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KP and the missing fire

Pietersen's now gone ten innings and counting without so much as a half-century. Something fundamental seems to have altered within his mindset

Andrew Miller

March 20, 2008

Comments: 21 | Text size: A | A


Will we ever again see the cricketer that Pietersen once was? © Getty Images
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The manner of Kevin Pietersen's most recent Test dismissal was harsh, but highly appropriate given the slough into which his form has sunk this winter. He hasn't, on the face of it, looked particularly out of touch. The cocksure mannerisms are still intact - the confident stride to the crease, the exaggeratedly stretched forward-defensive that can't help but come across as condescension.

But in Wellington last week Chris Martin's fingertips brushed an Ian Bell straight-drive into the non-striker's stumps, Pietersen found himself stranded two feet out of his crease, and sent on his way for 17 from 38 balls. When the chips are down, the luck vanishes with them - even for a cricketer of Pietersen's immense stature.

Nobody truly doubts that he'll be back. The universal consensus is that he'll turn the tap back on and drown some hapless opponent with a torrent of pent-up strokeplay. "He's going to take someone to the cleaners", is how the former England coach, David Lloyd, described it to Cricinfo this week. And yet, Pietersen's now gone ten innings and counting without so much as a half-century, which is one innings longer than he had previously had to wait between hundreds. Even if it is only a temporary blip, something fundamental seems to have altered within his mindset.

It's not just the runs that Pietersen's been lacking of late. Gone is the furious pace at which he once racked them up. "He's a class player, and a point-of-difference player," said John Bracewell, New Zealand's coach. "He scores at a rate that generates results, and every Test team needs one of those players." Not in this series, he hasn't. His strike-rate over the first two Tests has been a career-low of 40.85, below even that of Alastair Cook, who to the immense mirth of his team-mates registered his first six in two years of international cricket during the Wellington Test. Pietersen, by contrast, has a grand total of 94.

There's nothing visibly downbeat about his demeanour. He's still cock of the walk in net sessions, and an immensely assured public speaker when his turn comes to face the cameras. And even when he drops a clanger, such as the catch he shelled off Ross Taylor in the second Test, his body language does not retreat an inch. Pietersen exudes positive vibes in everything that he does. And yet, right now he is the central plank of a batting line-up that, even by the admission of its captain, Michael Vaughan, has been lacking in confidence. Something doesn't quite add up.

Even in that discussion, however, Pietersen is a man apart. Whenever England's batting woes are analysed, the spotlight falls on the diffidence of Ian Bell's demeanour, or the cracks in Andrew Strauss's temperament, or the eternal struggle that Paul Collingwood faces to justify his place. Pietersen is universally recognised as the class act in the line-up, and therefore a man aloof from such scrutiny. Except that there's no escaping the knock-on effect in a team game such as cricket. He may have been the kingpin during last year's Ashes, for instance, scoring 490 runs at 54.44 to cement his place among the world elite, but on his watch, England were still routed 0-5. The confidence that Pietersen is currently lacking is as likely to be in the men around him than in his own hyper-assured gameplan.

Take his extraordinary first-innings crawl in Hamilton. Pietersen racked up 42 from 131 balls, then had the temerity to suggest that it was one of his greatest innings. In some warped sense it might well have been, because the speed with which England collapsed in their second innings (in which Pietersen made just 6) demonstrated just how fragile the team's confidence really had been. Far from blazing from the word go and risking an early demise, Pietersen decided that the best policy was to rein himself in, and in his own words, "not do anything stupid".

And yet, Pietersen announced himself as a modern great precisely because his cricket veered towards the crazy. Who else could have silenced their hate-filled former countrymen with three centuries in six innings, as Pietersen managed on his return to South Africa in 2004-05? And who else could have seized the day in the 2005 Ashes quite as he did, with that lunatic-fringe 158 on the final day at The Oval? Never mind piecemeal 42s. That was a great innings.

 
 
That is not to say he's become a lesser player - class is, as they say, permanent. But right now he is denying himself the right to play the game on instinct, as he has done in every series (bar one) since the 2006-07 Ashes
 

England's fans have been crying out for a counterattack of that calibre this winter. But will we ever again see the cricketer that Pietersen once was? Not even the man himself is too sure anymore. "Maybe the naïvete of youth helped me back then," he told Cricinfo last summer. "I don't know if I could play a similar innings now. In the last Ashes series I was a lot more patient - I've been under the watchful eye of the press for too long, haven't I? I'd probably be more circumspect if I had to play that innings again."

"More mature" is how he likes to categorise himself these days. He is increasingly being trusted as a viable captaincy option. The wacky hairstyles are a dim and distant memory. The pop-star girlfriend is now the pop-star wife, following his marriage to Liberty X's Jessica Taylor in December. Fatherhood, one imagines, won't be far behind if his recent utterances are anything to go by. Pietersen is settling down, and that seems to be reflected in his cricket.

That is not to say he's become a lesser player as a result - class is, as they say, permanent. But right now he is denying himself the right to play the game on instinct, as shown by his performances in every series (bar one) since the 2006-07 Ashes. The exception came against a supine West Indian attack last summer. Everyone cashed in - nine centuries from six batsmen all told - but none more so than Pietersen, who at last felt released from the pressures of carrying his colleagues, and battered a career-best 226 at Headingley, England's highest Test innings for 18 years.

Often his new circumspect approach has been spot-on. In the first two Tests of the 2006-07 Ashes, for instance, in the most pressurised circumstances imaginable, Pietersen produced slow-burn innings of 92 and 158 - two performances that deserved better than the twin defeats those games resulted in. His second-innings hundred against India at Lord's last summer was another case in point - it would have won England the match but for rain. Though his relative caution came as a surprise to those who had witnessed, among other things, his reverse-swept six off Muttiah Muralitharan the previous year, his approach was justified in hindsight. With Zaheer Khan swinging the ball both ways at will, England lost the series when their batting let them down at Trent Bridge.

But lately Pietersen's struggles have seemed counter-productive, especially now that confidence among the batsmen has become such a hot topic. After all, if KP can't do it, what hope the rest of the line-up? A hard, flat deck at Napier offers him his best chance this winter to play his natural game, and if he comes off as everyone in the game knows he can, England could yet turn this tour around and win the series at the last gasp. Because, as everyone in the game knows, a good challenge puts fire in Pietersen's belly like nothing else.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by JackJ on (March 21, 2008, 21:10 GMT)

I'm an SA and a huge fan of KP! The hard road he had to follow to play test cricket would have daunted most, but not him. He has very tough qualities, specially mental. I think the general malaise affecting the England team is what's getting to him. He's become the kingpin of the side, and has now backed off from his normal aggressive approach because he feels the burden. Its true that he needs to be attacking to be successful, its part of his nature. However, he's become torn between his natural instinct and the burden he carries in a side seemingly bereft of spirit. If England comes right, so will he. I'm inclined to think Moores may not be the right man, because Vaughan certainly is. England also needs a decent attack. The sooner Freddie returns, the better. I guess its over for Harmison, and Jones, sadly, can't seem to recover. England has a good batting line-up, that is grossly underperforming. Fix that and things will come right. KP will thrive again if others make runs too.

Posted by ozzystyle on (March 21, 2008, 18:03 GMT)

Class Act=Mark Waugh>Sachin Tendulkar>Kevin Pietersen. Cocksure=K.P>Steve Waugh>Matty Hayden. Rugged=Steve Waugh.

Posted by Mettie on (March 21, 2008, 15:27 GMT)

Biased as we South Africans are against Pietersen, we are not surprised that he is shown up as an ordinary cricketer in a very average international team. Players like Tendulkar and Sangakara with whom he is in some quarters compared to hasn't (according to my knowledge) written their biographies at the age of 26. Pietersen might have sensed that his socalled "class" would not last. His performances on the field of play are not matching his big mouth. He is an artificial Englishman trying to be more English than the English themselves. His batting technique is generally flawed and it is no surprise that it has already been exposed in a big way. He will soon slide into oblivion and we patriotic and loyal South Africans living in the great Mandela's land of birth will in future regard his book as the biggest joke in cricketing literature. We, as sufferers under apartheid despises beneficiaries of apartheid like Pietersen who turn their backs on a country trying to correct its mistakes

Posted by the_roo on (March 21, 2008, 9:53 GMT)

Pieterson - good batsman? Sure he's scored a lot of runs and played some match changing innings but over time his poor technique (poorly balanced, plays across the line, dominant bottom hand) will find him out. I doubt he will continue to score heavily as I think he can't improve his technique and opposition teams know how to bottle him up. If he finishes his test career at an average of 40 it will only be because the selectors finally have the bottle to recognise he's not delivering and drop him. Nuff said.

Posted by visitswaps on (March 20, 2008, 18:20 GMT)

Hey Ari80, nobody is comparing KP with Sachin. There is no comparison with amt of cricket sachin has played and the amt of runs he scored. To compare KP with Sachin is utter childish. I just want to mention that KP is neither a legend nor a great. He is just one more batsmen with above average skills. And to brush up your cricket knowledge Sachin made his debut in 1989 and Ganguly, Dravid came in 1996. Well before that Sachin established himself as great. Dravid's batting flourished after 2000 before that he was just ordinary. And for your knowledge in India there is tremendous amount of public, media pressure when you go out to bat. This pressure is beyond your imagination because people used to switch off their TV sets when Sachin got out. I am sure KP never had such tremendous pressure of expectations. KP performed exceptionally well in Ashes 2005, but at that time whole ENG team was in brilliant form. 4 pronge pace battery, good set of openers and above all fiery Fredie Flintof.

Posted by Ari80 on (March 20, 2008, 17:23 GMT)

Where have we heard this before? For Indian cricket followers, this article is a hark back to many similar ones that used to be (and still are) written during the blips in a certain Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar's fantastic career. This is not to raise a debate over whether KP is as great a craftsman as Sachin, but only to point how the enormous pressure of being your country's premier batsman - particularly in a team that has little else to offer batting talent-wise - can take a toll on even the very best. If the Indian experience is anything to go by, then England is best served by KP's team mates sharing some of his burdens like Dravid, Ganguly and a bunch of other guys did during Sachin's later years - else English supporters will be left forever tormenting themselves by being ransom to merely the outcome of every KP innings, when the whole point of enjoying watching people like him bat is to appreciate the manner of their run-scoring as much as the amount of runs scored. Possibly more.

Posted by simo3 on (March 20, 2008, 14:43 GMT)

As an Oz I rate Pieterson as the best batsman (with Sangakarra) in modern day cricket. Like the former man, Ponting; he seems to be in an off season. He is closest to Gilchrist with the ability to change a game. This is not an English trait. He's probably getting average advice but the Pommie line-up with Cook, Bell, Pietierson and the rest should match any test line-up currently on display. Forget the coach, these guys should be predominant in delivering 350+ first innings on most occasions.

Posted by visitswaps on (March 20, 2008, 14:31 GMT)

I completely agree with Raghu. Peterson is a good player but to call him as a modern great is complete premature thing. No doubt he has a class but certainly not which can put him in all time greats. He had just one patch where he scored heavily but many batsmen in the world had scored at that pace for certain amount of time but failed to maintain consistency. Some examples are Greame Smith and Justin Kemp who made their debut very explosively but failed to maintain same form. Even Australian Mike Hussy is all down now a days. The classic batsmen is the one who can maintain consistency over at least 6-7 years like Lara, Tendulkar, Inzmam and Steve Waugh. I think Peterson is certainly not in that class or hold ability to be in that class. He is just one more skill with above average skills who can have dream run for one or two years. He is just a over hyped player, courtesy British media.

Posted by khlfn14 on (March 20, 2008, 14:29 GMT)

KP!!he is a classic player i have ever seen in my life.He likes to attack in all forms of cricket.I dont know wat has happened to his form.In his last ten innings he had not scored a fifty yet.I know he is an important member of england team but I think england cricket board(ECB) should rest him for 1 or 2 months so that he could play and bring his form back.In 2005 he was in fantastic form and he was the player of 2005 for me.But 2007 and 2008 has not been pietersen years but i believe that he could bring his good form hereafter.His average also has been down ,in 2005 and 2006 his average was above 60 and now it is below 50 in both forms of cricket so i think he should look to bring his average again above 60 and his form also.

Posted by Percy_Fender on (March 20, 2008, 14:11 GMT)

Pieterson is an excellent batsman. There can be no doubt about that. Unfortunately for him and England, he has hit an unlucky patch early in his career possibly burdened by expectations and the uncertainties in his mind after a a few failures. Failure is perhaps the greatest test for anyone used to success as he has been. I feel he should have a talk with a good sports psychologist to get over this phase. Besides, I have always believed in one having decent enough luck to succeed. In the past Pieterson has on occasions had the rub of the green. I am talking about the Ashes series and against India. It is not unlikely that that patch has dried up for the present. I have no doubt in my mind that he will get over this phase soon enough.It is important for him to play like he normally does once after which it will all be fine with him.

Posted by number-09 on (March 20, 2008, 13:12 GMT)

KP is not as cocksure as before. Did he not say that has matured and his words "Maybe the naïvete of youth helped me back then". That says all. The great players will tend to believe that as they mature or when they are 35 tests old and with a 48 ave. they can turn it on when they want, and dominate as they used to. But he has his weaknesses. In the end it is all in his mind.

Posted by offspin on (March 20, 2008, 12:59 GMT)

This is exactly the reason why 2/3 innings does not make a player great.This is exactly the reason why a player like Tendulkar should be cherished and considered a legend.Against all opposition in all conditions he has scored.This guy plays 2-3 innings with a good strike rate all start hailing him as the next Richards.You all might feel why the conspicous absence of Lara it is becuase he never scored hundreds against good fast bowlers like Donald and SA of old,Wasim,Waqar and obvoiusly he does not have to face Wals,Ambrose and Bishop.Anyhow players like Ponting,Dravid,Hayden,Gilchrist,Lara,Sanga and even KP who have had thier best years from 2001 i tend to not them as great.They are good players period.Only 2 phenomenol batsman of the modern era of pure class and they are 1) Tendulkar 2) Mark Waugh. Both adept at playing real pace,medium variety and spin with equal panache.

Posted by Tom.cook on (March 20, 2008, 12:10 GMT)

I think that if KP does not deliver the goods at Napier he will have to be dropped. I think it will benefit England becuse it will really give him a clear message to perform and will increse KP's, I think, hunger for runs. I was reading in the paper this morning that if Flintoff comes back fully fit this summer then Collingwoods place would be the most under pressure but I think that it should be KP place who should be under the most pressure because Collingwood has got some runs of late, while KP has not. I think every cricket fan across the world knows what a class player KP is but I just think it will benefit him and England if he has time to play for Hampshire and get some runs if he does not get some runs at Napier in the third Test. For England's sake, lets hope he does come good!

Posted by kingofspain on (March 20, 2008, 12:09 GMT)

KP will be back, maybe even at Napier. What I don't understand is the obsession that now prevades this website with strike rates. The game is 5 days, who cares? 20/20 cricket has altered expectations to a ridiculous extent. The cricinfo commentators during the 2nd test were complaining about slow boring play even when England were scoring around 3 an over. Hitting 6's is not a major part of test cricket, which is real cricket. The pitch at Hamilton was slow and low. Very difficult for the batsmen to play shots on but also difficult to get out on unless you get yourself out. I was pleased England at least had the application to bat for 2 days, nevermind the runrate. They put themselves in a position to draw that match with even a minimally respectable batting effort on the 5th day. If commentators here want to see 8 runs an over and batsmen trying to hit every ball out of the ground, stick to that 20/20 rubbish which fly by night cricket supporters are now gobbling up.

Posted by fatboyjim on (March 20, 2008, 11:41 GMT)

Dropping KP? An interesting notion, but not one that really stacks up, since he's still the first name on the team sheet (or maybe that's now Sidebottom). In a way though, that's the problem. He's shouldering the responsibility of being the big name and I think he feels he has to play maturely to reflect that and protect the rest of the line up. If I was the coach I'd tell him to just go out there and impose himself by playing those outrageous shots, because if he can do that as he did when he first came in, not only will the fans be a lot happier, but also England will get into a lot more match winning situations and they'll be some good variety in the batting line up. If he gets out quickly then Bell and Collingwood can worry about playing with circumspection.

Posted by Naeem151 on (March 20, 2008, 10:04 GMT)

KP is no doubt an exciting player but as time goes on, bowlers work batsmen out and I think KP's technique has been worked out by rest of the teams. He tends to leave a gp between ball and bat whilst playing good deliveries on the off stump to midwicket and has been bowled in this series in a similar manner. His exagerated step forward and coming down the crease is his down fall and bowlers know that keeping ball outside off stump will give them the reward as he will fish their if he could not get anything through midwicket and this weekness was exploited by Muhammed Asif in England. Class may be permanent but there is always a fault in technique that leads to downfall of batsmen. He may suddenly come back to form again a weaker opposition but I do not think that Newzealand attack is one of the best is the world without Shane Bond, so let see who is that someone? is he waiting for to take to cleaners as mentioned by David Lloyd.

Posted by 158notout on (March 20, 2008, 9:52 GMT)

I agree that KP is out of sorts and that he will be back but am saddened at the way that yet another article manages to slip in a criticism of Bell and Colly. This is a daily occurrence. You mention that KP came out of the last Ashes series with his reputation intact, I would say that Bell and Collingwood did the same. Bell is easily Englands most classy batsman. As for Colly, he is perfect at adjusting his game accordingly. These three, along with Cook, give us the perfect base for the future, now all we need is a new Tresco (although right-handed would be nice). Yes, KP is having a slump, but I think the reason behind it is the pressure added by Englands weak tail. Nobody wants to lose their wicket because we know that 7 down might as well be all out.

Posted by hippriest on (March 20, 2008, 7:39 GMT)

Undoubtedly a blip, but I disagree that he is the same cocksure batsman. He appears less certain and more orthodox. In Hamilton he played from the back of the crease on the stumps most of the time. Wellington was better, but the exaggerated leaves and defensive strokes cannot hide the fact he doesn't step down the wicket as much as before.

I don't think it is the slow wickets. Wellington is reasonable, and he is able to manufacture shots in the gaps as well as anyone. I wonder whether the England management have had a word to him, because he seems to be affected by England's batting malaise for the first time, which is new. He should ignore them and play his natural game, which has yielded great dividends in the amount of runs and excitement for the spectator.

Posted by abhishekr1993 on (March 20, 2008, 6:52 GMT)

Enough already about Pietersen! Yes, I agree was an extremely good player at his peak. But it's not as if England don't have any other batsmen in their line-up to come up with some extraordinary innings to save their sinking ship. In my opinion, if he's going to be batting with such a negative attitude, opposed to the havoc that he can create, then just drop him. Let him prove himself back again in First-Class Cricket, and if he's started scoring again then bring him back. The failure to take such harsh decisions is what is bringing the standards of cricket down instead of where it could actually be in countries like England and India. If you have a bastman in you're team, who isn't performing well for such a prolonged period of time, then just drop him for the meantime. By doing so, you are at a double advantage. You give the dropped player some incentive to come back into the squad, and you also vacate a spot in the team for blooding new players. Really, this needs to be done.

Posted by Rugsy on (March 20, 2008, 6:27 GMT)

Andrew Miller's article was a joy to read. However, for a player who has played only 35 Tests and scored just over 3000 runs at at average of 48.75, I feel it is premature of Andrew to describe KP as a 'modern great'. He is an exciting talent with huge potential, but the word 'great' should be used sparingly and KP is not entitled to it just yet. Let's hope he comes out of the trough soon and establises his greatness in the fullness of time.

Posted by BHARATLIFE on (March 20, 2008, 6:22 GMT)

KP!! what can we say, he is a class act.Like they say "Form is temporary and class is permenant" i think it is KP's temporary bad run, he will be back. Class: 5th day, Oval, Aussies looking to win,with the potency of Glenn and Warne, anyone will have their hands full. Sure he had his slice of luck that day, but still to survive the whole day against Australia is a monumental effort. Or even the 4 centuries against South Africa in South Africa.Well let us give him a break he has hardly had a incessant bad run. I think this is one of the few times he is faring badly.Well, even Hussey has had a bad run. I don't think KP is going to change. He will play the same way and the way he knows best.

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Andrew Miller Andrew Miller was saved from a life of drudgery in the City when his car caught fire on the way to an interview. He took this as a sign and fled to Pakistan where he witnessed England's historic victory in the twilight at Karachi (or thought he did, at any rate - it was too dark to tell). He then joined Wisden Online in 2001, and soon graduated from put-upon photocopier to a writer with a penchant for comment and cricket on the subcontinent. In addition to Pakistan, he has covered England tours in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007
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