KP too good for dreary, old-fashioned England

So the fallout of England’s winter continues unabated. Prepare yourselves for the mother of all introspection.

I just read the following on Twitter:

 

There’s only so much room and dispensation for mavericks. Well, I don’t know who Steve Booth is, but it’s fair to assume he’s probably British and supports the England cricket team, and I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that his view is shared by many England sport fans. And if we learn nothing from the bleach-clean of this England team in the last few weeks, you would hope that the treatment of Kevin Pietersen is one lesson we may in future look back on with regret and a turning point in the attitudes towards our sportsmen.

What’s wrong with having a maverick?

Steve Booth is wrong – all the best teams in the world have had mavericks, and often relied upon them. West Indies: Lara, Richards, Gayle and others. Australia: Warne, of course. India: Ganguly perhaps. Pakistan: where do we start? And what about Sri Lanka? Muttiah Muralitharan, maverick arm himself. What about football? Was Pele a maverick? How about Campese for Australian rugby, or Jonah Lomu?

And yes, of course they are more likely to unsettle an established team. They might be born with fractionally better eyes, faster reactions, bigger muscles or a desire to succeed and win which outstrips their peers, but in nearly all cases they train and prepare incredibly hard, not a trait you associate with these so-called geniuses. And to reach that level of commitment requires the hardest of noses, the most stubborn of chins and a bloodymindedness likely to rile even the most zen of managers and captains. So, how exactly are these managers and captains managing and captaining?

What Steve’s comments show is that it is England who can’t cope with mavericks. As a country we still can’t hug and celebrate our winners in the same way other nations can and do. To most people’s astonishment, particularly our own, Great Britain took home a stash of gold at the London Olympics and the nation unshackled its chastity belt to experience an orgasm of celebration. That was unprecedented. England won the 2003 Rugby World Cup then quickly sank back down to its knees, only occasionally stumbling on to its haunches. England winning the Ashes in 2005 was another rare event, the rarest of its type given how closely fought that series was, but the following series confirmed England wasn’t ready to take on the world. Several players fell by the wayside through injury, so we can’t blame the nation’s psyche entirely of course. But it’s further evidence of a country far more comfortable appreciating the rich light of a winter’s afternoon than bask in summer’s victorious glare.

Pietersen needs attention and the warmth of adulation in a way few English cricketers, or fans, can get their heads around. This isn’t to diminish other players’ guts, determination or desire to succeed; for them, contributing to the team may mean just as much (or in some cases more) than dominating an entire series with two swashbuckling, daring innings. But England have been too inflexible, conformist, conservative and rigidly uninventive to accommodate a man willing to forsake the country of his birth in order to show the world his true talents. You only need look at the funereal approach to entertaining its fans in the last two or three seasons to know that those in charge were terrified of anything, anyone, threatening risk.

And what’s worse is that this move smacks of the ECB attempting, rather pathetically, to make a bold statement. “It’s time for a change. Time to clear the decks and start afresh.” Does that include dumping your best player, your prized asset – in fact, the only asset that competing teams are scared of? Oh, right. You really do have no idea how to manage different characters.

Pietersen came into the side a showman, a grinning entertainer bereft of insecurities, bereft too of political nous and gravitas, but too gloriously naive to realise his adopted country required it of him. He departed without so much an ovation, though the applause by his fans will ring loud in the ears of the ECB for years until England finds a cricketer with Pietersen’s skill and Andrew Strauss’s sober diplomacy. I suggest such a beast doesn’t exist, and for that we should be thankful.

Pietersen dropped – for the final time?

KP gone, never forgotten

That, surely, is it for Kevin Pietersen’s involvement with England. He’s been overlooked (or whatever is the consolatory phrase for someone who has been thrown out with the rubbish, probably prematurely). Binned. Dumped. Jettisoned. For the better? Well, I don’t think anybody will agree that it’s for England’s short-term good that he has been dropped but, perhaps – just perhaps – this signals the first significant moment of leadership for the new management team. And yes, I can’t believe I just wrote “management team” in the context of cricket, but such is the changing world and all that.

I wonder if he and Flower will be sharing a pint. A pint of bitter, no doubt.

With the announcement of England’s World Twenty20 squad expected on Thursday, the ECB took the unprecedented step of holding “policy meetings” solely to discuss the eligibility of one player: Pietersen. He spent the day of his sacking giving a class on spin bowling to his Surrey team-mates at The Oval.

“Clearly this was a tough decision because Kevin has been such an outstanding player for England as the fact that he is the country’s leading run scorer in international cricket demonstrates,” Downton said.

“However everyone was aware that there was a need to begin the long term planning after the Australia tour. Therefore we have decided the time is right to look to the future and start to rebuild not only the team but also team ethic and philosophy.

“England cricket owes a debt of gratitude to Kevin who has proved to be one of the most talented and exciting players to ever represent the country and his 13,797 runs are a testimony to his immense skill. This decision brings some clarity now for the future of the England teams and we all wish Kevin the very best in the rest of his career.” The new of England apparently forcibly retiring one of their most experienced players comes less than a week after Andy Flower stepped down as team director and follows the retirement of Graeme Swann during the disastrous Ashes tour.

A career that spanned 104 Tests and more than 150 limited-overs appearances over nine years, during which time Pietersen became England’s leading run-scorer in international cricket yet constantly divided opinion, may now be at an end, little more than a year after his successful “reintegration” to the team on the tour of India.

Is 50 the new 40?

My colleague and I were watching Kevin Pietersen crash his way to yet another hundred today when a thought popped into my head. Is the new benchmark for batsman to average 50, rather than 40 as it was a decade ago? He disagreed so we settled on the conclusion that, to be considered a “pretty damn good” batsman you’ll be averaging 45 as a minimum.

And it got us thinking back to the dark old days in the 1990s when none (Alec Stewart apart, briefly, I think) of England’s top-order averaged 40, while some lurked in the dismal gloom of the low-thirties. But these days, they’re all over 40 and two – Matt Prior and Kevin Pietersen – are averaging over 50.

On a similar line, if batsmen’s averages are increasing – and I have no evidence with which to support this claim as I’m rambling like a loon – are bowlers’ also inflating? A decade ago, a really decent bowler was said to be averaging under 25. But with batsmen enjoying such shorter boundaries, and the game’s frenetic pace spiralling upwards with each year, is 30 the new 25?

Thoughts welcome.

Too highly rated?

I see Kevin Pietersen has been knocked off the top spot in the ODIs by Ricky Ponting. Very difficult to argue with that – Ponting is surely the stand out batsman in both forms of the game. Looking at the other batting rankings, it is difficult to find fault, although on current form, Shiv Chanderpaul ought to be in the test top three at least. Also, I struggle to understand how Mahela Jayawardene doesn’t break into either top ten, while Hussey retains a top five place in both. He’s very good, granted, but is he top five?

Jason Gillespie

The bowlers are altogether more perplexing. For one, how can Shoaib Akhtar still be at number 10 in tests? He’s played four tests since the start of 2006 and taken only a handful of wickets. Maybe in the current game, not playing is the way to climb the rankings. Likewise, Jason Gillespie (22) is still deemed a better Test bowler than Lasith Malinga (28)!

Agreed, it must be difficult to devise a workable system. Also, stats don’t tell the full story. But things start to look decidedly suspect when you inspect the Best Ever Ratings, which is a list of players at their peak. Ponting at four is just about fair enough, given his recent dominance. However, Peter May above Viv Richards shows a flaw, while Matthew Hayden in the top ten is just crazy. KP (21) is one place higher than Sachin and two places higher than Wally Hammond. Enough said.

For the bowlers, I half expected to see the list packed high with bowlers of yesteryear, given how modern bowlers are meant to have struggled, but it does put Murali, McGrath, Pollock, Waqar and Warne in the top 15. Of course, Warne should be in the top three, if not top of the pile. Wasim Akram limps in at number 57 behind the likes of Ntini, Shoaib and Harmison, which doesn’t seem right.

That said, like most critics, I can’t think of a better way. There must be some bright spark at Cricinfo with a formula….?

The war of bling tossers

From Lawrence Booth’s Spin:

But the Spin is concerned that cricket-lovers the world over are about to be deprived of the richest chapter yet in the – for some reason – unwritten history of tossing. Because if England plump for Paul Collingwood ahead of Kevin Pietersen to lead their one-day side, it means we will have to foresake the dream pairing of Pietersen and Chris Gayle. Imagine the fun. The toss would never take place on time, the coin would get lost in all the bling, and the polite handshake would degenerate into an orgy of fist-pumping and high-fives. It’s high time the England and Wales Cricket Board saw sense.

Bravo that man

Dwayne Bravo sounds more like a name of an American basketball player than a West Indian cricketer. And if this tour amounts to nothing more than a disaster in terms of results, at least the team has Dwayne and his heroics. This guy is seriously good and nothing less than entertaining to watch.

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He is cocky and boastful. He bounced Kevin Pietersen, knocking his helmet off, then sprinted down the pitch in a mad celebration – completely disregarding Pietersen who might well have been injured. “Who cares?!” Bravo might’ve thought. “I’ve just dismissed one of the world’s very best batsmen”. One who, incidentally, then claimed he had “never been hit on the head before”, a statement which I think might well be a load of balderdash.

Watching him bat today was a fascinating experience. Owing to yet another damned delay due to rain, Sky were showing us highlights of the 1993-94 tour – the tour which first sparked my love of the game, as I’ve said far too many times – containing West Indian batsmanship of true Caribbean flair. Their opponents, England, were a mishmash of talent: immensely gifted batsmen with mental flaws, brought up in an equally flawed county system. England rarely took the attack to West Indies. It was all about grafting and grinding.

Fast forward 13 years and how things have changed. Two West Indian batsman – Bravo and Shivnarine Chanderpaul – battling it out as though their lives depended on it (their livlihoods probably do, but that’s a matter for another day). Battling it out like Atherton once did. And they did it brilliantly. Bravo to both of them, but particularly to Dwayne. He’s young and gifted and wants to succeed, badly. You can’t say that about many of his peers.

Incidentally, on comms today I nearly wrote “Barov” instead of Bravo. I told the readers this:

I nearly called Bravo “Barov” just then. Barov being Dwayne’s Russian cousin of course

A bored feedbacker wrote in to accuse me of being racist. Have the general public completely lost their sense of humour now?

Video of Kevin Pietersen…playing golf?

A colleague sent this to me today and it is required viewing. Sky Sports’ advert for the US Open, featuring Kevin Pietersen. If you can’t see the video below, try here.

Video of Kevin Pietersen losing his helmet

Dwayne Bravo dismissed Kevin Pietersen yesterday, hit wicket, when a bouncer zeroed in on his head, smashing his helmet off which then landed on his stumps. Here’s the video.

Fascinating to see Bravo’s euphoric celebration while Pietersen stands there, stunned and shocked.

Overshadowing The Ego


© Getty Images
Kevin Pietersen whacked his fastest Test hundred today and yet was overshadowed by someone who was once described by Ian Chappell [1] as the most unlikely of Test batsman. More of an accountant – a bookish, slightly nerdy character. It was Michael Vaughan, then storming Australia during his epic series.

And at last today, he returned. The old cover-drive was there, complete with swashbuckling follow-through. It was a slick innings against some of the most inept, friendly bowling imaginable, on a friendly Headingley pitch under clear skies. The conditions and situation were tailor-made for him and he took full advantage. Even his favoured pull stroke was there…though he timed one of them rather too well, falling straight down Morton’s throat.

It just reminded me of what an audacious, brilliantly talented batsman he once was, but also what he could still be capable of. He said before this Test that he felt as though he was making his debut today and, that being the case, let’s hope he’ll be just as successful as England’s other recent debutants – Alastair Cook and Matt Prior to name two. If the knees survive – and let’s be honest, if they don’t, it’ll probably end his career in a hurry – there’s no reason why he can’t dominate bowling like he did four years ago.

Meanwhile Andrew Strauss, the Middlesex legend, is under a wee bit of pressure. Needs big runs, quickly.

[1] I think it was Chappell.

Kevin Pietersen’s hundred against West Indies


© Getty Images

Another quite brilliant innings. He is one of the most expert pacers of an innings I have seen; to watch him build the foundation in his first fifty, then explode during the second, was quite special. But what made it even more special was yet another confrontation with the opposition, this time with Chris Gayle.

Things were getting seriously heated, for no apparent reason. It went on for a good hour or hour-and-a-half, with Gayle chirping from the slips and Pietersen giving it back at the end of each over. There were shoulder barges, glaring, swearing, petulance from the bowler, daring-do from the batsman. Inside this Test, an entirely separate and very personal battle was taking place.

Aptly, Pietersen eventually fell to Gayle. They smiled, shook hands, and off he went. They may not be best mates, but they were big enough to acknowledge one another’s performance and not let their disagreement become bigger than the game. It was cricket at its most compelling.