No matter what kind of choice words you might throw Kevin Pietersen’s way, there’s no denying that he’s one heck of an entertainer – and his knock on day three at Headingley proved again why he is one of the most important characters in world cricket, writes ANT SIMS.
Kevin Pietersen has been called a lot of things, and while he doesn’t always live up to the flippant fables hung around his neck, he does live up to the reputation of being one of the best entertainers in world cricket. It doesn’t matter which format Pietersen plays in – when he’s in full flow, watching him bat is something to behold. His timing, his balance, his shot selection; the whole package is simply magnificent, even for South Africans who are still bitter about him leaving them behind to seek greener pastures in England. His knock on Saturday was picture perfect, yet again. It was a case of hit or be hit for the former South African, and he chose the former. With 22 fours and one six, he finished the day unbeaten on 149, and he was most probably humming “Let me entertain you”.
The Headingley Test has seemingly been about making statements, and Pietersen’s would have been to the ECB, after his decision to retire from the shortest formats of the game – a decision attributed to the fact that the rules dictate it’s all or nothing, and players can’t pick and choose between playing one-day cricket and T20 cricket. The English brains trust will be wondering whether they were right to drop him like a hot potato, instead of reaching a compromise of sorts. Sure, there are other talented batsmen who are younger, hungrier and who aren’t as brash and pompous as Pietersen, but it’s precisely that flamboyant personality that makes it such a joy to have KP on the world stage. In a game where players are primed to be like Stepford wives, Pietersen breaks those boundaries. He does what he wants, in whatever way he wants; a rebel with a cause: to be one of the best cricketers in the world. He refused to answer questions about his future with England cricket at the post-match press conference, but when your bat is doing the yapping, you hardly need to.
His knock on Saturday helped put England back in control of the match as they clawed their way to 351-5 at the close of play. Alongside debutant James Taylor, the hosts got stuck in and fought back with some serious grit, all while South Africa toiled.
Allan Donald, South Africa’s bowling coach, had nothing but praise for Pietersen and admitted and he was the difference between the two sides.
"Kevin Pietersen just got in our way today. He played seriously well today; it reminded me a bit of running into Brian Lara. It was in the category of genius, and he did very well to get England back into the game,” Donald said.
This was a comment that elicited a warm response from KP in return – his heartfelt answer was that “Donald was one of my heroes growing up, so to hear him say that [means a lot].”
Donald also admitted that Pietersen was simply out of control and couldn’t be tamed – the rebel fighting for his cause.
"We need to fight fire with fire. If you asked me what more we could we have done to get Kevin out, I wouldn't be able to tell you. He was just so aggressive and he got away from us completely. England are back in this Test match and we have to come back tomorrow and make sure it doesn't get any further than that.”
As if England’s grit weren’t enough of a concern for South Africa, the Proteas also have to contend with injuries. Alviro Petersen sustained a grade one hamstring tear while batting on day two – an injury which will rule him out for up to ten days. He’ll bat if required, but can only do so lower down the order. Graeme Smith also picked up a knock while fielding on day three – he left the field with what looked like a knee injury.
England still trails by 68 runs, but the power balance has definitely shifted, and the next two days should keep cricket fans on the edge of their seats. DM
Photo: England's Kevin Pietersen hits out during the second cricket test match against South Africa at Headingley cricket ground in Leeds August 4, 2012. REUTERS/Philip Brown