Pakistan v England 2011-12 January 30, 2012

Pietersen low on runs and time

His contribution to English cricket has been immense, and he had a prolific home season; but whether it his brash image or his tense relationship with Andy Flower, two poor Tests are enough to put his spot in jeopardy

It seems the vultures are circling. Those who have been waiting for Kevin Pietersen to stumble are ready to strike. They smell blood.

The antipathy towards Pietersen is, in many ways, hard to understand. Perhaps it derives, in part, from his South African heritage. Pietersen has a British parent, a British wife and a British child, but that seems not to be enough for some. Despite living in a mobile, multi-cultural nation, there are some that resent the fact that he was born and raised overseas.

His career record seems not to appease, either. Before Pietersen made his international debut, England had not won the Ashes for nearly two decades and had never won a global event. He played an enormous role in rectifying those blemishes.

In 2005, it was Pietersen's century at The Oval that ensured England held on to win that watershed series. Then he helped England to the World Twenty20 title in the Caribbean in 2010, batting quite superbly and winning the Man-of-the-Tournament award. He has scored 26 international centuries and only Don Bradman scored more runs in his first 25 Tests. Pietersen's contribution to England cricket has been immense.

And he is only 31. He should be coming into his prime.

But that is the problem with Pietersen: from everyone who is given much, much will be demanded. And Pietersen was given plenty. He has, at times, shown he is capable of greatness, so these forays into mediocrity are all the more frustrating.

There is no concealing the fact that Pietersen is enduring a poor tour of the UAE. He has looked all at sea against spin, has given his wicket away foolishly against seam and missed a relatively simple run-out that could have turned the second Test. He is averaging 4.25 in the Test series, either lunging forward desperately, hitting across the line in panic or guiding the ball to the fielders recklessly.

Yet, just three Tests ago, Pietersen thumped a century against India. In the ten Tests before that, he made two double centuries. Strip away the disappointment and hyperbole and he has simply endured two bad games in succession. It doesn't seem so bad, does it?

It would not be true to say he is a poor player of spin, either. Pietersen enjoyed success against Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan. He has, at times, flourished against the best there have been.

He has earned - like Ian Bell and Andrew Strauss - the right for some patience. Quite rightly, none of them will be dropped in the immediate future, but all three of them face a significant challenge if they are to sustain their Test careers till the end of 2012. Three tours on Asian pitches may well make them or break them. Reputations count for little.

How much patience Pietersen will receive remains to be seen. His relationship with Andy Flower is not the warmest - their differences over the Peter Moores affair were too deep to heal completely - and Pietersen's sometimes abrasive manner will only be tolerated while he is performing. It is hard to imagine he will be extended the same lengthy opportunities to justify his selection as Paul Collingwood enjoyed.

Perhaps that is the problem. Pietersen may appear cocky and brash, but like most who wear the cloak of confidence quite so obtrusively, it conceals insecurity. Pietersen, like everyone else, needs to feel needed and supported and valued. Flower, for all his excellence, might not have the relationship with Pietersen that allows such a rapport. Flower has done wonders for English cricket, but he has not yet coaxed the very best from Pietersen. It may prove to be his only failure.

That is not to say that Pietersen's problems are Flower's fault. Pietersen must take the responsibility for his failings just as he must take the credit for his success. But England would be stronger for a fully firing Pietersen and Flower has yet to find a way to make that happen.

Flower was diplomatic but non-committal when asked about Pietersen on Sunday. "Kevin is now challenged by not scoring any runs in the first two Tests, definitely," Flower said. "But he has a record of working things out. He's a world-class player who has done a lot of great things with a bat in his hand and has helped England win a lot of games. I don't think you should undervalue some of the things he's done recently for us."

There was, however, just a hint of the frustration Flower feels when he commented about Pietersen's plans: "You're not going to learn much about Test batting in the IPL."

There was another interesting moment in a press conference with Flower after the first Test. Asked about Pietersen, he replied, "He has two more chances." At the time most of the media took that to mean on this tour. In retrospect, it might not have meant that at all.

If that is the case, then Pietersen has one more chance to prove what a fine player he can be. If he fails, he will be relying on good will to save him. And that is a resource he may find to be in scarce supply.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • CricketingStargazer on February 1, 2012, 21:54 GMT

    JG, Ravi Bopara has not managed to make a case for a place in the side and there is are a number of players comining through. Sooner or later the selectors are going to go with a young player in form and give him a run in the side or, at least, as batting reserve. As for Kieswetter, he could actually make a decent fist of opening at Test level while Prior keeps the gloves. He is a good batsman and is getting better with experience. He also has a far better record than "one day specialist" Marcus Trescothick had when first selected. Kieswetter can also cover for the openers or the middle order (in Sri Lanka he's being played at 5). There is a reason why these players are in the Lions side in Sri Lanka right now. Let's suppose that England lose in Sri Lanka too and Andrew Strauss remains short of runs: do you really think that there will not be a vacancy to open as well a place at 5 and that one of the Lions in form will not get a chance to fill it?

  • CricketingStargazer on February 1, 2012, 21:19 GMT

    JG, I understand your point: Kieswetter is far better known as a limited overs player, but has a very good First Class record, playing in Division 1 where runs are earned. Despite a poor run last summer he averaged over 40 with 2 centuries in his 9 games (only Marcus Trescothick scored more centuries for Somerset). He has 8 centuries in his 76 First Class matches.

  • JG2704 on February 1, 2012, 18:33 GMT

    @CricketingStargazer on (February 01 2012, 10:43 AM GMT) Buttler and Kieswetter are one day specialists at the moment. Buttler could well adapt to test cricket in years to come but Kieswetter would have to oust Matt Prior and that's a huge ask as Prior is probably a better batsman and definitely a better gloveman. It's a shame for Jos that Craig is in the same side as him as I feel that Jos might actually be a better WK than Craig. As for Morgan - I think the OD game is different and maybe Morgan might play with more freedom which he should do a test level now. Re Bopara - I'd disagree that he's running out of time as he's not had one game on this tour so he should be in no worse a position than pre tour when I'd say he was on a par with Morgan. I'm not saying he'd do any better though

  • JG2704 on February 1, 2012, 18:33 GMT

    @Posted by on (February 01 2012, 06:23 AM GMT) Warne and Murali were class spinners who could cause trouble for batsmen all over the world. By law of averages half of Warne's wickets would have come in Australia. So you'd say that drawing a HOME series with the 8th placed side in the last 3 months or so warrants top spot , not forgetting the result of the last Ashes series just over a year ago? SA are a more consistent side but even they have dropped tests/series which they should have won. Reckon if you did a win percentage of England over the last 2 years - even inc a 3-0 defeat to Pak - they'd still come out on top of any test playing nation. It wouldn't surprise me if that would still be the case if they lost 2-0 to SL as well.

  • JG2704 on February 1, 2012, 12:54 GMT

    @spence1324 on (January 31 2012, 18:26 PM GMT) Thanks for response. My main point is that I believe that English fans like KP. Re IPL , I'm not sure either way. I definitely think it might help our OD specialists. I'd like to see some of our guys playing some longer fmt cricket in SC . KP (among others) has had few issues playing in England anyway

  • Yevghenny on February 1, 2012, 12:05 GMT

    I will never understand people who want to drop Pietersen.

  • CricketingStargazer on February 1, 2012, 10:43 GMT

    Busie1979, it is not beside the point that both Jos Butler and Craig Kieswetter are scoring big runs in Sri Lanka with the Lions right now. Kieswetter was a late addition to the squad and made an immediate impact with a murderous century. My guess is that both Morgan and Bopara are running out of time and that at least one of Butler and Kieswetter will go to Sri Lanka with the full side. Kieswetter also has the advantage of having experience at international level: he lost his place and then got it back on the basis of big scoring. Bairstow is probably not far behind either.

  • LillianThomson on February 1, 2012, 9:53 GMT

    Test cricket is a battle for the best, not the most popular. It doesn't matter in the slightest whether Pietersen's team-mates like him, they are professionals and he is the outstanding England batsman of this generation and they just need to get on with it. Australia showed in the last five years what happens when you marginalise or exclude players on the basis of their behaviour and attitudes. They could ill-afford to lose Andrew Symonds when they did, or to have Warne and MacGill retire prematurely because they couldn't stomach boot-camp nonsense. England are already carrying Strauss and Morgan who in 2012 are both incapable of being Test batsmen. Pietersen is part of the solution, not the problem.

  • dummy4fb on February 1, 2012, 7:07 GMT

    i love Pietersen scoring runs against anyone but not Pakistan ! He is great player a quality attacking player happy he is not in form

  • dummy4fb on February 1, 2012, 6:23 GMT

    in my opinion pietersen doesnt play spin well just like the other england batsmen. many people think he is a great player of spin because he did well against shane warne and muttiah muralitharan. remember he played against them mostly in england when he scored a bulk of runs against them. if u check out his subcontinent record its poor. in my opnion the best team in the world is either south africa or australia. i would give it to australia at the moment. because they are the only team outside the subcontinent that did well lately in the subcontinent. south africa have not played in a while so we dont know there strength in asia currently. england will ever be poor in the subcontinent, because there batsmen naturally like to hang on the backfoot

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