One of the most flamboyant batsmen in the world calls it a day in those formats where a batsman has the license to be flamboyant. Look at the irony of it! Out of nowhere and at a time when England is riding high on the West Indies in the Test series, this decision of Kevin Pietersen can hit the team’s morale to a huge extent. After all, he has carried the burden of the batting in both ODIs and T20s literally alone on his shoulders right since his debuts, as none of the other batters are actually capable of achieving great feats as much as him.
England have never been that good as an ODI team, despite having made it to as many as three World Cup finals. None of their batsmen or bowlers have produced great records, and to top it all there has been no team effort as such when they play which is why they are consigned to defeat more often than not. Besides, their focus has always been on Test cricket, believing that this is the actual form of the game and thus they must excel in it. Such an attitude is paying off its dividends finally, but England lack the firepower still to succeed in ODI cricket and champions win in all forms of the game. Look no further than the West Indies of the 80s and the Australians of the 2000s.
Kevin Pietersen made his ODI debut in Zimbabwe in the winter of 2004. He did not make a huge impact there, as much as he did in his home country, South Africa. Playing in English colours made the fans furious and he was abused by partisan crowds, with the name ‘traitor’ then becoming as common a word as ‘water’ for him to hear. Many felt that the inexperienced KP would be under enormous pressure to perform well, but not Michael Vaughan. It was Vaughan who went up to him and gave him a masterstroke of an advice, i.e. ‘Don’t look at the crowd, look at the ball only.’ When the captain is encouraging, the player is motivated instantly and that literally assured him a career in the red and purple English jersey for the next seven years.
Pietersen actually mesmerized the South African crowds with three hundreds in seven matches against the home team which was a joy to watch. He was aggression personified, but such was his calmness in his aggression that anyone who watched those centuries carefully would become a huge fan of his. Andrew Flintoff finally had some competition in the form of a player effortlessly making the ball reach the ropes or fly over them! There were brilliant, attacking shots to watch especially on a leg side. What an un-English batsman indeed! Consequently, the crowds did a ‘Switch hit’, from being abusive to appreciative even as England lost all the matches in which he hit those centuries.
A blockbuster start to his ODI career already made him a massive threat to any opposition. Australia tried to bog him down, but could not prevail as such in that. He would throw his wicket away unnecessarily, but if he stayed at the crease for long, the opposition was in for trouble while the crowd was in for a treat. During the period of March 2005 – March 2007, he had already notched up five hundreds in the ODI game, with one being in a World Cup match against the Aussies in the West Indies. Yet, all those five hundreds ended up in England finishing second best and thus he could be termed a true match winner, as his performances could not boost the team to give it their best and win.
Following the World Cup, Pietersen suffered a drought of hundreds. He perhaps had the worst conversion rate from fifties to hundreds amongst all batsmen in the world. Yet, his attacking instincts were able to save England’s pride, if not win them matches. The team needed his contributions always and relied on him for big scores. The bowlers would then try to do the rest, but this was something that the oppositions could make out and thus could plan well to get KP out as the rest would then follow.
T20 cricket is ideal for a batsman like Kevin Pietersen. If England today are the numero uno team in this format of the game alongside Test cricket, it is primarily due to this man. All of a sudden, his form returned in the World T20 in the Caribbean in April 2010 and such was his form that no opponent could actually get the better of him, barring Ireland! He is the right man for the No.3 job since he gets more balls to face at the top of the order and thus he has more ability to tear a bowling attack apart. Once he gets going, he is unstoppable!
What an asset he was for England in the ODIs and T20s! Just when many thought that KP returned to form in the ODI series in the UAE against Pakistan, he decided to call it a day. Pietersen was the man the whole of England pinned their hopes on, for leading them to World Cup glory in 2015 in Australia and New Zealand following their disastrous outing in the Indian subcontinent in 2011. He was also the central figure in England’s plans to feature in the Champions Trophy at home next year and more importantly, the World T20 in Sri Lanka this year where they are the defending champions.
The England and Wales Cricket Board could be blamed to a large extent for being a major factor of influence in Pietersen’s decision. It is indeed ridiculous for a player to also quit T20 cricket, in case he decides to quit ODI cricket. This does not make any sense because a player must be selected on merit to play, in each format of the game and Pietersen would any day make it in the starting XI of the country’s T20 and ODI side both. Thankfully, Test cricket was not included in the conditions of retirement! Otherwise, KP could have bid goodbye to all forms of cricket.
An irrational administration might let the country down again. England is definitely not the same force without KP, and there are no potential replacements for him even as there are options such as Jonny Bairstow and Ravi Bopara who can look to cement their place in the side in his absence. It would not be a surprise if England actually are reduced to the level of teams such as West Indies and Bangladesh in the ICC rankings with time to come. Alastair Cook’s captaincy has no doubt been fruitful for England so far, but he alone cannot perform with the bat for his team. Again, the 3 lions do not have the ODI players to fire for them.
However, this could be a wakeup call for England to actually improve their domestic structure of cricket, where the focus has to be on 50 over cricket. The 40 over championship remains a mystery to be solved, as this format of the game is not followed in international cricket. England is innovative in the field of cricket, but sometimes there is the need to be ordinary as well to produce the best talent in the country. Test matches might be reduced to a slightly lower number to accommodate 50 over games. The T20 championship is alright otherwise.
Besides, KP’s retirement might actually bring the best out of the most inexperienced players since all will have to stand up for the team. But here, it is the responsibility of Alastair Cook and coach Andy Flower to bring in that mentality within everyone. If they succeed, England can look like a different side altogether. If they fail, then England can go down the drain.
The Indian Premier League might be another reason of his retirement. India has over 70% of the market share if cricket is likened to any business market. Thus, the IPL is able to attract the best players from all over the globe and KP is one of them. Pietersen was a part of the Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2009 and 2010, and only played for the Delhi Daredevils in 2012. He bonded so much with all his Daredevils teammates and that was proven on his Twitter account.
Such was his love for the Delhi Daredevils that on Twitter, he once cheered the team when they were losing in a playoff match against Kolkata Knight Riders instead of appreciating his teammates in Surrey who fought well to draw a lost county game, and he was playing in that match and failed! Money can do wonders to one’s thinking, and KP would obviously want to play the IPL for a maximum of seven weeks in a year and enjoy the rest of the year with his family as much as possible. Now that he is a father and not just a son and husband, he would obviously wish to spend more time with his wife and children.
Pietersen might be one of the victims of the IPL, since he has had to give up playing for England in ODIs and T20s. England play most of their Test matches at home throughout a calendar year, and they are relatively fewer in number in comparison to other teams who travel more. And since his Test form does not seem to dwindle, he would like to continue serving England at least in this format of the game.
This is arguably KP’s strangest cricketing decision, but hopefully the national cricket board should alter their policy as quickly as possible so that he can reconsider his decision and return playing under Alastair Cook and Stuart Broad respectively. But a superb batsman will indeed be missed, and one can only wish that he compensates for this retirement in Test cricket by scoring much faster to continue entertaining the cricket fan. Besides, the IPL 2013 is 10 months away for him to play T20 cricket again.