Kevin Pietersen: The controversial genius

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26 Jun 2020 | 10:03 PM
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Ashish Pant

Kevin Pietersen: The controversial genius

On this day in 1980, one of the best batsman to put on an England shirt, Kevin Pietersen was born

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Charismatic, nonchalant, volatile – few in world cricket have divided opinions than Kevin Pietersen but it remains a fact that he is one the best players to ever put on England shirt.

For close to eight years, Pietersen captured hearts of the nation. He never shied away from an opinion that often did not rub on his teammates the right way but when it came to batting, few bettered him. His flamboyant strokeplay, the upright stance and the way he hit the ball made him a box-office figure.

8,181 runs at 47.28 in 104 Tests, 4440 runs at 40.73 in 136 ODIs and 1176 runs at 37.93 in 37 T20Is – one glance at Pietersen’s career shows how big an asset he was for England across all three formats. In fact, there was a time when he was the highest run-scorer for England when all formats combined. He currently stands third on that list. Yet, it was not in England where he first began his cricket. Born on this day, in 1980, in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa to Afrikaner father, Jannie, and an English mother, Penny, Pietersen played his maiden first-class game for Natal ‘B’ against Easterns at Kingsmead at a tender age of 17.

He was more of an off-spinner than a batsman at the time but as always packed a serious punch. The quota system in South African cricket which exists to date did not go down well with him and he joined Nottinghamshire in the year 2000. He was with the club till the start of 2003 before moving to Hampshire where he stayed till 2010. 

He showed the volume of his talent in the first year of first-class cricket itself scoring 1275 runs at 57.95 which included a double-century against Derbyshire. His reputation got a massive boost on England A’s tour of India in early 2004 where he smashed 523 runs in three first-class games at 104.60 which included three centuries and one half-century. 

Not long after, he was called up to the senior side in a low-key ODI series against Zimbabwe. He finished with an average of 104 as England clean-swept Zimbabwe 4-0. He then arrived in the nation of his birth for a seven-match ODI series with England. He was met with boos aplenty each time he walked out but he soon turned those boos into gasps as he treated the South African fans to some of the cleanest striking they had ever seen. 

In 6 innings, Pietersen smacked 3 centuries, 1 half-century finishing the series as the highest run-scorer across both sides with 454 runs and a colossal average of 151.33. 

While Pietersen had already made waves on the international circuit, Ashes 2005 was what really made him an icon.  He announced himself on the Test circuit with a half-century in both innings of his debut game and even though England lost the opening match of Ashes 2005, Pietersen knew he belonged at the top level. 

He scored just one half-century in the next three Tests but the final match of the series, and undoubtedly the most important one was what thrust Pietersen into national recognition. 

Going into the final Test, England were leading 2-1 and needed just a draw to retain the urn. But Australia wasn’t a team that was going to give up that easy, were they? England took a slender lead of 7 runs in the first innings but Shane Warne, the magician, in the final stages of his career still had it in him to ruffle the best in the business. England were reduced to 199/7 but Pietersen held his own. He had a few strokes of luck but made sure he held on. He smacked his way to 158, making the game safe for England. The hosts won the Ashes, cricket had been revived again in England, Pietersen became the talk of the town. 

Less than a year into international cricket, Pietersen was named the ICC Emerging Player of the Year and the ICC ODI batsman of the year. He was also one of Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Year in 2005. Over the next three years or so, Pietersen ruled the roost in all formats of the game for England. 

2008 was the first time when Pietersen’s problems with the English management started. He was appointed captain in August that year, and by December 2008, he was relieved of his duties. Pietersen became IPL’s most expensive buy in the 2009 edition when he was brought by RCB for $1.55 million. He wasn’t as successful in the IPL but remained a popular buy by the franchises nevertheless. 

In July 2012, Pietersen retired from all limited-overs cricket after a heated argument with the English management. Then in September 2012 was when things went out of hand. He was accused of sending text messages to the South African team that were derogatory to people in the England setup. 

There was time for another comeback when Pietersen scripted probably the best innings of his career – a stupendous 186 on a dust bowl in Mumbai as England won a Test series in India for the first time in 28 years. 

After a disastrous tour of Australia in 2013-14, Pietersen was dropped from the team and he never played for England again. He finished as the second-highest century-maker for England with 23 tons only behind Alastair Cook (33) and the fifth-highest run-scorer for his country behind Cook, Graham Gooch, Alec Stewart and David Gower.  

With England turning their backs on him, Pietersen had to be contended with making a career in T20 cricket. He played in the IPL, BBL, PSL and CPL making a name for himself wherever he went.  He finally called time on his career in March 2018. 

Many believe that Pietersen should have been brought into the England team, many believed he got what he deserved. But one thing is for sure, Pietersen will always be remembered as one of the top batsmen to play for England. 

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