I had always believed that modern era of batsmanship was of two kinds: one in the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and the other kind in the likes of Rahul Dravid, Steve Waugh. But then I saw this new guy. This guy’s batting showcased pure arrogance; you bowl short then he will hook it instead of ducking it; he had the textbook covered, but still he would play shots that cannot be taught; he intimidates bowlers; this guy would sabotage even the best of the best. Only then I realized I had seen a third kind; somewhere close to the likes of Sir Viv Richards. That guy was born as Kevin Pietersen.
Let us go back a while, say Ashes 2005; one of the most dramatic test series ever played in the history of this beautiful game. More importantly, it was also the debut test series for KP.
SITUATION AND VENUE: 3rd Innings, Day 5, 5th Test, The Oval
SCENARIO: England surprisingly made a strong comeback after the humiliating defeat at the 1st test in Lords. All of a sudden, the Ashes seems to be in the grasp for England after 16 years. Australia are fighting back to win the test and square the series to regain the Ashes. England have a faint lead of 73 with 7 more wickets in hand as McGrath removed England skipper Michael Vaughan and Ian Bell in successive deliveries; he is now on a hat-trick and in comes Kevin Pietersen to the crease.
NERVOUS START: McGrath bowls a superb bouncer for his hat-trick ball, but it is overshadowed by some terrific umpiring by Billy Bowden. The replays showed that the ball had come off his shoulder. The Aussies reckon they had him, but not that day. Shane Warne attacks from the other end by adding a giant spin to get past the outside edge of KP’s bat. Brett Lee has a go at KP, as he makes him jump high to reach for the ball. Soon, KP edges a ball from Lee to the slip cordon, but Shane Warne puts down a sitter. Shane Warne wondered if he had dropped THE ASHES.
THE KP SHOW: Kevin Pietersen thanked the Lady Luck and sent her away, as he started to dictate terms against one the best bowling line-ups at that time. McGrath’s short balls were pulled and hooked; Lee’s express deliveries were butchered; Warne’s balls were sent for a spin to the stands. Brett Lee then bowled a fraction short to witness one of the most unorthodox cricketing shot every played. KP stood in his crease and bludgeoned it straight down the wicket. Michael Slater said on air “It is like one-day mode for Pietersen. This is eh..baseball.”; Geoffery Boycott with his natural orgasm replied “It’s four, and that’s all that matters.” KP was finally dismissed for 158, but England regained the Ashes after 16 years in the most dramatic fashion. For a guy on his debut series, that sort of an innings under intense pressure, and against the best bowling attack in the world is something spectacular. It made the cricketing world look up to him as a great potential.
He grew from strength to strength; he was regarded as England’s greatest modern day cricketer. He started to win games single handedly. He thrives on his image and popularity. He is mouthy and wants to have an impact on everything. He worked hard to deserve the limelight. He thought IPL missed him more, so he took care of it; perhaps a little too much that made his board to raise eyebrows. KP had become a necessary evil for ECB.
England’s 2011 summer saw them rise to top of the test rankings, but soon followed a horrible winter. They were whitewashed in the ODI series in India and in the test series in Dubai against Pakistan. They survived the battle for pride against the Lankans. KP was still scoring centuries. The 2012 English summer had the most anticipated test series. England faced a stern test against the Proteas. They had gone down fighting to lose the series 0-2. During the interim, the KP saga sparked off which resulted in termination of his central contract. The cricketing schedule overdose issue is a major concern for everyone and KP was brave enough to raise it, but the way he presented it with some extra spicing such as “I was not taken care properly. I want to play the whole IPL” changed his crossroads.
For me, KP is too good a player to be missed at the international level, mainly in the test format. When he is at his best, there is hardly anyone who could play better cricketing and unorthodox shots like he does. I watched him speak as a television pundit for this T20 world cup. He said “Watson creates so much time that he goes back, and is ready to pull to send the ball rows back. Kohli has terrific potential. His timing is exquisite. Gayle will whack you apart easily if you give him room to express himself”. The most saddening part of this was knowing that KP could have easily done what those guys did, but it was so unfortunate to see him in the studio than on a cricketing pitch.
But the news of KP being reintegrated for a reconciliation process has brought smiles to millions of the cricketing fraternity. No doubt that his action of sending messages to the opposition camp was unethical. ECB’s action to terminate his central contract was a clear indication that no individual is bigger than the team (Sachin and BCCI is strictly exceptional). But to resolve such complicated threads and move forward is the best solution.
I had once heard of a cricketer nicknamed Swagger. He would never wear a helmet. He chewed gum and took guard. He would tap his bat in the middle of the pitch. He had an eye of a hawk. He would devastate any ball out of the park. He said “It is history that you will never forget”. I have never seen Sir Viv Richards bat, but today when I see Kevin Pietersen I could imagine how Viv would have dismantled every single bowler. I only wish that the second coming of KP is a successful and a long journey.