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Kevin Pietersen ran out of runs to outweigh obnoxious attitude

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Kevin Pietersen reacts to sacking

Controversial South African-born and now former England batsman says he still has plenty to offer to cricket.

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In any sport, a team are in trouble when their most divisive member is, due to his talents on the field, indispensable. Managing the player becomes a complicated balancing act, where his on-field contribution is weighed against the negative impact of his personality upon the rest of the team.

Kevin Pietersen had to spend a lot of runs to buy his place in the England team. This has been the case for most of his career, especially in the two years since he was caught sending South African players derogatory texts about his then captain, Andrew Strauss. After he was reinstated, Pietersen paid his way with a century in Mumbai that was arguably the finest Test innings of the past decade, displaying that inimitable Pietersen mix of courage, self-belief and outlandish skill.

Since then, he let his account run down. He scored an important but chancy hundred at Old Trafford, and almost pulled off an improbable win at The Oval, but otherwise was inconsistent during the winter Ashes. By the end of the return series, being England’s top run-scorer was not enough. England looked to Pietersen for leadership. If it was not to be found in his character, then it had to come in runs. Instead, while he was in form, he was cornered and thwarted by Peter Siddle, and by Sydney he was a pale KP hologram.

Gone: Kevin Pietersen and coach Andy Flower have both been dispensed with by the England hierarchy.

Gone: Kevin Pietersen and coach Andy Flower have both been dispensed with by the England hierarchy. Photo: Reuters

Perhaps his end was written in his second-last Test match. For nearly the whole of Boxing Day, he batted as if to send a personal message to his arch critic, Geoff Boycott. Patting back half-volleys, dropping rank long-hops at his feet, he passed Boycott’s career total in pointedly Boycottish fashion. The next morning, after all that work, Pietersen tossed it away with a playground tonk. Here was the paradox. Pietersen was England’s top scorer, yet the slowness of his innings couldn’t be mistaken for grit or responsibility. It was just more of Kevin being Kevin, all for Kevin.

In the calculations of his worth, England’s selectors decided that Pietersen needed more than half-centuries to keep his place, and more than 294 runs. He needed big hundreds, or, failing that, he needed to show that he really cared.

Plenty of outsiders have commented on whether Pietersen’s axing is warranted or a failing of the leadership to control and channel his talent. It might be both. Only those inside the England squad know what effect Pietersen had on the team. Scraps will filter out, eventually, to demonstrate both his obnoxious ways and the inability of Alastair Cook, Andrew Flower and the rest of the team to bring out his best. It’s like a no-fault divorce; both sides share some blame and the cord is cut. But once Pietersen failed to convince his teammates, not just on the field but in the many small things that make up a long cricket tour, that he really did care about them and their success, once they ceased to believe he was with them, then he had to go.

2004. Never a shrinking violet. Pietersen joined English county side Nottinghamshire in 2011, scoring 1275 runs in his first season. Click for more photos

The Kevin Pietersen career

The tempestuous career of South African-born England batsman Kevin Pietersen never lacked controversy or drama. Photo: Getty Images

Pietersen will feel he is hard done by, but if the England leaders were more hard-headed they would have dropped him after the third Test. If they were really ruthless about it, they would not have brought him to Australia at all. If they were uncompromising about team-first principles, the South African texts would have been the end of his career.

He has been cut plenty of slack, in recognition of his run-scoring. But clearly they have had enough. In a style that has been characteristic of Cook’s leadership, England have done the right thing, but at the wrong time, trying to ignore the problem and then only addressing it when it was too late.

If Pietersen was not held accountable for his performance in Australia, who would be? Flower has gone; if it was ‘He goes or I go’, the ECB has neatly resolved it. They both go. Cook, four years younger than Pietersen, is the only viable captain and can rely on future opposition bowling attacks lacking Australia’s accuracy. It is impossible to see him rebuilding a team with Pietersen in it. If the ECB had to choose between Cook and Pietersen, it was a matter of picking the man with a future over the man with a past.

In Australia, Pietersen might not have been England’s worst player, but he brought their worst attitude. They were let down by all of their senior men, but Cook was outfoxed, James Anderson was worn out, Ian Bell was stripped of his scoring options, and Matt Prior, Graeme Swann and Jonathan Trott had their lives made a misery by an insatiable opponent. Each of those players was defeated by Australia.

For Pietersen, Australia had a different plan: play on his ego and he will get himself out. Pietersen duly did that, chipping and slogging his way to oblivion, selling himself cheaply when he could least afford it. As his teammates tried to rally around their captain, Pietersen was to be found signing autographs, comforting himself in the knowledge that among the public, who didn’t know him personally, he remained famous. He can now go to the celebrities’ playground of the Indian Premier League, the Miami Beach of cricket, where he will find himself in his element. He bows out of international cricket as an acknowledged player of great innings, the key player in winning back the Ashes for England after nine lost series in a row, a supreme batsman on all surfaces, and yet something less than the numbers beside his name.

Test cricket is not about which batsman makes the most runs in a series. It’s about winning. This year, Pietersen’s influence on England has steadily dropped to a net negative. The decision for England’s selectors was a long time coming, in deference to his record and the inevitable criticism they would face, but in the end it was unanimous and, probably, not that hard.

 

8 comments so far

  • Wouldn't change a word. So many apologists point to the run stats and ask why the leadership group shouldn't be responsible for harnessing the talent. Far simpler, and more human, to simply ask why a member of a team, doesn't want to share in that team's success by contributing according to his abilities. We'll miss the odd sublime piece of talent but should expect the English to provide a stiffer challenge next time without him.

    Commenter
    ozinsa
    Location
    Johannesburg
    Date and time
    February 05, 2014, 8:40PM
    • It was obvious his ego got him out. This time. I would still have loved to see him given the chance both in England then back in Aus to try and give payback for this tour. I think if kept on he would have knuckles down and hurt Australia next time. Like him or hate him the guy has talent and when in form is one of the most exciting batsmen going. The big question for England, have they got someone ready now to have the same impact S Pieterson on fire. I doubt it and now the rebuild will take longer. Just as Australia is still rebuilding. Lucky for Aus we have Sheild players starting to average 60 plus. North ave 98 as an opener, Silk,Voges, Pommersback, Payne now over his finger injury good enough to be our next . Keeper. If the Poms fail to find some Test standard bats, a new keeper, a quality spinner then Australia will not only win in England but also the next Ashes in Aus. Saffas will be our big challenge to regain 1 They have talented players ready to play Test level, so much depth they can send players to England to help them be competitive at Test level

      Commenter
      Armchair Selector
      Date and time
      February 06, 2014, 1:29AM
      • I thought that Pietersen tried to take the attack back by being aggressive , it has worked in the past . Alternatively he could have quit , gone home or just pretended everything was normal , just a good team out of luck.
        Not a Team player . and not the sort of bloke Graham Gooch would hang out with , but a bloody good competitor , and you need one or two of them to turn matches , if you have a Team of Alistair Cooks you'll probably get beaten.
        The Poms need a good rest , particularly Jimmy Anderson . They need Sir Ian to take charge .

        Commenter
        Mankad
        Location
        Up in Palmerland
        Date and time
        February 06, 2014, 6:33AM
        • KP's attitude has always been questionable, he turns it on when he wanted too. He like the rest of the team were in a can't be bothered attitude. Your article is so patronising, Swann never recovered to bowl well after his operation, Trott was already ill and Prior is off form but still remains the best wicket keeper in the world. It was themselves no the opposition , they weren't even that good.

          Commenter
          Bonzo
          Date and time
          February 06, 2014, 8:48AM
          • Obnoxious attitude or not , KP caused a media circus and that has to be good but maybe cricket players should be rotated every 2 or so seasons or have to stand down as giving more guys a run out would increase the public interest? New faces rather than the same old!

            Commenter
            Bonzo
            Date and time
            February 06, 2014, 8:51AM
            • Getting rid of Pietersen is a bad decision, and speaks volumes about English cricket's inability to manage a strong, and sometimes difficult, personality in the team.

              Commenter
              Noodles
              Date and time
              February 06, 2014, 10:11AM
              • LOL @ anyone that expects Pietersen's absence to somehow stiffen up their team. Do you really think any of Bairstow, Carberry, Compton, Root etc are going to somehow make this team BETTER in the next couple of years?

                The funniest thing about all of this is that Pietersen's most responsible innings of the series is being taken apart in the above story. Playing against every instinct in his body as his team crumbled around him - twice - only he stood against the Australians. And quite understandably tried to hit his way to something more formidable given the disgusting performances of his team's tail throughout the series.

                We seem quite happy to stand by and watch David Warner repeatedly get himself out under the mantra 'that's the way he plays' but when Kevin Pietersen - a player with a LOT more credentials than Warner - does it, 'oh no, you can't keep him in the side after a whole 5 matches of below par efforts.'

                Commenter
                Phat
                Date and time
                February 06, 2014, 10:29AM
                • So a closed team meeting asks for opinions, gets given one by a senior player with strong opinions they didn't all like, someone "tattles" to the coach, and Petersen, one of the best English batsmen for years, gets told he will NEVER play for England again. Not just out for a tour, but FOREVER!
                  Murderers may get off for good behaviour!
                  And the slighted coach? This beacon of ability? The administrators don't want him anyway and want him to quit!
                  And this makes sense????

                  Commenter
                  Frank
                  Date and time
                  February 06, 2014, 7:23PM

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