Sam Collins: Pietersen still a man on the edge

It’s difficult to miss Kevin Pietersen at the moment.

Whether it’s his top lip or his mouth drawing the attention, he has been ubiquitous in England’s first fortnight in Australia.

“I’m on fire” was the claim after 93 frenzied runs from 112 balls against a depleted Western Australia.

All very KP. “He’s at his best when he’s arrogant,” said someone in the office. “That’s a good sign”.

Yet I’m not so sure. Is this the over-confidence of a showman who knows he’s back on form, or the empty boast of a man trying too hard to convince himself and the cricket world that he is still a force?

It is true that Pietersen has played his most memorable innings for England under pressure ­ – the three hundreds in his first one-day series in South Africa, the 91 in the 2005 Bristol ODI, the 158 at The Oval that year, his performances in this year’s Twenty20 win. All were masterpieces in bravado, and most were accompanied by gobbiness as bold as the strokeplay.

But this Ashes tour is different. Pietersen has been so short of runs, and confidence, for such a period of time that it cannot be as simple as “KP mouthing off again after runs against a below-par state attack – therefore he’s back.”

It looks ominously like there will be no middle-ground this winter. Success in Brisbane and Adelaide and watch out Australia and the World Cup, the talisman may well be back. Failure, and who knows. One former team-mate told us recently that his hunch was a poor winter for KP could lead to international retirement.

Is that plausible? Well, Andy Flower has already shown that he is not afraid to drop Pietersen, and it is feasible that Ashes omission could be a blow-to-the-ego too far for a man whose whole career has been based upon spontaneity.

Yet Pietersen’s record against Australia is enough to inspire hope that it won’t come to that – 1116 runs from 12 Tests at 50.72, and 490 runs at 54 in 2006-07 are figures to take to confidence from. Interestingly given his aggression in Perth, those 490 runs last time round came at a strike rate of just 48.

Still, however he goes about it, it is about quantity not quality. Let’s hope he’s still crowing when he’s next in Perth.

Sam Collins is editor of thewisdencricketer.com

Follow him on twitter @wisdencric_sam

This entry was posted in England, Kevin Pietersen, Sam Collins, Test cricket, The Ashes, The media and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Sam Collins: Pietersen still a man on the edge

  1. It was a touch predictable to hear Pietersen say how the sabbatical in SA has brought him back to his best. I don’t want to be cynical, so I hope the thing he tweaked in his technique with Ford, and the break from England has cleared his mind.

    I heard in an interview that he said (paraphrased), “I bat like a clown, it is the mental side I needed to sort out”. Watching him play over the last few years, I do think it is his mind that determines his success more so than other players. Like Bell, he has incredible skill but his mind needs to be in the right place.

    I think he is at that phase in his career (like a lot of very good batsmen), where after a period of early dominance, bowlers have figured out his weaknesses and are exploiting them often. It is up to him whether he can solve those problems and come back a stronger batter. In recent times, both Strauss and Bell have done this and I wonder if KP can replicate them and enter the next upward trajectory stage of his own career.

    I agree, depending on his performance this winter, England could be the next SA, Notts., Hampshire…

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  3. jimbo says:

    Re: Pietersen’s lack of runs over the last 20 months. This is exaggerated – he had a bad injury to recover from affecting his availability and form when present, and the recent series in England was one in which very few England batsmen performed well. Also, there has been the great highlight in this last 20 months of his T20 form – being player of the series in England’s World Cup win, and immediately before that, being one of the very top players in the IPL (which didn’t receive much coverage in the media in England this time). It looked like, after returning to fitness, he was concentrating on T20 (which you can understand as it’s a form he hadn’t quite produced his best in before, that often); indeed in the test series that followed this summer, he still appeared to be in T20 mode for earlier games.

    re: bowlers having worked him out and bowling to his weak points. I don’t really agree with this because he’d actually been around a fair while before his much-exagerrated loss of form of the last 20 months – bowlers ‘work on you’ much earlier in your test/1-day career if they are going to do that (which they do, in their attempt to play on weak points). For example, on the last tour in Australia, the Aussies talked quite a lot about having worked out some apparent weak points in Pietersen’s game: result? KP is completely unaffected and emerges with an average in the 50s for the tour. Look at Strauss – he got worked out as the commentator says, but early on as is the tradition (after initial success), and yes he came back stronger.
    The reason for KP’s relative dip in form? It could just be fatherhood, the way his attention has been taken away from the game even if only marginally could be the difference. Or it could just be the post-captaincy loss period, which has been about more than just a test of confidence (losing the captaincy), he’s been required to ‘fit in’ to a framework he was a kingpin of before, and one dominated by the more pragmatic, hard-work-oriented manager Flower (KP has always worked hard but he needs a feeling of being inspired and a bit of room to be himself, to thrive). Let’s hope he has indeed discovered something of his natural form again: it’s possible that he’s right and that the SA trip has done him good, simply because he has reconnected with his cricketing self away from the slightly depressing ‘post-captaincy knuckle-down scenario’ of the England camp and away from the ridiculous media circus in England which puts his every word and performance under the microscope: expectations can kill the talent.

  4. Jackie says:

    Another article about Kevin Pietersen. It seems almost compulsive to get the worry beads out. The 93 came from two innings, by the way, so can they be glued together? He was responding to different parts of the game. His top score has been 58 so far, but still ahead of Jonathan Trott on 41. But Trott seems to worry no-one. He hasn’t got ‘celeb status’ so the media aren’t examining every ball. I agree it must be depressing to be part of the media circus.

    At the other end of the scale we have Ian Bell, the butt of everyone until recently. How many jokes at his expense have come from the media? That is also depressing – a kind of anti-status. But Bell has quietly forged ahead. He is just an outstanding batsman who has matured. Recognition might have helped him – or not.
    Only one article about Bell in the Wisden Cricketer for 3 years. But the WC can’t keep away from KP. Is this about cricket or gossip? The ‘ridiculous media circus’ which the WC is part of.