Kevin Pietersen has been a revelation, right throughout his five years of international cricket. He has dominated every bowling attack possible, and has left no margin for error in helping England win not just at home, but also abroad. He is an equally good player in all three formats of the game.
However, the so-called ‘law of averages’ tends to catch up with many cricketers in some points of their careers. And Pietersen has suffered from this since the last ten months or so. Even the most ardent Pietersen fan is likely to believe that he is not at his best, at the moment despite a wonderful World Twenty20 in the West Indies. This is because of one particular reason – the emergence of left-arm spinners in world cricket.
Great batsmen like Sachin Tendulkar or Brian Lara have played so well right throughout their careers that there are no apparent weaknesses which can be spotted when they are batting. So, Pietersen cannot be in the list of greats yet, because he has this rather peculiar weakness of getting dismissed against the left-arm spinner.
Pietersen, no doubt is a fine-quality player of pace bowling when he can play any shot on both sides of the wicket. However, spin can make Pietersen look silly at times, just as how Sehwag often is tempted when spinners are bowling to him.
Pietersen emerged as one of England’s valuable players in 2005 in the one-day series in South Africa. The three hundreds which he had scored in seven matches, clearly showed how he can bat on hard, bouncy tracks. However, what many didn’t observe was that Pietersen struggled to play Nicky Boje in that series and got out to his bowling once.
So the problem remained but he was able to flourish thanks to no regular left-arm spinner in the Australian team in the 2005 Ashes. His blossoming was due to his innovation against spinners, which was risky but successful. He invented the switch-hit in 2006 off the bowling of Muttiah Muralitharan, when he hit a huge six at Leeds. He took on Pakistan’s slow bowlers well at home. For that matter, even in the 2007 World Cup, he played really well because of his aggressive attitude towards spin bowling.
However, captaincy was thrust on to him in 2008 and the threat of injury loomed large after playing three years of non-stop international cricket. This is when his agility also reduced to a certain extent. A lean run followed in 2009 as it was evident that the emergence of left-arm spinners had an effect on his batting.
In the tour of New Zealand and the return series in 2008, Daniel Vettori troubled Pietersen and curbed his scoring to a large extent, if not taking his wicket. Even in the IPL 2009 in South Africa, Kevin Pietersen was playing as captain of the Royal Challengers Bangalore in a match against Delhi Daredevils.
Vettori, playing for the Daredevils was bought on to bowl by captain Virender Sehwag when he was batting. Pietersen tried the switch-hit but was comprehensively bowled by Vettori. In the 2009 tour to South Africa, he returned to play for England after an Achilles injury.
In the ODIS there, unlike the last time when he burst into top-flight cricket with a brilliant performance, he failed miserably. And in Bangladesh in March 2010, the problem of left-arm spin had taken centre-stage. In the ODIS, Pietersen’s poor form had continued as Abdur Razzak, Bangladesh’s spinner picked up his wicket in 2 ODIS and the captain Shakib al Hasan picked him in the first ODI. It was a similar story in the Tests.
Shakib continued to dominate with the wicket of Pietersen, especially with the flighted delivery from around the wicket, which comes back to hit the middle stump. That ball has a lot of use as it can either get the batsman lbw or bowled or even catch out on the off-side or at short leg. And that is exactly what happened with Pietersen.
Despite having a healthy average of 40 in the Test series, Pietersen could have gone on to make more runs, if he hadn’t been dismissed by Shakib on those turning wickets in Bangladesh. And in the recent Test series against Bangladesh at home, he tried to break the shackles by playing at his aggressive best, but he didn’t get the better of Shakib once again.
This is a major worry for Strauss and co if England are aiming to be World No.1 in all three formats of the game in atleast the next 2 or 3 years. Perhaps, its time that Pietersen changes his approach towards batting altogether to become a much better player for England, who need some experience to rely on.
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