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An ode to Kevin Pietersen

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Kevin_Pietersen_England_CricketIt’s not shocking that Kevin Pietersen called time on his career on March 17, 2018. His exit had been signaled at least four years before. But it does mean that England’s fears, surrounding this man they associated less with striking flamboyant innings and more with causing attrition in the unit, have been laid to rest.

And it happened without them striking the final blow. Pietersen himself pulled the trigger.

In Pietersen’s lexicon, it could be labeled an interesting switch-hit. Though it lacked the familiar exuberance with which he constructed his 24 incredible Test hundreds.

Yet at the same time, it’s a wise call after all.

At 37, you couldn’t expect the charm of appearing for Quetta Gladiators to keep his spirit up and running in the sport. Most cricketers battle pressure from opponents and the threat that personal injuries pose to their careers. Sadly, in Pietersen’s case, the threat was from in between; outside himself but from within the English camp.

But he was, after all, the one responsible for dousing the fire. His die-hard fans will forever be haunted by the possibilities and ‘what ifs’ that might have been, had Pietersen stayed mum on the Andy Flower fiasco.

In KP’s case, you were compelled to think the implosion within led to the fireworks on the pitch. Lest it be forgotten, these fireworks resulted in the defeat of England’s opponents, more often than not.

 

None before him and definitely none since his arrival have been as challenged by the speculation surrounding their own place in the side. Still it did little to diminish Pietersen’s focus in the middle. Every shot, whether a lucky edge or blasted from the meat of the bat, bustled with enterprise and ambition. At one stage, before the infamous 2012 episode where he texted the South Africans about his altercations with Strauss, Pietersen was striking runs and collecting hundreds like a tycoon minting millions.

 

Despite not being the most popular bloke on the circuit, he was admired. You didn’t have to be a fan of the man to be transfixed by his batting.

The high back-lift, the hurried shuffle when facing spinners and the undaunted approach dancing down to fast bowlers- the purists were stunned by the ostentatious performances of KP, each time he attempted to bring England closer to victory.

His arrival to the crease was not greeted with an ovation from the crowd (who were more likely to go overboard in welcoming Alastair Cook), but once on song, Pietersen was utterly intoxicating. Everything about Kevin Pietersen – the switch-hits, one-legged whacks to midwicket, boisterous pulls and the skunk hair – were spell-binding showdowns.

Despite being very much a team man when on the field or building partnerships, KP was quite a loner away from the pitch. It could be said that the ‘Green Room’ was exile for him. Luckily, he didn’t have to reside in it.

 

It wasn’t that Pietersen couldn’t be subdued. Or moved to a stage of dormancy. Warne did it and so did McGrath. But their on-field battles produced some of England’s most marvelous triumphs, particularly in Test cricket. It was amidst an intensely furious struggle for supremacy between the bat and ball that The Oval stood on its feet to witness that iconic 158.

 

England’s quintessential bad boy was not always the apple of everyone’s eyes and the darling of the media. In 2005, you could sense in him a bursting ambition and the overpowering zeal to take England to newer triumphs. He succeeded. But along with the triumphs came many tribulations.

In the period following England’s 2005 Ashes triumph, concerns grew over Pietersen’s equation with Cook, Anderson and the rest. Flintoff dropped a bombshell when he revealed, “KP was particularly hard to lead”. The period of Strauss’ leadership made KP feel stifled, gasping for breath after being thrown into the waters.

Throughout all these trying times, Pietersen was either house hopping or hairstyle changing or something else; masking his inner torment with changing exteriors. Perhaps it was resorting to vanity that helped KP cope, even if ever so briefly.

But all said and done, you could argue England extracted all they possibly could from a player who borders somewhere between a flawed enigma and a well of unfulfilled potential.

The surprise about KP isn’t that he lasted for as long as he did, garnering 104 Test appearances. But in fact in how well he coped with a cricketing journey as spoiled by fear and uncertainty as it was dotted with flirtations with the stuff of genius. KP was not only a player with flair but a successful proponent of inducing fear in the minds of England’s opponents.

It’s no light matter that he appeared in more Test outings than Ted Dexter and Peter May and even his fiercest critics must join hands in admiration to acknowledge that his Test average stands higher than even Boycott, Gower and Colin Cowdrey.

KP wasn’t about gentleness on the crease and soft, feathery elegance, the kind we’ve seen from David Gower or VVS Laxman. He was about a violent takedown of the opponent. The cricketing equivalent of a Mike Tyson at the peak of his powers.

He was a maverick with a permanent air of impermanence about him. So instead of begrudging the often divisive aspects of his flamboyant personality, we’d be served well to rewind back to his heroic efforts that earned England the Urn, not once but on four separate occasions during KP’s time with the bat.

 

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