The ECB might have forced an abrupt full stop on Kevin Pietersen's international career. However, factors such as supreme talent, complete availability, match-winner status, a polished and suave speaker, franchises claim make Pietersen potentially one of the most attractive buys at the player auction.
On Tuesday, ECB and Pietersen parted ways mutually on the back of talks between the player and Paul Downton, the newly-appointed managing director of England cricket. It is understood that the ECB is on the verge of settling his contract soon, which will leave him a free agent.
Despite all the innuendos published in the media as reasons for his ouster, Pietersen remains a marquee player in the IPL. "People tend to look at young talent, match-winners and players whose calendars are free. Pietersen ticks all those attributes," a senior official with a franchise that has won the IPL in the past, said. "He is being portrayed as a bad boy. So he might have a huge point to prove. He might even want to lead the team and say that 'I am not a selfish player'," the official said.
With the IPL imposing a cap of nine overseas players, franchises are likely to cut back on spending on foreigners. However, officials point out there are many factors that elevate Pietersen's status. At 33, Pietersen is a senior player. A batsman who can silence the opposition with his explosive batting as well as change gears with a calculated assault. A superb fielder, and a decent offspinner.
"He will be a hot property, purely on the basis of his talent. He is a high-quality middle-order batsman. There are not really that many fitting that bill. You have explosive openers, but no one of his talent at No. 4 or 5," a franchise coach said.
Pietersen missed out playing the last IPL because of an injury, but was seen around to promote the Delhi Daredevils brand. He had transferred to the franchise from the now defunct Deccan Chargers in 2012.
Pietersen had made a grand entry into the IPL. Royal Challengers Bangalore bought him at the auction for the then record price of $1.55m, making him the joint-richest player in the IPL along with his former England team-mate Andrew Flintoff, who was bought at the same price by Chennai Super Kings. Pietersen played just six matches in his first year, but he was handed the captaincy immediately. He returned in 2010 to play seven matches at the back-end of the tournament and was instrumental in Royal Challengers finishing third.
For Ray Jennings, the former Royal Challengers' coach, Pietersen was always captaincy material in addition to being a match-winner. "An icon player is leading from the front. KP is a definite game-breaker. He is a very methodical player. He has different ideas. He is a different type of cricketer. When people want to win badly and set high standards, sometimes they are quite difficult to work with. I never had problems with KP. It is a pleasure to work with a guy like that who wants to win all the time," Jennings said.
Although franchise officials remain tightlipped about whether the former England captain might fetch over the $2 million Daredevils paid him, they are certain more than one team will be interested in him. Currently, Daredevils, Kings XI Punjab and Sunrisers Hyderabad have vacancies and are likely to chase big-name players like Pietersen who could be part of the team's nucleus even if he does not get picked as a captain.
In a franchise-based sport, it is not just playing ability that determines a player's worth. Charisma, a positive attitude and global appeal are what franchises look for in a player because they want to promote their brand.
According to a former CEO of one of the original eight franchises, in a commercial venture like the IPL, you need a player like Pietersen to create the buzz, to interest fans to buy tickets, to have sponsors who don't mind paying an extra quarter-of-a-million dollars so he can get access to the player. "A few years back we picked a team based on just smart 20-over cricketers. We decided not to go chasing a big name," the former CEO said. "Sponsors came back and gave us their feedback saying is team mein dum nahin hain (three is not much weight in this team). There is no big name or star in your team. The sponsors are always looking for the buzz and star quality around the team."
Pietersen is part of a select band of players who transcend their cricketing talent and can double up as the brand ambassador. "He speaks very well. He is very courteous at sponsor events and mingles easily with both businessmen and fans. Some of the Indian players sulk and give the impression about what a drag it is for them to be present at these events. KP knows his responsibility as a main player. He knows his responsibility to both the franchise and the sponsor. So he brings a lot of value addition in addition to his cricket. He is a good asset both on and off the field. He brings that X-factor and oomph to a franchise," said a franchise head summing up Pietersen's off-field potential.