Divisive, cock-sure, arrogant , call him what you want, but with bat in hand Kevin Pietersen was a genius.
And this maverick persona, yet wonderful batsman appears to have called time on a glittering, if not vexed career.
Who can forget his 158 against the best Australian team, or any for that matter, of all time. What about the 186 glorious runs in Mumbai, where he made an Indian attack, in their own backyard, look nothing less than pie-flingers.
It was almost surreal to see an English batsman play spin with such ease. England’s ‘trials of spin’ can be likened to the fate of accused witches in the 16th century, guilty or not, they were inevitably damned.
Someone just tweeted me to tell me that I scored 30000+ runs including 152 fifty’s & 68 hundreds in my pro career. 4 Ashes wins. Home & away! T20 WC win. Beaten India in India. Home & away 100’s in all major Test nations apart from Bangladesh. All dedicated to my family who have just been the most unreal supporters through thick & thin! I’m super proud of everything! Thank you for all the quite lovely msgs! I loved entertaining you all! Ciao, cricket! I love this game!
Yet Pietersen flayed the spin trio of Ravi Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha to all parts, seemingly hitting boundaries at will.
But there was another side to ‘KP’, the one who texted members of the opposition during an ongoing series abusing then England captain Andrew Strauss. The ‘KP’ who was allegedly ridiculed by team-mates for his brash behaviour in the changing rooms.
And not only off the field, but also on Pietersen had his moments to forget. A series of rash shots, when his team were under the pump, led to question marks over the alleged selfishness of his batting.
But that was the nature of the beast, sometimes short-lived but when coming off, it was glorious as well as match-winning.
Pietersen ended his Test career with 104 caps, 8181 runs and 23 centuries to his name. In truth, these are numbers which should have been hugely inflated.
It was a career cut criminally short by controversy, not level of his batsmanship. An ignominious end that brought into question the conflict between someone being bigger than the team and losing your most gifted batsman as a result.
A debate that reached partisan levels after England had lost their first series after KP’s omission at home to Sri Lanka.
But that’s opening an altogether new can of worms.
“His sweep shots, flicks and clips are being emulated by batsman all over the globe, but Pietersen’s twilight years saw him perhaps fall behind the rapidly moving T20 train, and, while he led England to their first and only ICC trophy in the form of the World T20, he never won a franchise tournament despite his many attempts.”
While rubbed up people the wrong way, so he often rubbed off daunting first innings totals or deficits.
So let’s focus on KP the batsman.
The true testament to how good a player is, in any sport, rests on how easy they make the game look. At his best, Pietersen made batting look the proverbially simple as A, B and C.
You only have had to attempt it to know that whipping the ball off middle-stump is extremely difficult, regardless of the fact someone may only be bowling in 70mph.
Pietersen did it to every bowler, in all conditions.
He was born to hold a cricket bat, it was a wand in his grasp. A true craftsman who had mastered his art.
For all his brilliance and down right outrageousness, Pietersen was perhaps T20 pioneer, not great.
His sweep shots, flicks and clips are being emulated by batsman all over the globe, but Pietersen’s twilight years saw him perhaps fall behind the rapidly moving T20 train, and, while he led England to their first and only ICC trophy in the form of the World T20, he never won a franchise tournament despite his many attempts.
It was Test cricket where Pietersen will be most fondly remembered.
He played for a country whose supporters place cricket played in the white clothing ahead of coloured, and it encaspulates Pietersen’s character that he was most succesful in the format that is most cherished.
His sense of the ‘big occasion’ shone through like no other.
A smattering of his best innings include a double ton at Adelaide during England’s historic 3-1 victory down-under, 150 at the same venue in 2006. Such knocks only reaffirm the fact that Pietersen performed in the series that matter most. ‘England players are remembered for what they’ve done in Ashes series’.
But his best innings, from his own admission, was on a raging-bunsen in Colombo in 2012. With humidity at near-unbearable levels, a sweat-drenched Pietsersen hit 151 effortless runs to set up an impressive England win.
He had his faults, and that’s putting it kindly, but perhaps we should remember KP the batsman, not the man.