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News of Kevin Pietersen's characteristically unorthodox retirement from limited-overs international cricket shook this nation to its core. The Queen, just days before celebrating her Jubilee by being plonked on a flotilla and fired down the Thames, was reportedly "beside herself", after booking a two-week holiday in Sri Lanka for her and the Duke of Edinburgh to coincide with the World Twenty20 this autumn.
Pietersen's partial retirement was an announcement that, whilst not quite in the category of Elvis Presley appearing at an emotional press conference at Lord's announcing that he was (a) still alive, (b) available for selection for England in all formats, and (c) turning down an IPL contract to focus on playing for Kent, was nonetheless still a shock.
From a cricketing perspective, whether you are an England supporter, player, administrator, or none of the above, Pietersen's premature exit from the shorter forms of the international game is a massive disappointment. Albeit not quite as massive a disappointment as it would have been if Elvis Presley, at the end of that emotional press conference, had pulled off a mask to reveal that he was in fact Kent skipper Robert Key.
Inevitably, within seconds of the announcement, in which Pietersen declared unequivocally why he had taken this rather drastic step ‒ due to the physical demands of the international schedule on his ageing body ‒ speculation began as to why Pietersen had taken this rather drastic step. Was it to concentrate on his Test career? To maximise his potential T20 earnings? To spend more time with his family? Or, as some outlandish conspiracy theorists suggested, due to the physical demands of the international schedule on his ageing body?
Time will tell. Pietersen has already told, but time will also tell. As will the number of T20 contracts he hoovers up over the next few years. Personally, I think his stated reasons are understandable. Cricket, like most professional sports in the increasingly competitive 21st-century era, has been busily trying to squeeze eggs out of any even vaguely golden, silvery or bronze-tinted geese. In a summer when it was apparently impossible to schedule even a four-Test series against South Africa, let alone the five Tests it merited, Pietersen can be forgiven for looking at the calendar of 13 ODIs and thinking that it would be hard to maintain his focus and enthusiasm throughout. I am sure many England supporters are thinking the same. This absurd menu of 50-over porridge now looks even less appetising without England's most exciting player.
As the current make-up of the West Indian team testifies, players are being forced to make choices that there is no good reason for them being forced to make. Cricket's calendar urgently needs to see a psychiatrist. Its behaviour is increasingly irrational, and it is starting to alienate even those who love it. It clearly has deep-seated issues that need addressing, before it does itself irreparable harm. And, like the rest of us, it needs to find a satisfactory life-balance between money and spiritual well-being.
● Pietersen's ODI career has been a rather baffling journey, but his back-to-back hundreds in Dubai in February suggested that he could have gone on to become a dominant, potentially tournament-winning one-day opener and England's best-ever ODI batsman (not an especially hotly contested category, admittedly) (barely even warmly contested) (he possibly/probably is that anyway, but his overall ODI career has nevertheless been something of a disappointment) (in his first ten and final two innings combined, he averaged a supernatural 178, and scored five centuries - in the 104 innings over six and a half years in between, his average was a distinctly human 34, and he hit four hundreds) (so the feeling persists that ODI cricket had not seen as much of the best of Pietersen as it should have).
His retirement is also a sizeable baseball bat to the midriff of England's hopes of retaining the World T20 title they won in the Caribbean two years ago, in which Pietersen was the dominant influence, scoring 73 not out (off 52 balls), 53 (off 33), 42 not out (off 26), and 47 (off 31) in the four successive victories that took England to their first major limited-over trophy. He can stake a claim to being the best batsman to date in the short history of T20 internationals, a format in which he scored consistently and rapidly ‒ he was out in single figures just four times in 36 innings, and scored 40 or more 14 times, more than any other player, ahead of Brendon McCullum (12 times in 47 innings).
However, if his voluntary streamlining of his England schedule results in him being mentally, physically and technically fresh for Test cricket in the next few Ashes-laden years, few will complain.
● Amongst the innumerable reasons for the West Indies' continued failure as a Test team is the high turnover of players. From the completely pointless 2009 two-Test series in England, eight of the England XI were playing at Trent Bridge in this year's second Test. Of the remaining three, Onions was in the squad, and Bopara close to it. Only the retired Collingwood is out of the Test picture.
Of the 2009 West Indian XI that capitulated so meekly it looked like they were trying to fast-track themselves to inheriting the earth (a possible legacy of the Allen Stanford era), only two remain - Shivnarine Chanderpaul and the recently recalled Denesh Ramdin. Fidel Edwards played in the Lord's Test, but the rest have gone their various ways, including paceman Jerome Taylor, who, having destroyed England in a series-winning blitz in Jamaica just months previously, has gone on to play only one more Test after the 2009 series.
Taylor now seems engaged in an endless squabblathon with the impenetrable mystic entity that is the WICB. Part of the elongobicker revolves around the allegation that his fitness is not up to the standards required to represent West Indies in a Test match. Having seen the not-entirely-Bruce-Reid-esque girth of Ravi Rampaul at Trent Bridge, this raises suspicions that Taylor had succumbed to a diet of battered cheese and lard ice-cream, and ballooned to the size of an unusually gluttonous sumo wrestler, and that, aside from issues of declining form, he logistically cannot be squeezed out of the dressing room door onto the field of play. Or that the WICB has still not mastered the delicate art of player management. Your call.
● I promised in my last blog that this blog would feature Marlon Samuels. I am now promising that the next blog will feature Marlon Samuels. If you are Marlon Samuels, I apologise. The rest of you, I expect to take this grievous disappointment with good grace.
● Kent captain Robert Key has announced the release of his new single, a catchy rock'n'roll number entitled "Jailhouse Rock".
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writerFeeds: Andy Zaltzman
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Andy Zaltzman was born in obscurity in 1974. He has been a sporadically-acclaimed stand-up comedian since 1999, and has appeared regularly on BBC Radio 4. He is currently one half of TimesOnline's hit satirical podcast The Bugle, alongside John Oliver. Zaltzman's love of cricket outshone his aptitude for the game by a humiliating margin. He once scored 6 in 75 minutes in an Under-15 match, and failed to hit a six between the ages of 9 and 23. He would have been ideally suited to Tests, had not a congenital defect left him unable to play the game to anything above genuine village standard. He writes the Confectionery Stall blog on Cricinfo.