can look back on his superb career without bitterness.

KP was, quite simply, one of England’s best ever batsmen. The fact he upset a few characters along the way seems almost irrelevant when one remembers his 8181 test runs, his 4440 runs in ODIs, plus his man of the tournament performances when England won the T20 World Cup in 2010. Some might portray him as Kevin the Teenager, but I’ll always remember him as something of a genius. And as we all know well, true genius is often flawed.

What I find extraordinary about KP is that his international statistics were actually somewhat disappointing in retrospect. He could have achieved even more. Although he finished with a test average of 47 in test cricket, at one point his average was well over 50. It’s such a shame that his form fell away somewhat in his last few years as a test cricketer – a combination of serious injuries, plus an inexplicable penchant for getting out to ‘left arm filth’ I suppose. Tensions within the dressing room must have proved a distraction too.

I often wonder if KP would’ve rediscovered his best form had his international career not been sawn off by the hapless Paul Downton. We’ve discussed this issue many times on the blog before – so there’s no need reiterate my belief that Pietersen was made a scapegoat for the calamitous Ashes whitewash of 2013/14 – but it’s possible KP could’ve scored another two or three thousand test runs had his test career run its natural course. Personally I doubt this, as his eye was always better than his technique, but it’s possible. Players who rely on their eye more than anything else don’t necessarily decline in their mid-30s.

So where does KP rank in the pantheon of England greats? At one time I thought he might become England’s best batsman since Ken Barrington. He seemed unstoppable in his fist few years in test cricket. What’s more, he seemed to save his very best for the best opposition and the very biggest occasions. I’ll never forget his maiden ODI hundred in South Africa when he first played for England. The crowd were incredibly hostile and turned their backs on him as he walked out to bat. His response was to flay the Proteas attack to all parts. And who can forget his test debut? Glenn McGrath tore our top order to shreds, but KP looked completely unperturbed and blazed a carefree half-century.

Unfortunately, however, I sense that KP somewhat lost his mojo after his early years. Yes he was still very good, but I sensed that he lost his swagger a bit – the type that Viv Richards always had. Whereas he often seemed invincible in the early years, the more mature Pietersen was definitely human. The statistics back this assertion up to some extent, although his double hundred on a featherbed at Adelaide in 2010 massaged his average a bit.

Although Pietersen was still capable of turning it on later in his England career – his performance at Mumbai in 2012, plus his superhuman efforts in Sri Lanka later on, were simply amazing – I never had the same confidence in him that I once had. That signature ton at Headingley against South Africa, which remains one of the best innings I’ve ever seen, was something of an aberration late in his career. “Sometimes it’s hard being me” he whimpered at the subsequent press conference. Not half as hard as it was for Dale Steyn and the rest of the Proteas’ attack that day.

Consequently, because KP’s brilliance became increasingly ephemeral as his test career progressed, it’s hard to argue with the old argument that KP was a “player of great innings rather than a great batsman”. However, I’d like to add the all important caveat that he was always, always, a brilliant player to watch. It was rarely dull when Pietersen was at the crease.

Whilst other batsmen used to pussyfoot around Murali, KP used to switch-hit him for six. Whereas other batsmen would play out a session if England were in a dominant position, KP would get bored and try to rub the opposition’s nose in it. Yes he used to look like a plonker when his methodology backfired, but his critics forget that he’d usually scored a lot of runs before he randomly held out in the deep.

Of course, there were the off-field controversies too. I guess we shouldn’t ignore them completely. However, I always sensed that Pietersen’s heart was usually in the right place – even though his diplomacy was usually inept. When Peter Moores was sacked the first time round, I thought that KP was completely in the right. Moores had lost the confidence of too many senior players (including Andrew Strauss) and his position was therefore untenable. The ECB just didn’t like it when the captain put them in an awkward position.

When it came to the infamous text message scandal, once again I found myself feeling sympathy for Pietersen. Yes it was completely wrong for him to message the South Africans during a test match – not to mention incredibly naive – but I probably would’ve had a problem playing for Strauss myself during that period of time. I always disliked our current Director’s cliches, management speak, and rather joyless modus operandi. If I’d had good mates in the opposition ranks I might well have texted them too. Cricket isn’t a war after all. International cricket is a serious game, but it’s still a game nonetheless. It seemed pretty obvious at the time that KP wasn’t enjoying life in the England dressing room.

When it came to The Ashes debacle that finished KP’s international career, I doubt we’ll ever know exactly what happened. I really hope that Alastair Cook spills the beans one day – I suspect he was just following ECB orders – but at the heart of the affair lay Pietersen’s complete refusal to follow methods that simply weren’t working. Once again his lack of diplomacy seems to have been his downfall, but I can hardly blame the bloke for standing up to Andy Flower when the head coach’s methods were so obviously failing. I understand that players need to rally behind their captain, and keep their mouth closed sometimes, but I find it difficult to condemn him too strongly for expressing views that most supporters agreed with.

The main stain on Pietersen’s career, however, probably came after England career finished. I’m referring, of course, to his autobiography. Although I found the book entertaining and fascinating to read, the bitterness and anger was clear to see; therefore I don’t think it was his proudest moment. Yes Kev, we know you didn’t like Andy Flower and Matt Prior, but was there really a need to skewer them so viciously? Prior was one of the players who’d extended an olive branch to KP after textgate, so it seemed astonishingly harsh to belittle him as ‘the big cheese’ (hilarious as it was to read).

It’s easy to forget, however, that aside from his big mouth KP was the consummate professional. As things went south rapidly on that infamous Ashes tour, the young players like Root and Stokes (plus the tail-end batsmen) spoke warmly about Pietersen’s efforts to mentor them, and how he spent extra hours with them in the nets. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why so many former teammates sent their best wishes to him on Twitter at the weekend, including Michael Vaughan, Steve Harmison, Simon Jones, and Andrew Flintoff … even thought the media used to pretend that KP and Freddie hated each other!

I’d be interested to hear everyone’s memories of Pietersen. Personally I’ll always think of Kevin as an entertainer more than anything else – one who flirted with genius. “That’s the way I play” he used to say after gifting his wicket to the opposition at the worst possible time. It wasn’t exactly reassuring to anxious and neurotic England supporters like myself. I lost count of the number of times he made me swear at the television. But on the other hand, I can’t think of any England player that’s made me go ‘wow’ more than Pietersen.

There’s no doubt that KP was unique – a complete one off in terms of personality, temperament, and batsmanship. He was uniquely frustrating but also uniquely talented. But above all he was uniquely entertaining. And he made life as a cricket blogger so much richer. After all, when KP was around, there was always plenty to write about.

James Morgan

2018-03-19T15:49:11+00:00March 19th, 2018|Player Spotlight|37 Comments

37 Comments

  1. princeofporkupine March 19, 2018 at 3:53 pm - Reply

    “KP was a “player of great innings rather than a great batsman”. However, I’d like to add the all important caveat that he was always, always, a brilliant player to watch.” – this sums it up for me, great piece James!

    “…so many former teammates sent their best wishes to him on Twitter at the weekend” – with a number of notable exceptions 😉

    I got the impression as long as the team were winning and/or KP was scoring runs all would be well, in that regard Vaughan probably had the easiest of it management-wise – until form, results and relations took a downturn.

    That said, no one will ever take away the memory of him running down the track to Warne – for that alone this Englishman will be forever grateful.

    • James March 19, 2018 at 3:58 pm - Reply

      He also, if memory serves, ran down the track at Dale Steyn. No lack of cojones there.

      • princeofporkupine March 19, 2018 at 4:24 pm - Reply

        Indeed and a good few other quicks to boot…

        There’s no doubt watching Kev arrogantly take a forward stride to the opponent was a thrill and other more conservative (some may say ‘less able’) types fed off it.

        Do you think the cricket writers have taken a vow of silence? I’m struggling to see much in the way of articles about his retirement?

  2. James March 19, 2018 at 3:57 pm - Reply

    I’ll go with most of that, though I think that batsmen who rely mainly on “eye” tend to fade quicker than those who rely on technique (think Mark vs Steve Waugh, Lara, Sehwag). KP most certainly was an entertainer, and a man who would turn a test match into a winning position (Mumbai is the most obvious example).

    I’d say the spats with colleagues, boards, anyone were a consistent factor in his career (if you ask Matthew Hoggard, who knows him well, he’d say the same – I’ve heard him do so). The problem is that cricket is a team game, which relies on a harmonious dressing room. The lack of harmony in the England dressing room at that time was not (by any means) all KP’s fault (there was the “bowlers’ clique”, for example), but he was both arrogant and thin skinned, which didn’t help. Anyone nicknamed FIGJAM (I can’t repeat what this stands for on a family website!) must come over that way.

    To my mind, you compare him with Sir Viv (a true great), and he’s found wanting (most people are). Not the Master Blaster, but perhaps the closest England have got in my lifetime.

    • James Morgan March 19, 2018 at 4:01 pm - Reply

      TFT a ‘family website’? I keep trying but you fuckers ruin it all with your bad language! 🙂

      • James March 19, 2018 at 4:10 pm - Reply

        Good to see that at least you keep to high standards, James!

    • Nigel March 19, 2018 at 4:50 pm - Reply

      I think the effect of his knee injuries is underestimated, too (certainly on the ill fated Ashes tour). Another thing that could have been better managed.

    • SimonH March 19, 2018 at 5:16 pm - Reply

      ” The problem is that cricket is a team game, which relies on a harmonious dressing room”.

      The second part of this doesn’t necessarily follow from the first part. The great West Indies and Australian teams had several players who couldn’t stand each other (Warne and Gilchrist most famously).

  3. andrew pring March 19, 2018 at 4:11 pm - Reply

    Very good piece James. KP – an amazingly talented batsman, one of England’s best. But with a personality (FIGJAM) that militated against team spirit. One’s personal verdict on him depends on how much weighting you give to that over ability. We all know Steve Archibald’s view – “Team spirit is an illusion glimpsed in the aftermath of victory” – but I believe it’s a vital part of a successful side, and I think KP weakened it in whichever dressing room he sat in the post-2005 years.

    • Silk March 21, 2018 at 7:19 am - Reply

      “I think KP weakened [team spirit] in whichever dressing room he sat in the post-2005 years.”

      What a peculiar thing to say, given that he was made captain during that period, and we later won the Ashes in Australia and were Number 1 Ranked team in the world.

      Judging by the way we play (Test) cricket now, and the rapid turnover of players, I’d suggest the ‘team spirit’ is not what it was back when KP was playing.

  4. Nick March 19, 2018 at 4:14 pm - Reply

    I am almost glad his retirement has come at a time where for the most part the bitterness has moved on, he deserves a decent send off for all the great sessions of entertainment over the years.

    Andrew Millar’s bit on him on Cricinfo is excellent who highlights how on a lot of issues he has been proved right and the ECB has come into line with what he wanted. I do feel also that the problem of 250 days a year on the road has just be postponed by picking guys in there mid 20s they Root, Bairstow, Moeen ect are now heading for the 30s and may start to feel the strain more

    The last match I watched in play was on the TV in the London TV derby where he ran out Finch who looked set for something big and violent, injuring himself in the process and then requiring a runner ut was the funniest thing I have seen a cricket match My point is that with Kevin it was always worth watching.

  5. Nigel March 19, 2018 at 4:53 pm - Reply

    The maiden test century is an indelible memory.
    As is (though I didn’t see it) the triple century he made after the door had been slammed, apparently just to rub Strauss’ nose in it.

  6. Doug M March 19, 2018 at 6:25 pm - Reply

    Great piece James’s. A great batsman in any age, but as an individual a bit of a twerp I’m afraid. Sorry Kev. But in saying that there have been many great players whose personalities are left wanting and didn’t really play for the team. Boycott for one. Botham also was difficult but Brearley got the best out of him didn’t he? You can’t always have a team of yes men in any sport, it’s about knowing how to manage people to get the best from them. Sadly England didn’t in 2014 when KP was dropped after textgate and backstabbing from a few of his so called team mates. What idiot would drop the best batsman! Well we know who. But enough, like him or loathe him what a player in his hey day. His 150 at the Oval in 2005 is still one of the best test knocks I’ve ever seen. The T20 recent stuff is best forgotten as is the ego mania.

    • AB March 20, 2018 at 9:28 am - Reply

      At his worst, KP was the 7th biggest bellend in that 2011-2013 England team.

  7. Kevin March 19, 2018 at 6:35 pm - Reply

    Personally I am a KP supporter. He was along with Cook & Root, our only world class batsman of the last 10-12 years. I would always pick the best players, we’re not blessed with quality in depth, to discard anyone with that ability.
    With his ego I bet he was a nightmare in the dressing room, but by no means the only one.
    What let him down, was a weak captain & coach. Strauss & Flower are not man managers, unlike Vaughan & Fletcher.
    He was made a scapegoat for The Ashes disaster. When Cook is free to tell his side of the story, I would be very surprised if he doesn’t say, he personally had no problems with KP, and was only following the instructions from the clueless ECB.

    • BobW March 22, 2018 at 9:22 am - Reply

      If Cook ever releases a biography at the end of his career you can bet your bottom dollar which chapter will be the most read!!

  8. Marc Evans March 19, 2018 at 7:05 pm - Reply

    KP, though not someone I ever warmed to, was a game changer. How many of those have England had since Botham, who played a lot of his cricket during the Packer era, against sub standard sides.
    Probably the most complete entertainer in cricket history. Never a great team man on the field, many young pro’s nonetheless point to the fact he was always willing to give time and advice to them off it. I’m sure his inflated ego allowed him to play the ‘Pied Piper’ role to a tee, but at least he had something to be egotistical about. How many could get away with that white streak haircut? It would have been interesting to see how Brearley would have have dealt with him.
    My favourite memory was seeing him struggling with his natural game to graft against type for England, which he did more than once. It was like watching an unexploded bomb waiting to go off, the anticipation was excruciating.

  9. Hungerpang March 19, 2018 at 10:19 pm - Reply

    Gower, Gooch and Pietersen. Head and shoulders above any other England batsman of my lifetime. Pietersen was also the only England batsman since Gooch retired who I watched bat at times and felt confident he wasn’t going to get out – in the way you do with foreign players against England like Sachin, Dravid, Kallis, Lara or Steve Waugh, to name a few. One of my great regrets is that I missed the post-lunch period of his 158 in 2005 when he took on Brett Lee. For the only time in my life, I lost my nerve when Freddie was out just before lunch and couldn’t watch for an hour or so – just sat in the garden praying and came in and checked the score occasionally. Had the pleasure of watch him make 100 live at Lord’s in a Test too. Can’t remember who against, but I think it was in about 3 hours. Effortless brilliance. Just wonderful. His big 100 in Mumbai was, by all accounts, up there with Gooch’s 150-odd vs the WI in 1991 in terms of great innings in difficult conditions. He was, quite simply, a brilliant batsman and entertainer, who was treated appallingly towards the end of his career to the cost of every cricket fan in the country. Quite shameful. I hope he has a fulfilling retirement and that they get him on TMS instead of Swann.

  10. Mike Chaffin March 20, 2018 at 3:11 am - Reply

    Forget the runs, stats or comparisons with Barrington etc.

    KP changed the face and mentality of English cricket. He single handedly imparted professionalism where previously self preservation was the norm.

    Counter intuitive isn’t it?

    Those times when he threw his wicket away were his most important innings.

    His genius was as a leader and as an example to others.

    • AB March 20, 2018 at 9:25 am - Reply

      Pietersen genuinely seemed to be batting for the team, unafraid to lose his wicket in the search for the quick runs that would set up a dominant position. One of the most selfless cricketers I’ve ever watched.

      Whereas its obvious, for example, that Cook bats for Cook.

      • oreston March 20, 2018 at 2:34 pm - Reply

        Well said. Heresy, of course, but absolutely spot on.

      • Marc Evans March 21, 2018 at 11:57 am - Reply

        The reason for his ‘selflessness’ was totally instinctive. It was his natural game. He was an entertainer above all and couldn’t resist those low percentage shots just for the sake of them, irrespective of the state of the game. Like Gower, as a cricket watcher you always viewed his contributions independently from the state of the game. The few times he was obviously ordered to graft for the team were surreal to watch and certainly not entertaining for him or the crowd he was always looking to please.
        Cook bats for the team just as much, as he knows, apart from Trott, there has been no one reliable enough to play the anchor role in recent years. You might as well say Atherton batted just for Atherton. (You’re not a Cook fan are you?)
        If you want to be successful surely you need both mentalities. However, having the same at both ends rarely seems to be a success. I remember watching Botham and Richards batting for Somerset and Botham getting caught up regularly in trying to outdo the master, with the inevitable results. Peterson and Flintoff seemed to have a similar effect on each other, as I guess would Peterson and Stokes, though it would be interesting to watch.
        I loved watching KP bat, but selfless is not how I would describe him, in any aspect of his life.

        • Ab March 22, 2018 at 7:33 am - Reply

          I don’t think anyone who actually watches test cricket and understands what he is watching is a cook fan. He makes boycott look like a great team man and batting partner.

          • Silk March 22, 2018 at 10:16 am - Reply

            Disagree.

            I’m a huge fan of KP, and a Cook fan too. Both flawed as individuals. Both, in very different ways, excellent batsmen. (For the record I think KP was better, not merely across all forms (where its obvious) but also in Tests. KP’s performances against the very highest class of bowlers stands out)

            • Mike Chaffin March 22, 2018 at 5:13 pm - Reply

              Me too. Very much a fan of both.

    • Nigel March 20, 2018 at 9:47 pm - Reply

      And perhaps more importantly, a creator of memories:
      https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2018/mar/20/you-weigh-kevin-pietersen-game-by-memories-you-are-left-with
      …It was the high-water mark in modern English cricket, a first Ashes victory in 18 years, in the very last Test match ever played on free-to-air TV. The game would never be so popular again. “Some of the greatest batting I have ever seen in a Test match,” said Benaud, a Test match Tiresias, who had seen it all, known it all, in his 50 yeears…

  11. Comte March 20, 2018 at 8:58 am - Reply

    I once saw KP being dismissed twice in one day in a CC game at New Road. The second innings was dynamic.
    He was not my cup of tea – I thought his stance was uglier than any others, and I used to fume when, as a member of the fielding side, he would hog the centre of the team at the fall of a wicket, his eagle eyes hunting the cameras. I got the impression that, for all his bluff and bravery, he was an insecure man, craving attention. But he could do things that others could not. I sometimes wonder how he would have performed under the likes of Brearley. It was perhaps his misfortune to encounter starchy knickers types like Strauss, backed up by Flower. Anyway he seems to be content with his chosen life outside cricket so good luck to him.

    • Nigel March 20, 2018 at 10:01 am - Reply

      I’m fairly certain Brearley would have been delighted to have him in the team, and would have handled him pretty well.

  12. Silk March 21, 2018 at 7:30 am - Reply

    I think we were bloody lucky to have him, and I think that ultimately he was as sinned against as sinner. The book. the James Taylor comments, and particularly the texts (don’t slag off your own captain no matter what you think privately) were all BAD THINGS but being stitched up by the ECB during the Peter Moores (part 1) affair was awful (and, to be fair to the ECB, exactly what we expect of them), the Twitter fiasco was something Cook/Strauss/Flower should have dealt with (and still we hear rumours of a bowler-clique in the dressing room), and his ‘sacking’ were all deplorable.

    Of course, it ultimately comes down to the fact that he, like Morgan, and Greig before him, is not ‘English’. I don’t doubt Zadar Ansari has a cut-glass Surrey accent. Nobody from a smaller county with his record would have come close to the Test side. Nobody more English, or ‘English’, than Nasser (in my eyes). But KP, Greig, Robin Smith (remember him?), Morgan and, I suspect, Adil Rashid, Samit Patel, perhaps even young Haseeb, aren’t ‘English’ in the eyes some of the ‘most influential people in cricket’. (I wonder about Owais Shah too. He always seemed to me to have more talent than his treatment deserved.)

    Boycott (who I love) did far worse things than KP ever did. And all those Rebels, so firmly embedded, today, in the cricket family. But those chaps were all English as badly-cooked fish and chips.

    “and he wasn’t even English” is pretty much always the final remark of a KP critic. Which sums it all up, for me.

    • Nigel March 21, 2018 at 10:14 am - Reply

      Vaughan, who is certainly a better judge than I, was pretty generous, and had no problems with accounting him English:

      Michael Vaughan, Pietersen’s captain during that 2005 Ashes, led the tributes on Twitter. “Well done @KP24 on an fantastic career,” he wrote. “Not everyone’s Cup of Tea but you will do for me … Best Batsman I had the pleasure to play with … 1st England batsman that put fear into the Aussies .. #WellDone”

      • Silk March 21, 2018 at 10:47 am - Reply

        The most important innings played by an Englishman since Botham in ’81? This one, I reckon

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TChdaJoGPUo

        Effectively ended Gillespie’s career (and he was some bowler) and put doubt in the minds of the Australian bowlers before the Ashes had even started. The 158 is obviously the innings that sealed the Ashes win, but that 91* was the starting point, before a ball had even been bowled.

    • Andrew Albury March 22, 2018 at 1:38 pm - Reply

      Of course, it ultimately comes down to the fact that he, like Morgan, and Greig before him, is not ‘English’.

      This Reminds Me of what Bernard says to Jim Hacker, in “Yes, Prime Minister” when, following the advice from Bernard that Hacker should have a quiet drink on the QT with the Governments’ Chief Scientific Adviser, because it was not thought that the CSA was “One Of Us!”

      Hacker: “But I thought he Won the DSO at Arnhem!”

      Bernard: “That doesn’t quite make up for speaking with an Austrian Accent!” (KP’s Afrikaans Accent anyone?)

  13. Cricket-Now March 22, 2018 at 7:38 pm - Reply

    Absolutely loved the man! He was hard done by the ECB after that Ashes but a great entertainer nonetheless! Miss you KP.

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