Some describe him as a traitor for abandoning his home country, South Africa to turn out playing for England in international cricket. Some call him the style icon for his fancy hairstyles and tattoos. Legends like Shane Warne refer to him as the ‘walking ego’ or for that matter, Australia’s former coach John Buchanan calls him a ‘poor starter’. All this describes England’s Kevin Pietersen, who despite all the negative perceptions is arguably one of the world’s best batsmen today and by far one of my favourite cricketers as well.
Pietersen rose to prominence early in his career when he made his ODI debut against South Africa in South Africa. I would rate his three centuries in seven matches of that tour as the finest I have ever seen. He was under pressure from partisan crowds and he had a tough job to revive England’s one-day fortunes as well. He couldn’t do the latter but he handled the pressure remarkably well. He studiously followed the advice of his first captain, Michael Vaughan that he only had to watch the ball and nothing else. And all the three centuries were attacking and almost made South Africa lose a one-day series at home. He made the world stand up and appreciate the fact that a star was born.
His exploits in South Africa made him a serious contender for a place in the starting XI of the Test team which would be playing against Australia for the Ashes in the summer of 2005 at home. Despite the fact that the XI was more or less set, yet Pietersen upstaged the veteran Graham Thorpe as Englands No. 5 for the first Test at Lords. And he didn’t waste this golden opportunity. England were 21/5 in the first innings when he walked out to bat. There was humungous pressure on him because all the big guns, Strauss, Trescothick, Vaughan, Bell and Flintoff had been foxed by some ferocious swing bowling by Glenn McGrath. Yet, he thrived under pressure as he played his counter-attacking game. He scored a half-century on debut, which even included sixes of the bowling of his Hampshire teammate, Shane Warne. His mature innings of 57 eventually made England reach 155 in response to Australia’s 190 in the first innings. He scored 64 in the second innings again amidst pressure because England had to chase 420 to win the Test. Though England lost eventually, Pietersen stood out and he created the momentum which the batting needed, in order to win the Ashes later on. But he wasn’t done for the series. He hammered 158 at The Oval in the final Test in the second innings to ensure that the match was drawn and England won 2-1, holding the Ashes for the first time since 1986.
His un-English attitude of tearing the opposition apart right from the first ball made him successful in the Test arena and to an extent ODIS as well. In his next Test series, he scored another century against Pakistan at Faisalabad when again the others failed miserably. However he was in fine nick the next home season where he scored back-to-back hundreds against Sri Lanka. Many still remember the reverse sweep, which could be now considered a switch-hit off the bowling of the wizard, Muttiah Muralitharan for a huge six. His Test career was going as smooth as a roller-coaster, however he did not have a memorable year in ODIs in 2006. He was getting the starts but he couldn’t convert those into big hundreds. It was only in the World Cup 2007 against Australia that he had scored the 4th hundred of his career. He looked confident because he had created the fear in the Australians after that 158 he scored at Adelaide during the Ashes in 2006. And soon, he also scored a match-winning hundred against hosts West Indies in a crucial Super 8 clash in Barbados to make sure England have a genuine chance to reach the semi-finals of the tournament.
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