Not for the first time, speculation brews about the international future of Kevin Pietersen. In the aftermath of England’s Ashes horror show, questions hang over many things but the main headline is what seems to be another fall out between Pietersen and those around him.
England’s star batsman had by his own standards a poor series and he was not alone in that respect, but it was his seemingly carefree manner of dismissal that rankled with those who have backed him over an eventful international career. Pietersen can be blamed fully for his irresponsibility with the bat and some observers state that this is what stops him truly reaching the echelons of cricketing greatness, but this current struggle between player and employer isn’t all a one way issue.
England is right to expect more from Pietersen; he passed 100 Tests for England during the series Down Under and he is the team’s most experienced player. His approach to batting has always been about domination, taking on attacks armed with inventive stroke play and brute power. This attacking style of play brings its own risks and Pietersen has often been seen to throw his wicket away playing one big shot too many when a more measured approach was required.
The more it happens though, the less people tolerate it, the ‘It’s the way he plays’ excuse seems to have worn thin with colleagues and fans alike. Pietersen should have adapted his game as a senior player in the recent Ashes series but quite simply he did not bat to situations; he batted to his natural instinct.
There is no doubting KP’s individuality. When he first came into the side with his skunk hairstyle and flashy batsman-ship, it was clear that he wasn’t your typical England cricketer (no South African jokes please), but there seems to be a problem now in that England are treating him as an individual.
A man of over 100 tests, who briefly captained his country and is one of the best batsmen in world cricket today, is banished to fielding duties at fine-leg and is excluded from decision making out in the middle. Only the relevant parties know what goes on off the pitch but it is clear from appearances on it, that Pietersen is not very much involved in this current England set-up, and surely that is a waste of such experienced talent?
His shot selection may occasionally point to the contrary, but Pietersen does possess a good cricket brain and England could well need it more than ever with senior players dropping out of the side, whether it be for good as in the case of Graeme Swann or just in the short-term, as it will be hoped for Jonathan Trott. As England will undoubtedly look to blood in further new players during this transitional phase, a hungry and committed Pietersen, being given more responsibility, could be a valuable asset.
The relationship between the two parties needs compromise on both parts. It is clear from the outside that there is a problem between England team directorm, Andy Flower and his mercurial star batsman. The answer, however, is not to treat Pietersen differently. This is an individual who needs to feel love and appreciation, as ridiculous as that may sound.
Pietersen is a different talent and a different personality, but he is also fiercely proud to represent England and now is the time to look to him as a senior player to stand up and help lead a new England team towards regaining the Ashes in 2015. Alastair Cook’s captaincy has come under scrutiny and he could do no worse than lean towards his older heads, Pietersen, Bell and Prior to help him on the pitch.
However, if Pietersen is to continue in this England side and be accepted yet again back into the open arms of the team, he must show the application and commitment that he is willing to bat for England and not always for the ego of Kevin Pietersen.
He is undoubtedly England’s best batsman of his generation, a box office cricketer who puts bums on seats and sparks debate like no other. But if he wants to be remembered as a truly great world cricketer, he needs to adapt his game to each particular match situation and bat accordingly. He has the ability, it’s whether he has the mind-set. If he doesn’t, then this already uneasy truce will surely have come to its conclusion.
By Niki Williams