January 16, 2017

The sad pleasures of the KP sunset

At 36, Kevin Pietersen still exudes the aura of a superstar. It is a pity that international cricket no longer has the benefit of his presence
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The dead-skunk hairdo may have gone, but the electric, other-worldly magnetism has not © Getty Images

The pleasures of watching Kevin Pietersen bat remain high-end. His innings are squashed into the box of T20 now, robbed of the epic scale of his Test-match symphonies, but those knife-edge moments so deeply familiar to his fans still happen.

The other day, Pietersen swept his first ball over square leg for six and then edged the next past the keeper's gloves. The dead-skunk 'do feels as ancient as MySpace - the hair is salt-and-pepper instead - yet his arrival at the crease creates the same electric surge it always did: he has the slightly alien presence of the genuine superstar. He is 36-and-a-half years old, far closer to the end than the beginning, and there's always an accompanying sadness when a player reaches those moments.

It runs deeper where Pietersen is concerned because his batting is still palpably good. He has entered that rich coda that some batsmen find, when the eye is not yet gone and the skills have reached such a peak that control is almost total. Musicians and artists get it too, when their work has lost the shock of the new but the craftsmanship takes over. Pietersen's work in the T20 leagues of the world has been of a superlative standard, even if the bowling he faces has not always matched it.

His end days are both thoroughly modern and in a minor key. The edgy parts of his personality have robbed him of the chance to go out on laps of honour during sun-flooded twilights, and they retain the power to provoke: any suggestion on social media that he might still play for England risks an instantaneous flaming. He will be argued over long after he has thrown his bat into the kitbag for the final time.

In appreciating the last of Kevin Pietersen, we appreciate the fleeting nature of cricket itself

The campaign for his reinstatement, such as it is, is led by Piers Morgan, and it suffers from circumstance. Pietersen has not played a red-ball innings since 31 May 2015, when the honour of dismissing him for the final time fell to Zimbabwe's Kyle Jarvis. And yet, were a fanciful return to international cricket to happen, it is England's unstable Test side, rather than its fizzing, youthful white-ball units, that need him most. Meanwhile he is content to tease his detractors by hinting that he may make himself available to South Africa.

The arguments are moot. It is not going to happen. And yet the radiance of his batting offers the dreamers among us a melancholic alternative history. The ECB tries terrifically hard to pretend that he does not exist but it is hard to resist the occasional reverie, to imagine the innings not played, the runs not scored. Pietersen has been the kind of batsman who encourages such flights of fancy.

The techniques of T20 have caught up and gone past him. Such is the fate of the pioneer - they only get to ride so far down the trail. The generation who were kids when they watched his first switch hit back in 2006 are players now, and pulling their own tricks out of the bag. What he still has is a deep - and underestimated - knowledge of his own game and the game around him.

Pietersen pioneered the switch hit at Test level, well before the explosion of innovative strokeplay in T20s © Getty Images

Last year in the BBL, he played an innings while miked up, and as he grew in confidence he began to call the bowler, the ball and the shot he would play. His speed of thought gave him an uncanny insight into the possibilities as they suggested themselves.

Pietersen has been a symbol of cricket's modernity, and in a way the game's current structure has offered him longevity. He is a part-time cricketer, free from the grinding, destructive life that brought down the last England team in which he played. His spiky, abrasive side may or may not still exist in the dressing room, but as a media presence, on the field or in the studio, he can be charmingly goofy as well as avuncular. It's clear that his various franchises regard him as a superior asset.

We can enjoy his final engagements, however long they last. He will go out as he came in, an edge-of-the-seat performer attuned to the big moment, transported by the drama of it all. His latter years have all of the yearning of watching vapour trails in the sky, the last evidence of a journey undertaken at altitude, its destination unknown to those staring up from the ground. It is sad that his international career has been curtailed, because, for Sanga and Tendulkar and Ponting and the other big boys, some of their best and most poignant innings came then.

In appreciating the last of Kevin Pietersen, we appreciate the fleeting nature of cricket itself.

Jon Hotten blogs here. @theoldbatsman

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Unnikuttan on January 20, 2017, 13:08 GMT

    KP, Gayle, ABD, Kohli..All of them are champs and people across countries would pay to watch them in any format. Yes they are all mortals and have their fallibilities. So did Warne, Richards etc

  • Deep92 on January 18, 2017, 23:15 GMT

    I never thought this guy was that good. I have seen him play and to me, he is not as extraordinary as people make him. Don't think Cricket SA or ECB could have done much when a player cannot respect the national side and leaves the team in the middle of a series just to spend time with family.

  • Deep92 on January 18, 2017, 23:12 GMT

    Majority of players still have passion for Test Cricket. There are many examples. It is really best for Test teams to let their players go when they start losing respect and passion for Test Cricket. Let other young and deserving players get their opportunities. KP seemed to have lost interested in whatever he was doing while playing from the England side. He was kept on for way too long.

  • Deep92 on January 18, 2017, 23:09 GMT

    A player who leaves the national team in the middle of a disaster to go on vacation with his wife is given so much value. He had no intention to keep playing from the national side and went to IPL and other leagues. After playing for a while, there was news that he wanted to come back to the national team. Not sure if he got a chance again, but when selfish players like him are valued so much by spectators and yet they really are not as good as spectators make them seem. It hurts.

  • sreehk on January 18, 2017, 18:31 GMT

    KP gone. Gayle gone. ABD gone. All not available for test cricket. If this is not death of cricket then what else is. ICC is blind. Boards are blind. Fans are blind.

  • CricketChat on January 18, 2017, 17:54 GMT

    Good to see KP playing somewhere. I doubt he will be picked up in IPL and may have played his last in BBL this season. Time for him and his fans to move on to his commentary role in future.

  • MasterBlaster100 on January 18, 2017, 14:45 GMT

    Its not just Pietersen. Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott should still be playing Test cricket too. Put those three alongside Cook, Root and Bairstow and England would have one of the best batting sides in the world, two or three decent all-rounders and a new ball pair with over 800 test wickets. Cook would be remembered as a great captain and the ECB would be making more money (what they really care about)

  • MaheshS.Panicker on January 18, 2017, 14:03 GMT

    Hard to believe its been 3 years since England management just lost it all. Pietersen is the best batsman they have had in the last very many years, and despite all the pretensions from the ECB and the players clique, a team with Pietersen in it would be stronger even now. Or particularly now. England have tried imitators at the test level, those who can smash it around for some time but never the ability to do it for long again and again, against the best of the bowlers in the most unfriendly conditions. He was a unique talent, and it is a loss for the game that the ECB and the bunch of clowns who have managed the England side have failed to make full use of his abilities.

  •   Campbell Weal on January 18, 2017, 13:43 GMT

    Ah yes because his presence was enjoyed by all.

  • cricfan09071754 on January 18, 2017, 12:09 GMT

    On the off chance that I will make a world cricket squad unquestionably KP is the part of that since he was one of the best player in world and I'm not that dolt to lose that jewel

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