Daredevils coming to terms with Pietersen's loss
Kevin Pietersen's absence from the entire IPL 2013 season is a big loss for Delhi Daredevils, and not just on the field. Pietersen's contract with the Daredevils indicated he would have played 11 of their 16 league matches before leaving for the home series against New Zealand.
"It is very difficult for any team to replace a player of that stature," TA Sekar, the Daredevils' team director TA Sekar, said. "He was encouraging the youngsters, taking a lot of initiatives, talking in team meetings, and was a positive influence. He had a good rapport with Viru and gelled well easily into the team."
Last year, the Daredevils had come close to making the IPL finals in 2012, but lost in a close match in the second qualification game (play-off) against eventual runners-up Chennai Super Kings. Daredevils had topped the points table at the end of the league phase and Pietersen had played a key role in their progress in the eight matches he played - Pietersen scored 305 runs including a century (a victorious 103 against Deccan Chargers), the third-best figures for his team in terms of runs behind his captain Virender Sehwag and narrowly behind the Mahela Jayawardene.
Pietersen's popularity in the IPL is a contrast to his standing in England which plummeted following his stand-off with the ECB and a section of the England team last year. In England, Pietersen continues to be an outsider despite playing for the country, but in India he has been embraced much more easily, perhaps because the Indian fans love a character who performs.
Despite having spent just three weeks with Daredevils last year, Pietersen managed to quickly become a heartthrob. "It was very early in the competition. KP got a hundred and Delhi won the match. And after that every time Pietersen would walk in the whole stadium would chant "KP, KP". I have not seen this happen except with Sachin [Tendulkar] and some of the other big India players like Viru. I certainly can't remember a foreign player getting that kind of response from Indian crowd. He was genuinely loved by the fans, I felt," Amrit Mathur, the former Daredevils' CEO and currently one of the advisors with the franchise, said.
Well groomed and a natural entertainer, Pietersen, Mathur said, was a "hit" with the corporates, too. "The sponsors would want him at promotions or any such event. He speaks well, he is polite, he is very good with corporate heads. So he is exactly what a commercial franchise-based entity requires: somebody who is hot on the field and equally good off the field."
Star power, charisma, mass appeal make the 6'4" Pietersen stand out in the IPL crowd. Among overseas players, Pietersen is up there with Shane Warne as a global brand and is in the top bracket of most expensive players. "He is undeniably a star. A lot of it flows from the way he performs and conducts himself on the field. He is a match-winner. People like Shane Warne and KP are standout performers," Mathur said.
Six matches away from finishing 100 Tests, 32 years old, a father, Pietersen might be a veteran in the cricket business to many, but he continues to display the verve and burning desire of a youth driven to make an impact. He has been in the IPL from the first edition in 2008, but managed just 329 runs in the three years he was with Royal Challengers Bangalore. In 2011, he was bought by the now defunct Deccan Chargers, but injury prevented him from playing that season. In 2012 he was traded to the Daredevils.
Even before the knee injury, the Daredevils management had put in place replacement plans for Pietersen by buying New Zealand batsman Jesse Ryder and South Africa allrounder Johan Botha, Sekar conceded they can only be expected to do "60 to 70% of the job Pietersen did". It is hard to find a man-to-man replacement. "KP is very big in international cricket. He can intimidate the opponents in a big way. Psychologically he makes an impact," Sekar said.
According to Mathur, Pietersen remains the right kind of advert for the IPL. "KP is a star not just as a player and performer but also as a personality and a person. He is a great with fans. People come to watch him. He is a confident, extroverted player. The sponsors love him. He is an absolute asset. He is the right package for the IPL."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo