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World Cup 2011

Pietersen's departure leaves questions swirling

What now for Kevin Pietersen? When he began his England career, he looked to be their most talented player in a generation, and six years on, it looks like he'll end up being the most fascinating

Sahil Dutta

March 10, 2011

Comments: 18 | Text size: A | A

Kevin Pietersen walks away from his team-mates, England v South Africa, Group B, World Cup, Chennai, March 6, 2011
Kevin Pietersen has been strangely unfocussed for a long time © Getty Images

When England came back to pull off a remarkable heist against South Africa, it looked as though their erratic World Cup bid had finally kick-started. Soon afterwards, however, Kevin Pietersen announced his hernia problem was too painful to play on and, on Tuesday, Stuart Broad was ruled out the tournament with a side strain. Broad's injury robs the bowling of some much-needed mongrel and reaction to his departure has been understandably regretful. Pietersen, on the other hand, has been replaced by Eoin Morgan and his withdrawal has been greeted with a muted shrug.

"He wasn't going to tear anything so we hoped he would get through the tournament okay, take painkillers when needed and bite the bullet," said Andy Flower, pointedly. Always one to chose his words carefully, Flower welcomed the return of Morgan to the squad as a "no-nonsense sort of cricketer".

Where does this leave Pietersen? When he began his England career, he looked to be their most talented player in a generation, and six years on, it looks like he'll end up being the most fascinating. Gifted an indecent wealth of talent, he was also one of the most fastidiously prepared cricketers in the world, a combination that should have cleared the path for his name to stand alongside the best in history. Up until the last two years he never doubted his ability to reach those levels, but since the captaincy debacle, and the Achilles injury that threatened his career during the 2009 Ashes, Pietersen has been unable to capture the insatiable drive for excellence that was once his hallmark.

Put Pietersen's eye with Paul Collingwood's head and you'd have the champion he should have become. But as it is, Pietersen's more intriguing story has been fuelled by the two forces that have fought to define him. The first one is the quest for greatness that, as a 19-year-old, drove him from his home in Pietermaritzburg in South Africa to Nottingham to pursue his career in England. Against that there is his longing for belonging. That initial move from South Africa made it almost impossible as he found an English public reluctant to accept him as one of their own. Even after sealing the Ashes with the Oval century that remains his defining innings in 2005, Pietersen wasn't fully embraced as the national hero. But his belief was that by weight of runs alone, adoration would eventually come.

In the post-2005 meltdown, Pietersen carried England's batting, checking the youthful flamboyance that had characterised his first year in international cricket to become a more measured accumulator. The memorable ovation after his Lord's century against South Africa in 2008 suggested he had been proved right. "I've never felt so loved," he declared. By the end of that series he had been brought into the heart of the establishment, appointed England captain in all formats, and immediately love-bombed his team to a maiden Test victory and a 4-0 ODI success.

At that stage he looked poised to elevate his game to the elite status that it had long threatened to reach, and he wanted to drag his side with him. Pietersen's unwavering belief in his own methods had been instrumental in him becoming the unconventional player he was. But when combined with an inescapable brashness and naivety, it also landed him in trouble, never more so than with the Peter Moores fiasco. Though he has repeatedly corrected himself since, Pietersen also wanted Flower ousted from his role as Moores' assistant. The England coach is too mature a man to hold grudges but it's a dynamic that can't be ignored. Since that failed coup, when he ended up tossed on the outskirts once again, Pietersen has been unable to let his lust for greatness drive him.

Instead, circumstances contrived to prise open his horizons and his focus has shifted closer to home. The injury that ruled him out of the 2009 Ashes after two Tests gave him a glimpse of his own mortality for the first time and doubts have crept in ever since. The birth of his "little man", Dylan, reinforced the notion that his priorities had moved beyond the field, not least because it showed him he could find the acceptance he needed outside of the dressing-room.

The thoughtless dismissals - be it fluffing a reverse-sweep off Paul Stirling in the recent Ireland defeat or hooking down fine leg's throat at Sydney in the Ashes - betray a batsman who can't create the intensity necessary to use the talent at his disposal. He is not the first. England's frenzied schedule puts a punishing expectation on its best players. Graham Thorpe and Marcus Trescothick were both ever-present in all formats before the strain on family life took their toll.

It is telling that in the hours after the news broke that he would be leaving the World Cup, Pietersen was busy on Twitter announcing his relief to be heading home. "Every cloud has a silver lining they say," he wrote. "Well, as frustrated as I am to be missing the rest of the World Cup & Indian Premier League, I'll be at home with my family & friends. I haven't been home properly since 29 Oct."

By the time the next World Cup rolls around it is difficult to conceive Pietersen still playing ODI cricket. Though he reassured Flower otherwise, and issued a strong Twitter denial prior to the tournament, rumours of his impending ODI retirement didn't come from nowhere. Under Flower and Andrew Strauss England have little taste for sentiment. Their Team England brand blocks entry to anyone unwilling to squeeze the most from their ability, as Samit Patel has found out to his cost. Pietersen still has greatness within his grasp, but if the drive that once defined him has been lost, he too may discover that no individual is bigger than the team.

Sahil Dutta is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Comments: 18 
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Posted by andrews on (March 11, 2011, 13:09 GMT)

yenjvoy 1, you are obviously preparing yourself for the disappointment of a deserved exit before the quarter-final stage. How many do you think would flock to an open-topped parade if England won the world cup? Of course there's plenty who would care if England won it. It's cricket's greatest global event for Pete's sake. But constant pathetic performances on the big stage leave England's supporters pretending they don't care.

Posted by Senthil on (March 11, 2011, 8:41 GMT)

Seeing the 2005 Ashes I thought that Sachin's place as the greatest batsman alive was threatened. Pieterson could have taken a leaf out of Sachin's book and held his head. Still there is time to reach the heights he is capable of. He is a part of a very good team. If he can stay focused, he can make it extra ordinary.

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 11, 2011, 8:13 GMT)

Let's quit being too hard on the guy for two seemingly inane dismissals. Tendulkar, Sehwag, and half the greats have also been dismissed in ridiculous ways.

A few years ago, if he had been dismissed trying to jump into a left-hander's stance, the English would be baying for the man's blood. But when he pulls it off, pretty much everyone is astounded at what we now call "the switch hit". Give him some latitude, he's worth it and he's earned it.

I don't much like the guy, but the priority here should be to psychologically work him out, not to shun him -- because KP at his best is quite irreplaceable.

Posted by Dave on (March 11, 2011, 8:13 GMT)

So, what's the odds that he's fit enough to play n the IPL?

Posted by django on (March 11, 2011, 7:25 GMT)

England gained an adequate captain when they appointed Strauss but they lost KP forever. Removing him from the captaincy was the beginning of the end. I guess England will say it was a fair tradeoff because they won the ashes but the cricket world is poorer for it. He is no longer the batsmen that was destined for greatness. Strauss is good but is lacking in imagination. I rate ponting a better captain.

Posted by Kunal on (March 11, 2011, 5:25 GMT)

Sure, the Oval 2005 innings was an Ashes series-defining innings. But KP's definitive innings came in the first Test of that series at Lords against McGrath in full steam (before Pigeon twisted his ankle in the series). Those twin fifties -- 57 and 64 n.o. -- showcased KP's class on a menacing wicket against a hungry attack (Warne, Lee, Gillespie, McG). His catching was horrendous in the series though. Pietersen belongs to cricket, not England or South Africa. I guess the England management did the right thing by opting for protocol in the Moores fiasco (nipping Moores and KP off their posts), but they also killed Kevin's free spirit. As a fan, I'll always bat for him.

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 11, 2011, 1:53 GMT)

His attitude when he left Hampshire - hurt. I wish him well but I do agree with DPK that KP is far too arrogant for me and holds himself too aloof.

I also agree that he has a problem of being liked - I know we all do. But because of his turning his back on SA he set himself up for a fall. I would be greatly surprised if he manages an average of 50 now in any form of cricket.

Posted by paul on (March 11, 2011, 0:08 GMT)

I know it doesn't fit the agenda you were getting to at the end of this piece, but KP said on twitter when he found out he was leaving, '"Absolutely devastated!! Sad to leave India. Love the people & the hospitality!" , So I don't know why you would twist his words, that the fact he's not spent more than 3 days at home since the end of October 2010 and you must look at the bright side ,when your injured, he's got o see that going home has it's bright sides, what father and husband wouldn't. Instead you infer he was glad to get home and he wasn't bothered to be missing the WC.

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 11, 2011, 0:04 GMT)

wc is not over with kp's exit... its just his bad luck. he was going so well in wc and also among the runs finally... but its a big heart break isnt it? hope he will join team in next season and do something he used to do from 2005 to 2008

Posted by Shaz on (March 10, 2011, 23:19 GMT)

The only thing that probably might be irking the Cricketing fraternity is swiftly KP was ready to go home to this family. Yes, family is the one BIG priority but what appears is the fact that he was more than happy to be home than battling out in the heat of India. KP's love towards his wife & his son is obligatory but his urge for doing his best for the team has been kept wanting.

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Sahil Dutta Assistant editor Sahil Dutta grew up supporting England during the 90s. Despite this, he still enjoys the game. His unrequited passions for Graeme Hick and, in latter years, Vikram Solanki gave him a stoicism that guided him through an Economics degree and a stint working at the European Parliament. He maintains the purest love for Tests and the whims of legspin bowling and still harbours hope that he could be the answer to England's long search for a mystery spinner. As it is, his most exciting cricketing experience was planning a trip to Australia for the 2006-07 Ashes with two utterly indifferent friends. Unfortunately his lung collapsed shortly before his planned departure and the pair were left to wander around from Test to Test, unprepared and clueless. Any comparisons with England are far too obvious to make. That cancelled holiday inspired an Ashes blog which led, via some tea-making at the Wisden Cricketer, to the ESPNcricinfo towers.

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