March 12, 2010

Challenges and opportunities ahead for Pietersen

KP has fallen to left-arm spin 22 times in international matches in the last two years, but he has a chance to banish those demons over the next couple of weeks

The last few months have been tough ones for Kevin Pietersen. He used to be the strongest suit in England's middle order, but over the last nine months or so his form has dipped so significantly that most bowlers would fancy their chances against him today. In his last 13 Test innings - since May last year - he has managed just two half-centuries at an average of a touch more than 29. During this period his Test average has dropped almost three runs, from 51.09 to 48.24.

His ODI form has been even more disappointing over the last year. In 10 innings he has a highest of 48 and an average of 17.30. This includes his three innings on the current tour to Bangladesh, where he scored 41 in total.

The forthcoming two-Test series is thus a huge challenge for Pietersen, but also a superb opportunity to get his form back. The bowling attack may be relatively feeble on paper, but Bangladesh have proved that they have the resources to surprise opposition, especially in home conditions. For proof you need to go back no further than a couple of months, when a powerful Indian batting line-up folded for 243 in the first innings in Chittagong.

Apart from Pietersen's current lack of form, Bangladesh should also be buoyed by the fact that he hasn't enjoyed much success in the subcontinent, even when he was in form. In four previous tours - two to India, and one each to Pakistan and Sri Lanka - Pietersen has scored 692 runs in 11 Tests, at a modest average of 34.60, which is well below his career average. He has managed only four 50-plus scores, and fallen for less than 10 eight times. In fact, playing in the subcontinent has consistently brought out the worst in Pietersen. (He averages less in South Africa, but he has only played one series there.)

Pietersen's Test record in different regions
Region Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
in South Africa 4 177 25.28 0/ 1
in the subcontinent 11 692 34.60 2/ 2
in Aus/ NZ 8 749 49.93 2/ 3
in England 30 2800 54.90 11/ 7
in West Indies 5 406 58.00 1/ 3
Total 58 4824 48.24 16/ 16

Pietersen's relatively poor display in the subcontinent is also responsible, to a large extent, for pushing his overall away average down to 41.30, which is well below his home average of almost 55. Among England batsmen who've played at least 25 overseas Tests, 15 have a higher average, including Paul Collingwood (47.79) and Andrew Strauss (45.67). In 28 away Tests, Pietersen has scored only five centuries, which compares rather poorly with his 11 hundreds in 30 home Tests.

Pietersen in home and away Tests
  Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Home 30 2800 54.90 11/ 7
Away 28 2024 41.30 5/ 9

Among the England batsmen in the current squad, Pietersen and Ian Bell have played the most Tests in the subcontinent, but they also have their worst averages there. Bell had a superb time in Pakistan in 2005, scoring one hundred and two fifties, but he struggled on both tours to India. (Click here for his innings-by-innings list.)

In fact, the best among the lot in the subcontinent is Collingwood, on whom much will depend in Bangladesh too. In 10 Tests he averages more than 47, with five 50-plus scores. Strauss, who is missing from this squad, averages 41 in the subcontinent, but he made a habit of converting his starts, scoring a century every time he topped 50.

England batsmen in the subcontinent since Jan 2005
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Paul Collingwood 10 754 47.12 2/ 3
Alastair Cook 7 582 44.76 2/ 5
Matt Prior 5 253 42.16 0/ 3
Andrew Strauss 7 533 41.00 3/ 0
Ian Bell 11 754 35.90 1/ 6
Kevin Pietersen 11 692 34.60 2/ 2

Bangladesh will also be a challenge for Pietersen, thanks to his recent problems against left-arm spin. That option has always been a good one against Pietersen, but over the last couple of years it has become even more pronounced thanks to the number of times he has fallen to them.

Since the beginning of 2008, Pietersen has a much better average against pace than spin in all forms of the game, but even among spinners, the left-armers have had far more success against him than the right-arm spinners. During this period Pietersen has fallen 22 times to left-arm spinners, averaging 27.27 against them. Not surprisingly, Daniel Vettori and Sulieman Benn lead the list of bowlers who have dismissed him most often, with Vettori nailing him six times and Benn five.

Pietersen versus pace and spin in all forms of the game since Jan 2008
  Runs Balls Dismissals Average Run rate
Pace 1993 2797 38 52.44 4.27
Spin 1024 1579 32 32.00 3.89
Pietersen v right- and left-arm spin in all forms of the game since Jan 2008
  Runs Balls Dismissals Average Run rate
Right-arm spin 424 525 10 42.40 4.84
Left-arm spin 600 1054 22 27.27 3.41

Bangladesh have two capable left-arm spinners in their team, and they will like their chances against Pietersen in the Test series. Out of his 40 dismissals in Tests since 2008, 12 have come against left-arm spin, at an average of 34.58. Vettori leads the list here too, having dismissed him four times in Tests, while Paul Harris and Benn have got his number thrice.

Pietersen v right-arm and left-arm spin in Tests since Jan 2008
  Runs Balls Dismissals Average Run rate
Right-arm spin 199 314 2 99.50 3.80
Left-arm spin 415 801 12 34.58 3.10

An overall look at Pietersen against individual spinners confirms his dislike for the left-arm variety. Apart from Muttiah Muralitharan, the spinners who've had the most success against him are Vettori and Benn. Abdur Razzak and Shakib Al Hasan have already dismissed him three times in the ODIs; chances are, they'll add to that tally in the two Tests over the next couple of weeks. For England's sake, they'll hopefully dismiss Pietersen after he has scored his fair share of runs.

Pietersen v spinners in Tests
Bowler Runs Balls Dismissals Average Run rate
Shane Warne 308 522 5 61.60 3.54
Danish Kaneria 201 249 3 67.00 4.84
Muttiah Muralitharan 168 236 6 28.00 4.27
Anil Kumble 176 310 2 88.00 3.40
Paul Harris 131 189 3 43.67 4.15
Daniel Vettori 114 282 4 28.50 2.42
Sulieman Benn 79 168 3 26.33 2.82
Harbhajan Singh 70 97 2 35.00 4.32

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo