NatWest T20 Blast August 20, 2014

From beach to Blast for Pietersen

To seek to exist as a T20 specialist is the most precarious of occupations. Cricket is not like the movies where Harrison Ford can still get the girl even though he is in his 70s

Kevin Pietersen will make his most high-profile appearance in England since the plug was pulled so abruptly on his international career when he plays for Surrey on finals day of the NatWest Blast at Edgbaston on Saturday. He knows it is no ordinary game, even allowing for his limited regard for England's professional circuit. It is an occasion that might give a clue to the state of a faltering professional career.

Nothing is impossible for Pietersen if the mood takes him. He has played fast and loose with the game all year, appearing in only T20, presuming that he will eventually succeed on innate talent, but discovering that it is hard to sail up, up and away when a lack of competitive cricket keeps deflating his hot air balloon.

If he succeeds at Edgbaston, and helps Surrey to their first T20 title since they won the inaugural tournament in 2003, it will seem like a huge confidence trick. It might even guarantee the continued interest of IPL, not a competition known for blind loyalty.

Some will recoil at talk of a confidence trick. But it is fair to observe that his preparations for England's major domestic final have been somewhat unconventional. Musings that he needs to play more cricket for Surrey to get in any sort of consistent form have been followed by him doing precisely the opposite - taking a holiday in Miami after his brief appearance in the Caribbean Premier League.

Pietersen has prepared by travelling down the Everglades and taking pictures of beer glasses held in front of hotel pools. He has been swimming with sharks - which must have reminded him of his final dealings with the ECB. He has railed at the paparazzi pictures which showed him strolling down the beach with his family, the face of his son pixelated out in that rather eerie display of two-faced probity. At least they reminded him that he still existed.

It looked like a contented family holiday, just one taken at an unusual time for a cricketer facing his biggest challenge of the summer. It was a counter-intuitive conclusion, to say the least, to decide that what he needed ahead of finals day was a rest cure, especially when it followed an admission to All Out Cricket magazine that he could not successfully live like this.

"I should have probably played a bit more cricket than I have," he said. "I found out this year that just Friday night games doesn't work, and it is good that I found it out because I am only 34 and I am still going to be playing for another four or five years. And I have understood that I need to play a lot more cricket in order to be successful and that is what I am going to do. And if I am playing in England next year I have to play a lot more cricket to be more successful in the shorter form of the game."

However he envisages the future, this year at least he continues to walk on the edge, to demand the impossible of himself, hoping that the risk will help him rediscover his innate talent

Reality had dawned. To seek to exist as a T20 specialist is the most precarious of occupations. Cricket is not like the movies where Harrison Ford can still get the girl even though he is in his 70s. It is made even harder by England's T20 structure with weekly matches stretched over a three-month period. No wonder Pietersen bemoans England's lack of a big-city franchise structure with matches played in a compressed time frame. City franchises might not suit English cricket. They would suit KP.

An inconsequential Royal London one-day game against Somerset at The Oval on Wednesday - Surrey are bottom of Group B, having failed to win a game - would have offered an ideal opportunity to have a hit ahead of their semi-final against Birmingham. Instead he was just boarding his flight from Miami. If not that, the Division Two Championship match against Leicestershire which preceded it when Surrey only drew and their promotion ambitions faltered as a result. That game, at least, had an undeniable value to his county.

But Pietersen chose to stroll the beaches, breaking off to tweet his congratulations to Stuart Broad about England's series victory against India, mentally back in a winning England dressing room to which he will never return. "BOOM," he said, which for those not familiar with urban slang can be taken as an expression of approval. At a time far in the future, formal notes of congratulation from the ECB will probably be written this way.

It feels like talk. Too much talk. But he has never been drawn to meaningless matches in front of small crowds. He has never rediscovered his game in such a fashion. However he envisages the future, this year at least he continues to walk on the edge, to demand the impossible of himself, hoping that the risk will help him rediscover his innate talent.

And, in any case, Surrey's response to Pietersen's promises have been cagey. Richard Gould, their chief executive, is a strong contender as the next chief executive of the ECB, in succession to the outgoing David Collier, so he is not about to prejudge contractual negotiations he might not be able to conclude. "We're not taking anything for granted," he said. "We also need to look at what budget we have available."

For a sportsman who craves adulation - indeed, who draws positive energy from it - 2014 has been a sad sensation. As supporters and critics in England have indulged in an entrenched and repetitive debate about his worth, the likes of which have not been witnessed since Geoffrey Boycott divided English cricket more than 30 years ago, his runs have dried up; his sense of self-worth has become a parade in the face of adversity.

There is a long-awaited autobiography out in early October when he will give his version of events that led to his enforced England retirement. A chat show love-in with his most vociferous supporter, Piers Morgan, is already on the cards, just as Parkinson interviewed Boycott sympathetically a generation ago.

The autobiography is expected to be outspoken. So it should be. After the character assassination he has endured, he is entitled to some recriminations. The ECB is no doubt planning a damage-limitation exercise. It would be good to think that it can bring closure. But once again the next phase of his life is not about to endear him to those in charge of the England game.

To survive as an outsider, he needs to provide incontrovertible proof of his cricketing worth. But in Birmingham, on what is expected to be a fresh, lightly breezy day, he will fear that he will feel further hints of autumn.

He has made only one fifty since England's managing director, Paul Downton, decided after the Sydney Test in January that he had never seen a cricketer so disengaged; that rebellion once again was in the air. Even that fifty, for Delhi Daredevils in the IPL, was hardly cause for celebration: his average of 29 was a considerable decline on his previous IPL return of 42. Delhi, under his captaincy, finished bottom.

Little in the NatWest Blast has altered the perception that England's rejection has knocked his career out of kilter. He sings to the game and it no longer sings back. Crowds flocked to The Oval to watch him in the Blast, but they were wowed instead by Jason Roy, the young pretender, as Pietersen averaged 23 and did not pass 39.

He has looked upon Roy with pride, championing him as an England T20 star of the future, delighting in the association. He has doubtless been an influence in bringing his talent to the fore. If Roy turns out to be the star on Saturday, the least KP will want is to be leaping into the picture. He would have a right to be there.

Then there was that strange liaison with St Lucia Zouks in the CPL. Only Pietersen could imagine that he could somehow flit between England and the Caribbean to play in two T20 tournaments simultaneously. Lured by the money, flattered by the recognition, he imagined himself as a jet-set cricketer. But Zouks were already out of the tournament by the time he got there.

If Pietersen pulls it off at Edgbaston, expect protestations of love for Surrey and contented fulfilling of his offer to play in their last two Championship matches. If he fails, his promise may seem more of a chore. It's still not easy being Kevin Pietersen.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Adam on August 21, 2014, 10:52 GMT

    Footballers, rugby players, to say nothing of thousands of club cricketers seem to do alright on one match a week.

  • Jason on August 21, 2014, 9:18 GMT

    @David Douglas Hill, KP wouldn't get a look in in a team of greats from English cricket which would be selected from

    Openers from Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Boycott, Gooch Middle order from Hutton, D Compton, Hammond, Cowdrey, barrington

    All rounder Botham

    Keeper Knott

    Pace from Willis,Statham,Trueman, Spin from Laker/Lock/Verity

    That team would arguably knock over any team in the last 30 years, except for the Aussies, and even then I think they'd give them a run for their money.

  • Jason on August 21, 2014, 9:01 GMT

    @Trickstar, consider this pre 2009 his average was 49, post 2009 his average was 44, to also state that it was the 'ecb boys club' is a gross misrepresentation of the facts, and we don't know the real reason that they released him, we only have the journalistic and KP fanboys opinions. The fact he hasn't played any 4 day cricket for Surrey, and doesn't look like hes likely to it shows he has no interest.

    @jb633, I agree the Loss of swann will be felt more than the loss of KP, in the case of Jimmy Anderson, there are a few around, I would love to see Chris Overton bowling, but cant get to any Somerset games as I've heard hes a class act.

  • Neil on August 21, 2014, 8:27 GMT

    Classic KP, even when he is not playing he remains divisive!

    Was a smashing player but his time is done, the knee injury is chronic and at 34 it unlikely he is going to get his mobility back.

  • John on August 21, 2014, 4:41 GMT

    @Trickstar on (August 21, 2014, 1:37 GMT), a young team needs some experienced hands so to get rid of all the senior players would been a mistake. I'd say that Cook, Bell and KP were all less than they had been. If you have three such players and you want to bring in some young blood, are you going to get rid of the captain, the quiet team man or the serial trouble-maker? Players do get cut some slack at times but if you're a pain in the proverbial as well as out of form then, really, why should anyone do you any favours? KP may have stood up for what he believed and believed he was doing the right thing but since when has that ever guaranteed reward?

  • paul on August 21, 2014, 2:21 GMT

    I too wish he'd played more County cricket for Surrey this year and I'm glad to see that he's not too proud to admit that he's gone about it all wrong. But who can blame him after the treatment from the ECB boys club, his head must have been in bits. Even as a Yorkshire fan, who's team last year was on the end of probably one of the best County innings I've ever seen. Where he scored a run ball 177 not out aginst arguably the best attack in CC at the time. His record for Surrey is pretty crazy, especially seen as some people think that he doesn't care unless he's in the spotlight. He's only played here and there for Surrey but averages 77 in 9 games with 3 big tons, all at a run a ball or better 177*, 163 and a 190 ball 234* and 3 50's.

    Whatever happens KP, you've provided me with some of the greatest memories I have while I've been watching England, which is 30 years. Those 3 all time great innings alone around 2012 against SA, India and SL is something I'll never forget.

  • paul on August 21, 2014, 1:37 GMT

    @David Douglas Hill @ cloudmess Couldn't agree more about everything said by you two. People talk about his so called plummetting average, although it's only dropped 2 points from it's highest. Yet he still averages more then the likes of Cook and Bell, who before this series had been just as hit and miss, even more so. Cook who had done nothing much of note since the India away 2012. Bell has had one good series in the Ashes at home. Anyone with any common sense knows what happened after the Ashes was nothing more than scapegoating and Cook looking after his own backside after that shambles. The fact we had already lost 2 senior players in Trott & Swann on tour, anyone looking after the proper interests of the England team would never have got rid of KP As for someone saying Ballance and Root wouldn't be playing if KP was is rubbbish. Root was already playing and Ballance has taken Trott's place. Imo of watching England the last 30 years KP's easily England's best player.

  • John on August 21, 2014, 0:27 GMT

    @David Douglas Hill on (August 20, 2014, 18:45 GMT), it occurs to me that perhaps you were talking about England fans rather than the board. If that's the case then, while I still stand by what I said, perhaps it doesn't need to be directed at you.

  • John on August 20, 2014, 23:59 GMT

    @David Douglas Hill on (August 20, 2014, 18:45 GMT), while I don't know how much blame for the whole KP situation should be apportioned to either side, one thing I'm heartily tired of is the accusation that the ECB has treated KP poorly because he's not English-born. The ECB has been nothing if not inclusive of non-natives. There are a number of opposition fans who take great glee in reminding us of it quite regularly. Even now there are three players (Robson, Ballance, Jordan) in the England Test team born outside England and another (Stokes) on the periphery. It's possible that once the proverbial had hit the fan, he was cut a little less slack because of his origin but any suggestion that the ECB were out to get him because of it is laughable.

  • Jon on August 20, 2014, 22:27 GMT

    @yorkshirepudding, i said this at the time of it all. Was KP going really the reason we were going to struggle. Was it not the culmination of Trott, Swann, KP, Strauss, Prior all losing their mojo within a 2 year gap that caused our fall from grace? KP would not make runs in test cricket any more against good swing bowling. I believe he had great innings in him but not since 2009 he dominate a series like he used to. IMO far more than KP going the loss of Swann will kill England long term. Mooen Ali has done well but we should not pretend his is a replacement for Swann. The loss of Jimmy in 2 years will be huge as in county cricket I don't see many out and out swing bowlers. I am not happy to watch KP bat so badly as he gave me great pleasure as a fan but England from a cricket point of view did the right thing.

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