- Arts & Literature
- Science & Technology
By Ben Crome
It’s time to nurture, not isolate, talent and bring Kevin Pietersen back into the England fold.
After their unexpected World Twenty20 triumph in 2010, this year England reverted to their largely abject record in major competitions. Limp defeats to India, the West Indies and Sri Lanka, characterised by top-order collapses, misfiring death bowlers, and cluelessness against spin, ensured an early flight home from Colombo for Stuart Broad’s team.
Unusually, these familiar deficiencies were often sidelined by the English press. Its primary focus was Kevin Pietersen. Absent at the end of a tumultuous summer, during which he retired from international limited-overs
cricket and was alleged to have texted his criticisms of England’s management to several of the South African players then on tour in England, he finally reversed his one-day retirement before being dropped from the Test team.
The attention Pietersen commands is perhaps unsurprising given that he is England’s most gifted batsman in a generation and was player of the tournament two years ago. While Eoin Morgan tried his best to lead England’s youthful batting line-up, Pietersen’s star quality was sorely missed. Questions were asked of Broad and coach Andy Flower as to why the South African-born player, fit and willing to play, spent the tournament in a television studio rather than on the field.
Yet consensus remains that Pietersen’s absence was primarily his own fault. Although no evidence of the texts was ever found, he has never lost a reputation for being difficult to manage. While some still struggle to accept his South African heritage, for many, he is simply not a team player; just look at his falling-out with Peter Moores which cost Flower’s predecessor as coach his job.
However, any cricket fan must appreciate the extraordinary determination and resilience which has brought Pietersen from Natal’s second team to the game’s elite. The greatest strength of Pietersen’s batting is its innovative strokeplay, from his flamingo-style mid-wicket flick to the pioneering, destructive switch-hit. Whatever his natural talent, skills like these can only be learned through hard work. Pietersen’s endeavour is driven by enormous ambition, as well as fear of failing to realise his potential.
Once the 32-year-old’s demeaning ‘reintegration process’ is complete, it will be seen as a resurfacing of one of British sport’s fundamental problems: its rejection of virtuosos.
Kevin Pietersen will soon return to the England team, and could end his career as statistically England’s best ever batsman. The more important test will be whether English cricket has learned how to ensure its future stars flourish without leaving them isolated.