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March 25, 2014
Before England had a dashing young wicketkeeper-batsman from Somerset, they had a dashing young wicketkeeper-batsman via Somerset. Craig Kieswetter's three years in the England set-up were, in his own words, "tumultuous" and there almost seems an illusory quality to the memory of his Man of the Match performance in the final of the 2010 World T20.
Yet, more than 12 months since he was displaced by his former team-mate Jos Buttler in England's limited-overs sides, Kieswetter has rejoined the squad in Bangladesh with a clearer sense of purpose. A replacement for the injured Luke Wright, Kieswetter could again make a late bid to force his way into the World T20 XI on the back of a game that has moved on from the days of his early big hits.
It may not quite have been a case of too much too young but the beginning to Kieswetter's international career was still pretty special. Then came the period of artistic struggle, dropped from the one-day side before the 2011 World Cup, shuffled down the order after his return and finally usurped by Buttler for good in India at the start of 2013 - Ashley Giles' first tour in charge. His T20 career stalled at the previous tournament in Sri Lanka, when he was reduced to blocking or swinging wildly, his last innings a miserable 4 off 14 balls.
Michael Lumb, his mucker at the top of the order in the Caribbean (they both made their debuts in the same game), subsequently returned to the side and has since formed one of the most successful opening partnerships in the short history of the shortest format with Alex Hales.
It was in Bangladesh, when Kieswetter was just 22, that he made his England debut and Chittagong where he scored his only international century to date. "We had the Lions tour in Dubai and I did pretty well and then the Lions played England and Lumby and I did okay and I got selected," Kieswetter said. "In my third ODI I got a hundred and then we won the World Cup and I got man of the match in the final so my career started on such a high, an unexpected high for any player I think."
Then came the first low. "I remember we played five ODIs against Australia and three against Bangladesh back in the UK and I think I scored 121 runs in eight innings, so to go from one extreme to the complete opposite - mentally it is really tough. Your game does not change technically, you can still hit the ball as well, but mentally being able to deal with the positives and negatives - especially in the media and from the public - it leaves self-doubt rather than anything else and as a young player you have self-doubt anyway as a player and a person, so it was a real challenge. In hindsight I don't think I was quite ready for the mental challenge of being with the pros and cons really."
In order to better cope with the rigours of success and failure that all sportsmen must endure, Kieswetter has been working with Jon Pitts, a mental coach with a background in equestrianism and football. The focus was on achieving greater consistency but he has also attempted to improve areas of his technique, such as manipulating the field and rotating the strike.
Such upgrades to his cruder power game have apparently reawakened England's interest, if a little belatedly. Last year, Kieswetter finished as the leading run-scorer in the Friends Life t20, including 19 sixes (behind only Ben Stokes), and he performed creditably for Brisbane Heat in the Big Bash League over the winter. That success has come as an opener, though he said he would be "happy to bowl first change" if it meant an England return.
"It has been a pretty tumultuous England career for me so far, in and out and in and out and back," he said. "My personal feeling is that I believe I have always been good enough and had the talent to play on the technical side of it. But I think being thrust in so young and having the success that we did at a team level and individually. For me it was a real struggle to come to terms with that and to mentally deal with the processes of that success. The past 12 months have been a really interesting experience. I have had to go away completely and look at where I can develop myself and my game.
"I don't think it can ever be too much too soon but I was more adept at handling it technically than I was mentally. I think as a younger player your mental side of the game develops a touch later. For the past 12 months I've really gone away and backed off a little bit technically and physically from the game and worked on trying to become a bit more consistent emotionally and mentally with regards to my approach and my processes, dealing with highs and lows."
England, through James Whitaker, stayed in touch with Kieswetter last season and, after Ian Bell and Chris Woakes came into the World T20 squad for crocked regulars, a third opportunity arose. His view on arrival - one that England have been espousing with some zeal for a few weeks - was that the team "are actually looking in pretty good nick" but he may be able to bring something fresh to the group.
One reason for England's apparent struggles in T20 of late might have been due to the focus on Test cricket during the period they went to No. 1, a year after winning the World T20. Kieswetter carries no such baggage, though he retains aspirations in all three formats. Could an easier, breezier Kieswetter help England to some clarity of their own? "Things can change pretty quickly but I wouldn't necessarily count us out of the race yet."
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Alan Gardner
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