Saturday, February 8, 2014

Kevin Pietersen: Superstar

Earlier this week, the English Cricket Board ended Kevin Pietersen's England career by telling the world that they will not be needing his services any longer and thereby robbing cricket fans like me, the chance to see him play cricket at the highest level. The fact is that whichever way you look at it, the English cricket team is going to be much weaker without him. That is of no relevance to me. But as I fan of his batting, not getting the chance to see KP play test cricket any more is a great disappointment.
I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that in my 23-24 years of watching cricket, Kevin Pietersen has been one of the most exciting players to watch. You are unlikely to read a better tribute to KP than this one by Jon Hotten, and he gets it absolutely right when he says, "There were some batsmen more skilled and better than Pietersen in that phase, but he had this innate imagination and feel. His game was an act of creativity and it's no exaggeration to say that he broadened the horizons of batsmanship."
Imagination and feel - words that capture Pietersen's game brilliantly. At the batting crease he did things very differently and he did things which few, if any, could match. He was not the most consistent of batsmen, but he played more memorable innings than most. His thrilling three centuries in his debut series against his country of birth, his equally thrilling entry into test cricket in the 2005 Ashes which culminated with his marvelous hundred at The Oval; 100s in each of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, including that brilliant innings at Mumbai that will stay with cricket fans for the ages; his tons at Adelaide - there are plenty of special ones in there.

My personal KP favourite is his 149 vs South Africa at Leeds, a game before he was dropped  for apparently causing disharmony to the team. The entire innings is a classic but if you are short of time, jump to 7:39. He has crossed his 100 and then goes into overdrive. First he spanks and I mean he absolutely spanks the best bowler in the world Dale Steyn down the ground. Steyn is literally ducking for cover there. The audacity of that is unbelievable. Listen to Michael Vaughan describe KP's batting on the commentary. Next shot on the highlight reel - a sort of half pull, half flick through midwicket, again off Steyn,  described by Geoffrey Boycott on air. "Dismissive" he calls it, it is almost casual, make to look ridiculously easy - a playground stroke played against Steyn. And then to complete the trilogy of sorts of imperious strokes, he tonks Dale Steyn for a six straight down the ground. It is jaw dropping stuff. Dale Steyn is shaking his head in disbelief at all this. And so are you by now, I guess.

Kevin Pietersen was one of the few batsmen who could make me want to come home early from office or get up early from sleep to watch him play. These days, I am often watching cricket while also being preoccupied by doing something else - working on the laptop or some such, but KP had my undivided attention when he came to bat. He brought the viewer to the edge of his seat and go wow, more often than most and probably more often than any other English cricketer in its history. And that is because, he had this ability, this gift, this belief, to do extraordinary things on the cricket pitch. His uniqueness - right from his background and image to his massively wide stance, his onside play, his ability to take the  ball  very early using his great reach, his switch hits, his "flamingo" shot, everything - made him stand out from the crowd. Sure, you can have your players with better averages and more consistency and what not, but very few captured my imagination like KP and in the end that's what will stay with me.And as a neutral, he improved the image of the English cricket team and made them worthwhile watching while he was there.
It is unfortunate that we will not be seeing KP play international cricket any more. Of course there is the IPL and other T20 leagues and stuff, but it isn't quite the same thing. I have also had a chance to listen to him describing play as a commentator, or explain his own batting in some of the shows of Sky and he has this wonderful ability to talk sense and  describe things with great clarity. In due course, I see him as a top commentator as well.
For now, England can go back to executing their attritional, little game plan with harmony now without him, but I really don't have much time for them and their incompetent management any more.
Kevin Pietersen - Cricket's Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Farewell. And see you at the IPL.

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