Monday, 10 February 2014

Have We Seen The Last of KP?

by Sampad Sengupta

It has been labelled by some as the end of an era, the chance to start afresh, possibly with better things to come.  England’s disastrous tour of Australia, where they were humbled by the hosts, signalled the need for a change in guard.  With a couple of senior cricketers deciding to call time on their careers, it paved the way for youngsters to step up and take their chance.  Amid all the media speculation, one of English cricket’s most prominent figures was handed a blow as part of the ECB’s (England and Wales Cricket Board) plan to rebuild their side.  Under rather controversial circumstances, Kevin Pietersen, England’s highest run-scorer combining all formats of the game, was told he was no longer part of the ECB’s plans going forward.  I say controversial as it is not very common for a player to be publicly told that he is not needed and with words such as “sacked” creeping in.  Usually with cricketers, if they are not in form or the selectors feel they’re not performing as expected, they are simply dropped/rested/not included in future squads.  However, this was not the case with Pietersen and the statements released by the ECB made it quite clear that Kevin Pietersen would not feature for England again.

 Pietersen’s career has always been marred by controversy ever since his debut in 2004 but that did not stop him from being named captain (albeit for a short time) in 2007.  He has always been one of England’s mainstays in the batting order.  Often criticised by former cricketers for his rash and somewhat irresponsible style of play, KP (as he is often called) has proved to be a match-winner for England on a number of occasions.  He has scored 8181 runs in Test cricket, 4440 runs in ODI’s and 1176 runs in T20I’s all at impressive strike rates, which has been a feature of his game.  His flamboyant brand of cricket has made him one of the most exciting cricketers in the world today.

The trademark switch-hit
As I mentioned earlier, Pietersen has often found himself at the centre of controversy off the field.  He was involved in a much publicised rift with former coach Peter Moores which led to Moores’ removal by the ECB and also Pietersen’s unexpected resignation as captain.  Many have questioned his attitude in the dressing room and he has been thought of as the common denominator in many disagreements within the various teams he has played for.  More recently during a series against South Africa in 2012, he was involved in the ‘text-gate’ controversy with him being accused of having sent defamatory text messages to South African players regarding then captain Andrew Strauss and coach Andy Flower.  He was dropped from the squad and his future in international cricket was brought into question.  Later on that year however, Pietersen made his comeback to the national side and had been one of their star performers off late.  Recently retired off-spinner Graeme Swann has gone on record saying Pietersen’s attitude and behaviour in the dressing room had been much better since his reintegration into the side.  This further begs the question as to what instigated the decision to remove Pietersen from the side.

In a statement released by the ECB, it says that the decision to sack Pietersen was made in order to improve the environment in the dressing room and to ensure the players “trust each other”.  It has denied rumours and stood by certain players who were said to be involved in a row with Pietersen, stating that the decision was made as part of their plan to “rebuild” the team and "To do that we must invest in our captain Alastair Cook and we must support him in creating a culture in which we can be confident he will have the full support of all players, with everyone pulling in the same direction and able to trust each other.” (Source- BBC Sport)

If the decision stands and Kevin Pietersen has played his last match for England, it brings to and end what has been a tremendous career in rather dull fashion.  Although he would still continue to play First-class cricket and feature (perhaps more often now) in domestic competitions around the world, it is a shame that he would not be seen setting the international stage on fire again.  His exit, in no way less dramatic than the rest of his career, raises the question as to whether there is still room for mavericks in the sport, at least in English cricket.  England would now need to find a suitable replacement for Pietersen, someone who could produce match-winning innings as he has done and provide entertainment for spectators.  I would say, and I choose my words carefully when I say this, he was the greatest batsman to play for England.  Why did I have to choose carefully you ask? This is because many would argue he was not the greatest ‘English batsman’.

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