February 10, 2014

Pietersen down on dodgy knees

He has been sacked by England for off-field issues, but the truth is that he probably couldn't have carried on playing Test cricket for much longer anyway

In all likelihood, due to a recurring knee injury, Kevin Pietersen would not have continued to conjure up more great innings for England, had he played on. There comes a point when producing such magical performances takes its toll, and for Pietersen, his Achilles heel has, in fact, been his knee. It has consistently been a concern for him in the last two years, with no signs modern-day wizardry would be able to stop the ageing process. Indeed, the grinding down of bone on bone must have had an effect.

For this reason alone, the decision to move on from Pietersen is, I believe, a prudent one for England. Of course, there appear to be many other factors at play, and the debate will rage on, no doubt. Yet, for me, not being a fly on the wall at these so-called meetings and affray, the tangible sign of a natural slowing down and of chronic pain is the focus.

I know about knees, as I played a whole career on one that was dinged and snafu-ed after a serious school accident. Once the mechanics of the all-important joints begin to fail, once the arthritis sets in and the mind masks a critical glitch in the hardware, the clock starts its final tick-tock. It's inescapable.

Pietersen is a fine, distinguished player; an almost-great, a player of mondo moments, a man of polarising proportions. He played a colossal part in England's fortunes over the last eight years, bringing about many husky victories, and with a personal century of Test caps - an honourable achievement. He deserves voluminous praise. He also must accept his fate. His best days are done. It's time to cash in his chips. More so, he can now head to another casino for his fix.

If he were to have truly proved his worth, in the medium term, performing another showpiece encore, he should have prevailed in the recent Ashes series in Australia. Yet he didn't look likely to do so at all. It was a messy effort, fluffing his lines even on the most trusting of stages, on pitches that should have been to his liking. While the audience, in particular the loyal Barmy Army, grew weary of the wait for his dazzling panoply, his fellow compadres became frustrated with the building crescendo of expectation and then silence. There were no standing ovations. In fact, a couple left early in the piece, shuffling out the side door.

Footwork, without question, or at least an impersonation of it, like Virender Sehwag shows, is critical to a batsman's success. To access the balls of the feet, the knees need to flex. We see that often with Pietersen as the bowler runs in; a flexing of knees up and down as he prepares for the moment the ball is released. The knees are vital to his game. He likes to get on the walk, knowing that being caught on the crease is a death-knell.

Once the knee is at unease, there is no going back. You are left having to manage a bad situation. England couldn't manage the ego, the frustrated Kevin, while Kevin couldn't manage the internal dismantling

Such was the exaggeration of his pre-delivery routine in Australia, it looked as though he was desperately trying to free up his dickey knee and get the feet moving. It led to his downfall, technically speaking, as he consistently tried to hit from an overly fluid base. To me, the bad knee was infiltrating the mind's space. When that happens it can be a fast end. No footwork leads to trying to do too much, to no balance, to miscued shots, to dismissals, to criticism, to mind traffic, to trying too hard, to frustration, to blaming others. Oh, it's a vicious cycle of endless contradictions.

Once the knee is at unease, there is no going back. You are left having to manage a bad situation. England couldn't manage the ego, the frustrated Kevin, while Kevin couldn't manage the internal dismantling, physically first, the mood second.

Pietersen's runs are his trade, and without a fully functioning engine or back office, he wasn't going to reach a consistently high standard again. Furthermore, Test cricket would only exasperate the toil, accelerating the toll, just as constant one-dayers had previously led to him removing himself from that format. Playing more Test cricket, he may have lasted a year, another ten Tests perhaps, yet with much of the rest concerning him being negative, his ticking bomb was already activated. Time was up.

So as we reflect a little, was he a great? This popular discussion of who is great and who is the best is a fun and natural compulsion. We all love to judge a situation. In Pietersen's case it's time to consider where he sits in the pantheon of the very best, the ones who have excited us enough to get the blood boiling, to speak out in admiration.

Recently, I went through the fun process of selecting my 100 greatest Test players of all time. It was easy up until the last few. My 100 aren't all greats of the game, just the top 100, in my opinion. As I go back and actually count the true greats, the number reduces by half (which I will focus on at another time).

Pietersen did not make my top 100 for he went missing too often, in terms of positive influence and consistent production. That he bounded in when in the mood and stole the stage spectacularly is indeed his lasting legacy - he was a player of great innings. Yes, it was compelling and addictive to see the grand entrances when they came, yet not always convincing of homogeneous repeats, of cocksure longevity. Yep, a good 'un all right, but not a great.

Martin Crowe, one of the leading batsmen of the late '80s and early '90s, played 77 Tests for New Zealand

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on February 14, 2014, 11:52 GMT

    @nick Woolley - Inner calm, I don't think that anyone ever forgets Richard Hadlee, the problem is that by the time you have listed Marshall, Roberts, Holding, Ambrose, Lillee, Wasim, Thommo and Wakir you don't have any room left for fast medium bowlers like Garner, McGrath, Imran, Hadlee, Botham et al regardless of their skill level.

  • Dummy4 on February 12, 2014, 3:25 GMT

    A case against KP's long-term fitness can be made. To throw him out of all 3 teams takes a lot more explanation than a dodgy knee. If he's fit enough to play a season of IPL then he's more than capable of going to the Twenty20 world cup. Simple facts are that the ECB have decided he is the scapegoat for the worst team performance in English history. Not the board, the manager, the coaches, the captain, the homesick, the quitter or the entire squad bar one. Just Pietersen. He will now literally laugh his way to the bank.

  • Clifford on February 11, 2014, 19:14 GMT

    Quite a few people seem to be enamored with stats. Has anyone ever seen Carl Hooper of the West Indies? His ability was stupendous! You have obdurate players who can compile high averages but we certainly won't pay to see them. Boycott, Gomes to name a couple. Cricket is such, that the longer you stay at the crease, inevitably, you'll have some runs, also not outs increase your averages. Stats mean little. M. Crowe's average leaves a bit to be desired, yet he was such a talent that we would pay. Miandad is probably one of the best ever, but he was an accumulator and not flashy. Yet, he made runs in an unorthodox fashion and quickly, using the fact that he was better than most and no one could really ever bowl to him. Shiv Chanderpaul? The ECB are such hypocrites as well, clarifying, after a clamor, claiming openness etc. England will suffer and everyone else will gain. But, it's always the case. Conform, or you'll be, up the proverbial Khyber! Ask Beefy.

  • Dummy4 on February 11, 2014, 16:07 GMT

    For once Martin, you do miss the point. KP was chucked out, in disgrace, with hardly a word of thanks for his magical efforts and not because of dodgy knees. Had the England management possessed even a shred of human decency, they would have allowed KP to retire due to those dodgy knees without a word about any other problems. Instead, the vindictive mediocrity that runs English cricket is out to get their own back by sullying the reputation and tarnishing the legacy of the greatest English cricketer since Botham in every way they can.

  • Jon on February 11, 2014, 15:39 GMT

    Pieterson a great - I dont think so. In an era where top players average near 60 I would put him on a par with Cook/Gayle but not Tendulkar/Ponting/Lara. From the recent past comparable with Gooch/Gower, but not with Gavasker/Richards/Miandad. A very good but not a great, the ICC player ratings back this up, those who dont understand how good Gooch/Gower were they topped the batting ratings (Gooch for a couple of years), Pietersen never has.

  • Android on February 11, 2014, 4:19 GMT

    @Vinod It wasn't my intnetion to call you new comer. You see, my point was that cricket is a team game and 1/2 men may dictate its outcome but not without support. You must have seen Martin Crowe limping around from 1992 to 1995 scoring bucketfuls of runs but without Sir Richard, he couldn't give results. Same way do you think England will just find a replacement easily for Swann? I bet you they won't. A no. 3 batsman in trott will be easily replaced? No. You are an Indian, you sure must have known the importance of Rahul Dravid. In India, Cook played just as well, if not better than KP. Not taking anything away from magnificent innings of his but cook was just as instrumental. During 2005 Ashes he definitely played very well but do you think he would have done it without Freddy and Simon Jones? I don't think England won headingly test.

    No one should be bigger than team. I don't know what happened behind the scene but you don't set fortunes of a team on just one flamboyant person.

  • Sam` on February 11, 2014, 1:19 GMT

    The knee is irrelevant.

    If teams started picking players based on the fact that they COULD miss games, Ryan Harris and Shane Watson wouldn't have a Test career to reflect on. Australia briefly did it a few summers ago and were laughed into putting a quick stop to it.

  • Dummy4 on February 11, 2014, 1:14 GMT

    Look forward to reading your top 100 list. Be nice to see a level headed one for a change. Rather than Aussies forgetting anyone to the south of them. Namely a certain Sir Richard Hadlee being left out of any and every best of the bowlers lists.

  • Clifford on February 10, 2014, 22:42 GMT

    An almost great player, Martin. He is certainly better than you and you were brilliant. Won't you feel foolish if he continues to make runs? Would you apologize, then? Really, if cricket is such a team game, why does individual performances matter so much, especially in the batting dept. As a former batsman, it;s all down to you! Your confidence, concentration and ability carries you. And, you miss the point! KP is about filling seats, since it's now an entertainment thing. He milkshake brought the boys to the yard. Look it up. As you will see at the IPL auction. The punters have spoken and we want KP. I'm assuming, you feel you know better than us and would prescribe, what's best for us, irregardless, that we pay your wages etc. Most democratic of you. A bit ECB'ish, don't you think. As a former genius who also had some quirky tendencies, I would have thought some empathy would be present. Averages are unimportant, we pay for brilliance. People like you and KP for example.

  • Lee on February 10, 2014, 21:55 GMT

    A very interesting point. I don't think his knee was a factor in it's self, but it could be a factor in his performances, and the decline of those certainly was a factor. Though he was still worth his place on figures alone, they weren't good enough to put up with the other stuff. If his career had continued as he played in his first 52 tests then he would already be England's record run scorer in Test cricket at an average over 50, and have scored 32 hundreds. In fact he only has 23, He has been unable, or unwilling to adapt to the changes in his body, in a way that the great batsmen do. If he had quit when he lost the captaincy, then we would have talked of what might have been. What we got were 59 matches where he averaged 44.53 and made 8 hundreds, good but not great. For comparison Cook scored 1200 more runs (66 matches), averaged 49.11 and and made 18 hundreds. Bell scored 12 tons in fewer games and averaged 49.34. Trott averaged 46, and scored 9 100s. Oh and Prior is quicker!