Afghanistan v England, World T20 2012, Group A, Colombo September 21, 2012

Pundit Pietersen calls it Wright

With his England career on hold and despite a hint of vulnerability, Kevin Pietersen the broadcaster was full of praise for one of his replacements

Busy, busy, busy. England have not produced many cricketers as hyperactive as Luke Wright. There he bustles, a bat to swing, a job to do. Heart pounding, mind ticking. A stocky bundle of positive energy. Plug him into the National Grid and he would solve England's energy deficit at a stroke. It is exhausting just to watch him.

Wright is the enthusiastic one in the office who bustles around, putting the paper in the photocopier, ordering the bacon sandwiches and arranging the inter-company five-a-side, even when an inter-company five-a-side is the last thing anybody wants.

He now shares England's highest Twenty20 international score with Alex Hales, a more languid individual, more likely to be the one who left the photocopier empty in the first place. Both have made 99 in the past three months, Hales bowled on his home ground at Trent Bridge by West Indies' Ravi Rampaul in June, Wright finishing 99 not out from 55 balls against Afghanistan at the Premadasa as he dragged the final ball of the innings from Dawlat Zadran into the leg side for two.

But something else connects them, something more controversial. Both could be presented as the likeliest benefactors from Kevin Pietersen's absence from the England side because of his prolonged brouhaha with the England hierarchy and Pietersen was there in Colombo to watch them as an expert summariser for ESPN Star Sports*, complete, on this occasion, with Union Jack cufflinks. KP has always valued a strong fashion statement.

Pietersen's role as a summariser, with his England career in abeyance and with peace negotiations ongoing in Colombo, is not a comfortable one. But even in the highly controlled world of England cricket, he is entitled to an opinion or two, as long as it is not destructive in its intent. The right to free speech is too often carelessly tossed away by young sportsmen and women whose priorities rest elsewhere.

That is not entirely natural for the ECB, which not so long ago hauled Graeme Swann in for a ticking-off because by expressing his view that England play too much 50-over cricket he might annoy the sponsor.

So when Pietersen responded to Wright's innings by suggesting, supportively but pointedly, that he had benefited from playing T20 in overseas domestic competitions, IPL included - the running sore in his relationship with the ECB - it is to be hoped that David Collier, the ECB's chief executive, and Hugh Morris, England's managing director, do not misinterpret it as further rebellion, and that the media does not mischievously dress it up as more than it was.

"Thrilled for Luke Wright," said Pietersen. "He's been out for ages, he has come back in, one of his first games since the last tournament and he has performed. I totally agree with his sentiments saying he has been out of the game, he has played the Big Bash, bits of the IPL, he has also played in bits of the T20 competition at home and he has become a much better player."

The difference is that Wright played domestic T20 tournaments when England did not want him; Pietersen wanted to play them when England did want him.

To confuse matters, Pietersen then argued, with equal validity, that England's bowlers will be helped in World Twenty20 by the fact they have not played IPL on the grounds that opposition batsmen will be less wise to their variations. Morris and Collier must have wondered if he had suddenly become a convert to the ECB policy to discourage participation in domestic T20 tournaments whenever possible. They would have been better to head to the bar and let him get on with it.

That Pietersen remains valued by the viewers of ESPN Star is indisputable. A poll asked: "Are England stronger or weaker than when they won the tournament in 2010? Weaker, said 76%; only 8% said stronger. "The KP Factor," pronounced David Lloyd on commentary, and so it was. Even if the poll had been closed when Afghanistan were 26 for 8, the result would have been much the same.

"The night belonged to Wright. Even his hair, all spiky and highlighted, seems to have an extra life of its own. But these days alongside all his energy spillage comes a greater degree of calculation"

Pietersen has adapted spiritedly to the summarising role, disproving the theory that he only ever talks about himself. But his absence from World Twenty20 must be cutting deep. There was a vulnerability about him as he renewed acquaintances with English commentators, if not yet English cricketers.

"I agree with KP," said Nasser Hussain, a former England captain, from pitchside, in a brief discussion about the use of the short ball.

"Nasser agreed with me? I have almost fallen off my chair, Nass," came Pietersen's rejoinder, a lighthearted but somehow discomforting remark, a reminder that agreements of any sort have not come easily to him recently.

Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman, was only fully appeased about Pietersen's commentary stint when he learned that it would not be broadcast in the UK. When his next pre-match remarks were entirely drowned out by music, one suspected that Clarke must have arranged a timely burst of God Save the Queen, only for it to turn out to be the Afghanistan national anthem instead.

Then the night belonged to Wright - he also took Pietersen's England record for the highest score at a World Twenty20, eclipsing the 79 Pietersen made against Zimbabwe in 2007.

Even Wright's hair, all spiky and highlighted, seems to have an extra life of its own but these days alongside all his energy spillage comes a greater degree of calculation. In the opening overs, this was a strange pitch - not so much two-paced as six-geared - but he allowed himself time to come to terms with it. Dawlat Zadran made one leap and struck him on the glove, then later deceived him with a slower legspinner which trundled devilishly through at shin height.

England made only 15 off the first four overs, for the loss of Craig Kieswetter, but they escaped with 37 off the next two, seeing their opportunity and driving it home remorselessly. They pretty much controlled the match from then on.

These days when Wright does hit, the favoured analysis of the moment is that he no longer "over hits," and that his experience of T20 with Sussex, Melbourne Renegades and Pune Warriors has made him a more polished cricketer, a view with which he concurs.

He was only 76 at the start of the penultimate over, but Izatullah Dawlatzai produced an eight-ball over which cost 32. Wright pummelled three successive sixes, including a free hit that was caught at long-on at the first attempt only for Ashgar Stankikzai to step back on to the boundary marker.

It was all more of a mismatch than it might have been, a 116-run defeat representing something of a recovery. But Afghanistan, many of whose players learned their cricket in refugee camps, remain one of cricket's most life-affirming stories. The MCC, together with the charity Afghan Connection, are committed to plans to arrange coaching camps and build pitches under their Spirit of Cricket banner. They could watch events unfold with a deeper sense of pride.

*ESPN STAR Sports is a 50:50 joint venture between Walt Disney (ESPN, Inc.), the parent company of ESPNcricinfo, and News Corporation Limited (STAR)

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andrew on September 24, 2012, 4:39 GMT

    CORRECTION - Afghanistan receives less funding than Ireland because it is still an Affiliate & not an Associate (their rise has sort of outpaced the system). == == == @AndyZaltzmannsHair on (September 21 2012, 21:21 PM GMT) "... I have never read even one which remotely even in a passing mention praising Pakistan (it's just not the done thing)." SORRY THAT IS FALSE! The following quote is from an article by George Dobell (Feb 12) CONSIDER YOURSELF INFORMED!!! " The seeds of Afghanistan cricket were sown in Pakistan in the 1980s, when a group of young men, dispossessed by the Soviet occupation of their country, were exposed to the game in refugee camps in Peshawar. Many of the current Afghanistan squad were born or raised in Pakistan after their families fled the war-torn land. Pakistan has, of late, taken a paternal interest in nurturing its neighbour's development. Last year several matches between Afghanistan and Pakistan A..."

  • Andrew on September 24, 2012, 4:30 GMT

    @ AndyZaltzmannsHair on (September 21 2012, 21:21 PM GMT) - the MCC re-started cricket in Afghanistan. They sponsored a tour of England against club teams, they sponsored a player (Hamid Hassan I think) to be on the payroll at Lord's. I believe the charity has donated kits - like what the MCC has done, they should take SOME credit for the wonderful story that is Afghan cricket. @Nutcutlet on (September 22 2012, 00:27 AM GMT) - funding for Afghanistan shouldn't be a concern for the cricket bodies DIRECTLY. It is the ICC which hands out the coin every year. Since Afganistan is now in WCL Division 1, they get the same funding as Ireland. Unfortunately Zimbabwe gets (mainly gotten) way more. The cricket bodies should look at ways to include Ire & Afg in more matches per year, however, I think the TWO countries that should do the most in terms of annual matches are 1) Bangladesh & 2) Zimbabwe. These 2 countries barely play half the matches other Test teams play!

  • Matthew on September 22, 2012, 18:10 GMT

    @Nutcutlet Spot on. Evry major nation should be committed to helping all the associates. Although England aren't exactly helping Ireland by taking their best players. Maybe they can give something back by donating all the associates a player they don't want. Ravi to Ireland perhaps?

  • david on September 22, 2012, 11:03 GMT

    mohd Alim the future is the young lads, but some of the old uns you mentioned would have done a great job, i would add darren stevens to that list a very unlucky gut not to have played both as batter and bowler, he can hit a bowl for miles and only 36. teams that have to pick a 42 year olds to play T20 shows theres something missing in a team.

  • gurinder on September 22, 2012, 9:11 GMT

    wat a waste of space this article, they hail england as they won wc(real one) , fact is they never gotten close to winning and are as big chokers as saf if not bigger , long may it continue

  • Dummy4 on September 22, 2012, 7:58 GMT

    @Kevin Roarke - I can assure it can be written 100 times far more mischievously than that! It could easily be dressed up as provocative statement, reopening conflict, refusal to back dow, war of words , bound to inflame situationetc etc. so maybe not that confused. just not black-and-white.

    @King Owl - a lighthearted ribbing yes, but not a knife twisting. there is a big difference. it was a remark with no malevolence. we don;t always have to do malevolence.

  • Dummy4 on September 22, 2012, 7:49 GMT

    Wright is right for England for all the right reasons. So is the case with many of the other young English boys you have been trying out in recent times. Give all of them enough chances. Don't discard them after a few failures. All of them will do well.This supports the view I have been taking for a very long time: Support your own talented young ones, instead of leaning on the imports. The imports may just walk away leaving your team tumble down like a house of cards.This is the right trend. Soon I will be able to see Wally Hammonds, Len Huttons, Colin Cowdreys, Fred Trumans, Ken Barringtons and so on... at least a bunch of deserving inheritors.

  • rahul on September 22, 2012, 6:27 GMT

    @cpt meanster . the problem because indiaa have lost most t20 matches is because of their bad bowling . if i remind correctly in 2007 zaheer was not n squad for t20 , some yougnfast bowlers like rp singh , sreesanth were carrying indian hopes . all the side was young . now look at the whole team sehwag is 34 years old , gambhir is 31 , dhoni 31 , zaheer 34 , bhajji 31 , yuvi 30 . dhoni needs to understand that zaherr is not a t20 specilaist . his t20 record is poor , dhoni should give chance to dinda who can bowl fast & can also bowl yor kers , also bhajji should be played against teams like aus , eng , sa . drop balaji from team because he is too slow in running . he is a bad fielder & will surely be thrashed against sa , aus , eng . include bhaaji in his place who is a better fielder & has better record against these teams .

  • Dummy4 on September 22, 2012, 5:54 GMT

    Confused piece of journalism. The writer writes this "So when Pietersen responded to Wright's innings by suggesting, supportively but pointedly, that he had benefited from playing T20 in overseas domestic competitions, IPL included ... it is to be hoped that... the media does not mischievously dress it up as more than it was. " and then writes this "The difference is that Wright played domestic T20 tournaments when England did not want him; Pietersen wanted to play them when England did want him. " Talk of mischievous journalism :-)

  • Hira on September 22, 2012, 5:53 GMT

    I wonder how many english players are replacement for KP?..whoever performs on a given day media termed as KP replacement. first hales then bairstow, then butler and now Wright.

  • No featured comments at the moment.