My defining memory of Kevin Pietersen as an England player comes from a match in 2010. It was Day Three of the England v Pakistan test at the Oval. I was there on the day with ten friends; it was my stag do. Possibly the magnitude of the event for me personally is what has helped make this my all time KP moment, but I doubt it.
England had started the day with Cook and Anderson at the crease, Jimmy in the role of night watchman after Strauss has fallen early. England did not have many runs on the board. There was a lot of pressure on Cook that day; his form had been poor for a long time and there was talk of him being dropped from the upcoming Ashes tour Down Under (yes, THAT tour Down Under. The one in which he got 766 runs). Alistair started the day on single figures; in the afternoon session he got to a well-deserved century, strangely enough on an overthrow by the Pakistani fielders. In the same session, Trott got out for a painfully but typically protracted 32 off of 130 balls. Then, in came Pietersen, striding out of the Pavilion with his usual swagger.
“Right, bets on KP’s innings,” I said to the sub group of friends around me. The stag had settled itself by the start of the day’s second session into cricket fans and non-cricket fans. The non-cricket fans mostly sat by the beer sellers in the stand while the rest of us perched on the edge of our seats, chewing our nails.
“I say 14 lbw,” came Theo.
“8 lbw,” was my bet. Dan, a touch older and wiser, shook his head.
“24 lbw. But it will all be over quickly.”
Sure enough, Dan’s prediction was the closest. Within the space of about 50 balls, Pietersen found himself walking back to the Pavilion having made 23 runs, out leg before (we were all correct about the manner of dismissal). It was a typical KP innings in most respects. A shaky start that seemed to have no effect on his confidence or shot selection; a few fours that had come perilously off the edge of the bat, mistimed in the extreme but luckily put in an area out of reach of any fielder; then it came, the inevitable, casual demise at the hands of an easily foreseen ball.
Yesterday, the ECB announced that Kevin Pietersen, England’s long standing mercurial number four batsman, will never wear the Three Lions ever again. Those of us who have watched Pietersen play for England for the past eight and a half years will inevitably have mixed feelings about this decision. I do think it says something that my abiding memory of one of England’s greatest all time batsmen (fourth all time test run scorer with 8,181 – only Gooch, Alec Stewart and Gower managed to amass more runs in test cricket while wearing an England shirt) is of one of his ignominious failures, but ultimately Pietersen was a player who aggravated as much as he entertained. My other, more general remembrance of him playing for England was the way the home crowds would bait him for a wave when he played out at deep backward point or cow corner, shouting “KP give us a wave!” in the knowledge he would ignore them for ages until finally breaking down and giving them a begrudged, half arsed gesture before then turning back in disgust, more than anything at the way this seemed to be what the crowd had wanted all along, at least if you judged by the laughter that followed. KP as pantomime villain, even to his own fans.
But having said all of that, I still think that in publicly excluding Pietersen from their future plans, the English Cricket Board have made an error of monumental proportions. There are many reasons for this; I’ll try and stick to only the most pertinent. For a start, timing. Pietersen has been made the scapegoat for the 5-0 white wash Down Under for what appears to be stupid reasons. Yes, KP had some soft dismissals in Australia, but what’s new? Fact is, they wanted to sacrifice a senior player and since Swann had already fallen on his sword, Trott had departed early in the tour for health reasons and they’ve figured out that there is no one who can immediately replace Cook as captain, KP was next in line. The departure of so many senior players in the last couple of months makes the exclusion of Pietersen even sillier. For instance, who the hell is going to take over at number four? I’ve wracked my brain last night and this morning and no one is a great fit. Bairstow? He didn’t exactly set the world on fire in KP’s absence last year. Bring Morgan back? Probably not. Move Bell to four? Wait a second, now that I think about it, with Trott gone who the hell is going to play at number three? Or even number two for that matter? Root’s name is by no means down there in solid ink for Sri Lanka and India this summer after they moved him up and down the order like a malfunctioning lift.
With so many spaces to fill in the test team this summer, picking this moment to put out to pasture England’s most exciting player seems hopelessly short sighted. We as England fans can only hope the ECB has something resembling a plan up their sleeves. If history is anything to go on, however, I doubt that’s the case.
I leave now with a thank you to the man who managed to amass twenty-three hundreds for England. A guy who we will probably all look back on as the most entertaining batsmen ever to have graced a cricket pitch. And for what it’s worth, I’ll miss the 23 lbw off 50 ropey balls as much as I’ll miss the double centuries. It was all part of the Pietersen show.