“Generally, sporting legends end their careers on a tragic note. A tragedy is what makes these legends even more iconic and memorable than they are. “
This statement can be associated with Kevin Pietersen, the 39-year-old English veteran who, despite being one of the team’s most prolific run-getters, spent the backend of his career on the fringes.
The Twenty20 maestro
Pietersen was part of the first generation of players to grow alongside Twenty20 cricket. The thrills and spills of Twenty20 cricket turned him into a star. Even after being dropped from the side in 2014, Twenty20 franchises around the globe did not lose interest in Kevin Pietersen.
Some say that it was his aggressive mindset, which ended up earning him a huge fan. Others say that his ability to go after the bowlers made him an instant fan favourite. According to the pundits, it was his aura that made him an instant fan favourite.
Coloured hair, tattoo-clad arms, rippling muscles, and above all, an ‘in-your-face attitude’ made him look like a high-school bully. In a team known for its classical batsmanship, he came as a breath of fresh air. Here was a player who could make brutal hits to the fence look beautiful. All cautions were thrown to the winds, and the bowlers, no matter how formidable, were taken to the cleaners. Such was the impact Kevin Pietersen had on the game.
A Special Mention
Watching a player of Kevin Pietersen’s calibre struggling to get into the English side was undoubtedly disheartening. Pietersen, an integral part of England’s line up from 2005 to 2014, was known for his aggressive style of play. The lanky right-hander from Hampshire created a splash during the memorable 2005 Ashes Series. His swashbuckling innings of 158 (187 balls) at the Oval ensured that England salvaged a hard-fought draw in the fifth and final test of the series. The Englishmen won the series (2-10 and reclaimed the Ashes for the first time since 1986-87. Pietersen was the team’s highest run-scorer with 473 runs.
Along Came the Controversies
It certainly won’t be an overstatement to say that Pietersen, wittingly or unwittingly, became controversy’s favourite child during the backend of his career. The man from South Africa was involved in several high-profile controversies throughout his career.
When he took over the reins from Michael Vaughan in 2007-08, he was widely regarded as English cricket’s trump card. In 2008, when Pietersen led England against India, his relationship with England coach Moores had already begun deteriorating. Soon after the incident, Moores was sacked and so was Pietersen. Andrew Strauss took over the captaincy from Pietersen, and Andy Flower was assigned the coaching job. Pietersen silenced his critics in 2011 when an Indian touring party landed in England.
Pietersen played an instrumental r in England’s series victory against India after having amassed 533 runs in the 4-match test series. Breathtaking batting displays coupled with an average of 106 in the series meant that Pietersen’s reputation as one of England’s all-time greats could no longer be denied.
Drama, Drama, and More Drama
A dip in form in 2012 was followed by more off-field drama. Pietersen’s relations with the ECB and the then England coach Andy Flower began deteriorating. He landed in a high-profile controversy after sending defamatory text messages regarding England skipper Andrew Strauss to the visiting South African players. What followed the incident was Pietersen’s apologetic interview during a press conference. All this while, Pietersen’s reputation kept on deteriorating.
His dismal outings against the Aussies during the 2013-14 Ashes series down under are believed to be the prime reason behind his untimely retirement. Pietersen’s autobiography, published later that year, added salt on the wounds and was arguably the most outspoken autobiography in the history of the game. It launched an emotional outburst on those he felt had wronged him and had brought his England career to a dead end.
With more than 8,000 test runs under his belt in 104 test matches, Pietersen is undoubtedly one of the greatest and the most celebrated cricketers of the modern era. A fraction under 4,500 ODI runs in 136 matches aren’t enough to highlight the impact he had on the game. His on-field presence spoke louder than words.
People remember him for his swashbuckling hits, his unending tryst with controversies, and his charismatic aura, but his fans would always remember him for the impact he had on the game. It was Kevin Pietersen who transformed the way ordinary Englishmen looked at white-ball cricket. He was the first ‘white-ball star of English cricket’.
Kevin Pietersen’s brand of cricket resonated well with the spectators. He was an ‘outcast’ in a team that was known for being too orthodox. Irrespective of the conditions and the quality of the bowling attack, Kevin Pietersen ‘dared’ to score runs. He lived by the sword and, one has to say, died by it.