Monday, 7 April 2008

Longing for the old Pietersen

Watching a rerun of Kevin Pietersen's unbeaten 91, off just 65 balls, against Australia in a one-day international in 2005, was to see an innings of raw and uninhibited genius. His batting was calculated before an explosion that was truly astonishing: flicking straight balls over mid-wicket for six; crashing flat-batted straight drives with awe-inspiring power; and obliterating perfectly competent balls with scant regard for reputation. Undoubtedly, it ranks as one of the finest ODI innings ever played by an Englishman; wrestling back a match that they had threatened to lose through some brainless batting and a failure to seize the initiative.

The most astonishing thing about Pietersen's knock was the apparent inevitability of it all. This is not just a trick the rerun plays on us: coming just after he had blazed three centuries in South Africa and won the Man of the Match award against Australia in the Twenty20, Pietersen seemed invincible, able to do no wrong. His strike-rate suggests he must have been going at full-pelt throughout when in reality he was restrained for the first half of his innings.

Three years on, innings of the sort he played in those first and scarcely believable international knocks are increasingly hard to envisage. His strike-rate in the recent one-day series against New Zealand - who possess a significantly worse bowling attack than either Australia or South Africa did then - was a modest, and inadequate, 73.

Since then, Pietersen has seldom scaled the magnificent heights of those innings of 2005. He has lost some of his sheer 'wow factor'. Alas, it was inevitable. In these days of specialist analysts, it was inevitable opponents would find areas of weakness, and would not continue to feed his flamingo shot to mid-wicket. Pietersen, too, has been unable to maintain the enthusiasm and relish for the contest that characterised those glorious early months of his international career. That was also inevitable: the relentless international schedule simply does not allow otherwise.

Pietersen is essentially doing as well as anyone could have hoped, and only last Test played a superb and priceless innings. Nonetheless, it is easy to long for the sheer fearlessness, unorthodoxy and raw power of those first steps in international cricket. His maturity has come at a price.


Chrispy said...

Good piece Tim. He is such a different player now. Whilst there are negatives to that (mainly entertainment value) I think there are also positives, his ability to hit 200 now is something which I don't think he would have achieved using his older more cavalier game. Having said all of that he is still on the Symonds/Ponting side of the scale and not the Kallis/Dravid side!

Brian Carpenter said...

Excellent piece, Tim. As you say, video analysis and the international treadmill made some sort of falling-away inevitable, but I wonder if he's not a little bit guilty of paying too much attention to those who've banged on about his need to be a bit more orthodox (probably including me in the past). The innings in Napier (which I didn't see) was clearly something of a return to form but you have to feel he'd have been capable of making just as many runs over the last year playing with his old abandon. This summer, as always with KP, will be interesting.

As I mentioned in passing re the recent Thorpe piece, I thought his ODI hundreds in SA in early '05 were one of the greatest pieces of bravado batting I've ever seen, and I hope he can scale those heights again. Genius is the word.

Tim said...

Cheers all. I think he had to adapt in Tests, and could not have scored 200 playing in the 'old' way; in ODIs I'm not so sure, and I would long to see a return to those South Africa knocks!

Rob said...

You are spot on about Pietersen, I wonder if he has been coached too much by (the many) England backroom staff.

Olly said...

Let me add myself to the list of those saying, well said. He is no longer the cavalier batsman who can take a game by the scruff of the neck, or scare opposition bowlers into submission. He has matured though and he is a consistent and at times stylish run-getter. While his star-factor has diminished a little, he is now, a little more reliable and a bats with more responsibilty- almost too much if you ask me!