This is an utter farce. Claims, counter claims, legal restrictions and Piers Morgan have brewed a toxic cauldron of outrage and controversy which threatens to rot the very soul of English cricket. We all thought the merciless killings had stopped when the tour returned home from Australia but it was not to be. The new managing director, Paul Downton, the One Day International coach, Ashley Giles, and the test captain, Alistair Cook took the ruthless decision to axe star player and divisive influence Kevin Pietersen from the England set up completely.
There had been talk of Cook’s leadership being undermined, dressing room bust-ups, heated team meetings and backstabbing but there was a lack of concrete evidence. There were murmurings of a clash of personalities as Pietersen rubbed up Alistair Cook, one of the most mild mannered men in world sport, the wrong way.
This is nothing new though; Pietersen always had a very good knack of simply pissing people off, in spite of his unavoidable genius. Peter Moores is the most glaring victim to fall fowl of Pietersen’s over inflated and over indulged ego. There is also Andrew Strauss’ career which was arguably cut short due to the ‘textgate’ scandal of the summer of 2012. Kevin Pietersen has never been a people person.
Yet, why all the public outrage to the sacking if this prima donna needs nothing more than a reality check and kick up the backside? Well despite all his obvious personality ‘differences’, Kevin Pietersen is one of the most thrilling and enchanting batsman to ever grace Lords and the rest of those revered cricketing citadels.
His knack of pulverising the best bowling attacks in the world under his iconic front foot pull was as good as his knack of making enemies. His 158 at the Oval during the infamous 2005 Ashes series was, under the circumstances, possibly the greatest innings ever played by an Englishman. He dismantled Glenn Mcgrath, Shane Warne and Brett Lee to all corners of the ground as he all but sealed a first English Ashes win in over 20 years.
There were other innings of spectacular quality as well; the double century in Adelaide 2010 was majestic, the 186 in Mumbai two years ago was a watershed in the series and the Headingly century against his native South Africa was so glorious us mere mortals couldn’t even dream of playing like that. To say he was a batting god would be too far, but in his pomp he could well have been a demi-god as spectators drooled over cricket shots that were so good they shouldn’t have been allowed to happen under the laws of physics.
It’s not even as if people can level the criticism of inconsistent at him. Over 8,000 test runs and over 10,000 International runs represents a return befitting of legend status and a seat in Sky’s commentary box, although judging by recent comments I’m not sure that offer will be forthcoming. 23 test centuries, more than the likes of Gooch and Strauss is, to put it mildly, a mightily impressive effort.
Despite that, Downton, Cook and Giles were absolutely and utterly right to rid themselves once and for all of the debilitating disease that is Pietersen. It lingers and lulls you into a false sense of security before exerting excruatiating symptoms that will inevitably kill you at some point. The only cure is to force it out, which although bearable, also brings languishing pain.
Post-Ashes debacle Cook wants to build his own team with a new style and Pietersen just cannot be trusted to buy into the philosophy. First and foremost, he wants a group on whom he can rely; both to execute their skills with the utmost concentration and a group that will back his every decision. Until now, there have been too many questions about his captaincy. He also wants a group of young and hungry cricketers. Too many of the old guard, Swann (although he’s now gone), Prior, Bresnan and Pietersen himself have stagnated since the highs of 2010 and the extent of their motivation is under serious doubt.
His attitude in the field is also lax. As Geoff Boycott put it, Pietersen “grazes in the outfield” like a cow, moving without urgency, without intent as if he couldn’t be bothered. Cook will want his young team to be aggressive in the field, building pressure and intimidating batsmen but unfortunately Pietersen doesn’t seem to do that. There will be no room for passengers.
Most importantly though, Kevin Pietersen is not the man he once was. He no longer seems capable of playing those match-winning innings that created his legacy. The ‘va va voom’ factor has slowly dissipated from his batting. Whether it is a mental or physical decline I’m not so sure but what is obvious is that when he strides out to bat opposition captains no longer fear him, they see a wicket taking opportunity (normally at short mid wicket) and he invariably obliges. To use a phrase I usually reserve for goalkeepers, he is a liability.
Kevin Pietersen has always been unique. He has divided dressing rooms and management structures yet united the country behind his brilliance. He has been a focal point in what most would class as a decade of unprecedented English success. He has blessed us with mesmerising quality. He has opened our eyes to what is possible; switch-hitting Muttiah Murathilerin, one of the greatest spin-bolwers to ever play cricket, for six in the World Twenty20 was outrageous. It was a shot befitting of a knock about rather than an international stage. He made us reassess our limitations. Yet, he has always had the ability to get it wrong. Be it shot timing, shot selection or something as trivial as retweeting a link to a show named ‘Kevin Pietersen: The Greatest Innings’ he always knew how to annoy people. He has been an enigma that has been a wonderful servant to English cricket, yet his legacy, rather than him, will be missed.