Showmanship ends with KP ‘s exit
Ian Botham, the legendary all-rounder, retired from international cricket in 1992. With him, he took away whatever flamboyance, charisma, a flair for dominance and stardom that the English side ever possessed. They did produce a lot of ‘competent’ cricketers thereafter, but none who could match the aura of Botham. Most of them were ‘wooden’, far too deep-rooted in the snobbish culture which has gripped England and the England Cricket Board (ECB) for years now. Too afraid to think out-of-the box, to adapt with the changing times, too much bound by the code of conduct and punishing those who didn’t toe the line.
In the summer of 2005, during one of the most historic test series ever played, against their arch rivals Australia, the home team was joined by a cricketer named Kevin Pietersen (KP). A tall, lanky cricketer, with golden streaks of hair, charging down at Shane Warne at the Mecca of Cricket, Lord’s, didn’t really cut the figure amongst the rest of the English side. And how could he?
He belonged to the ‘Rainbow Nation’ – South Africa. As with that country, KP’s personality was as colourful as it could be. He defied the challenges thrown at him by the Australian bowlers, which included the likes of McGrath, Warne, Lee, Gillispie – and became the highest run getter of the series. The overall result of his presence, assisted by some stunning performances by Simon Jones and Andrew Flintoff, another character in the English dressing room, was, that England reclaimed the Ashes after a gap of 18 years.
Suddenly the world was taking note of the aura which had returned to the English side after many-many years. Their own countrymen, where they still wonder why cricket is their national game in a soccer frenzy nation, who had lost interest in the growth or decline of their team, were out on the streets celebrating the home-coming of the Ashes Urn to their land. The English cricket was not to remain the same afterwards.
With Kevin Pietersen, not only the side became a threat in the longest format of the game, the opposition was wary of them even in the shorter formats like ODIs and T20s. It’s of no surprise that the only ICC silverware they have in their cabinet, World T20 2010, was won when KP powers were at their peak, and was awarded the Player of the Tournament. The team’s success rose and fell with KP’s form.
A positive Pietersen in the dressing room meant that the team would augur well in the field. When one comes to think of great knocks played in test cricket over the last decade by batsmen world over, nobody could ignore his innings of 186 against India at a square turner in Wankhede, Mumbai, 2012. England won the series for first time in India after 28 years. Nor his duel with Dale Steyn at Headingley, Leeds in the same year could be passed so easily from the memory, where Steyn was pulled and driven around with aplomb and a match-winning effort against Sri Lanka of 151 at Colombo.
These are just a few of many fine innings which he played for England. But more than the runs on the scoreboard, it was the swagger which KP carried with himself. It was the fear of match-is-not-over till he is around which gave the viewers a high. No other batsman in the England’s history of last decade had been such a threat or a joy to watch as this man has been. The likes of Cook and Strauss and Trott etc. have all been silent accumulators of runs. They had numbers to back their performances. But so did Pietersen. Rather his were achieved in style and class which none of his peers could imagine of.
There are always players around in every type of sport, who should be given a free-hand when it comes to managing them and including them in your scheme of things. They are not just meant to be bound by your principles and rules. For when they take the field, and when they get going, they can put the best of the students of the game to shame and walk back to pavilion as if it was as normal a day for them in the office as it could have been, while the world is still gasping at their brilliance. They have their own battles going during a game and take pride in winning them.
The art of counter-attacking takes a new form when they transcend into the zone of their own and are unmoved by the presence of mortals around them. Once they are off the field, normalcy returns to the ground. In cricket it happens quite often. And its players like KP, Sehwag, Shoaib, Viv Richards, Lara at times, Gibbs, Flintoff, Donald, Warne, Klusner, Kohli now, who choose the biggest of the occasions to rise above the rest and stamp their mark on the game.
You won’t find Sachin or a Kallis or Dravid or even Ponting , as legendary players as they are, amongst the “showmen” of the game. They toed the line, rarely stepped out of their comfort zone but played within the dominion of the game. As exciting as they were to watch, given a choice between the traditional and the show-stoppers of the game, any of us would go along with the former set of players mentioned here.
ECB has once again made a blunder of calling it the end of road for a player like Pietersen. They don’t have many cricketers who can boast a hefty record of 8000 test runs to go along with 23 hundreds. To make things worse, they were shown the mirror by an emerging West Indian side a few days back and even though the scoreline showed series drawn 1-1, it was England who lost the psychological battle.
Andrew Strauss, Director, ECB, who has some ‘trust issues’ with KP, is hell bent on making things worse for the team, ahead of a test series against a buoyed New Zealand side. Maybe when they face Trent Boult’s swingers, they might remember the tall, lanky fellow once again who could take on the opposition head-on.
Just read somewhere that KP is leaving for India to join his mates in Sunrisers Hyderabad in IPL. Trust me, many of us who choose to keep away from watching SRH matches, might just get one reason to switch on the TV, for the pleasure of watching him bat. England’s loss would be IPL’s gain. KP might play in a number of leagues around the world and keep surprising us with his heroics, but it certainly is the “end of Aura, Charisma & Magnetism”, which he brought along with him to the otherwise boring test side.