Few sportsmen, let alone cricketers, can dazzle and excite nearly as much as they split opinion. Kevin Pietersen embodied this as the ultimate entertainer in a sport so often regarded as a game of individuals cobbled together under the guise of a team. At his best, Pietersen was a destructive match winner. Ostentatious yes, but an innovator who could adapt seamlessly between the various formats, adept at winning matches as well as English hearts on his way to nearly 14,000 international runs.
An ignominious ending to a decorated England career was not the way this ought to have finished for a player widely viewed as among the most complete batsmen to ever play the game. First, there was the text message scandal in 2012 that irrevocably damaged relations with then captain and current Director of Cricket Andrew Strauss. Then came the harshest example of a scapegoating on that abysmal and forgettable tour down under in 2013/14 when the carpet was finally pulled from under Pietersen.
His international career was over in an instant, banished to the periphery of a stage that for so long he dominated. A superstar if ever there was one, this exit let a sour taste in the mouth but there would be no way back despite vociferous clamouring from some quarters who felt, and still feel, that the South African had a part to play in England’s Test side.
As the instability of the last few years has brought coaching and personnel changes, it appeared to many that KP was exactly the remedy required. Indeed it had all the hallmarks of a fairytale comeback: a man redeemed, past misdemeanours forgotten, a chip on his shoulder, plundering bowlers from here to cow corner. Alas, it was not to be.
Just as his ill-fated and tempestuous captaincy was typified more by confrontation than harmony, and was over, in 2009, almost as quickly as it began, Pietersen was never far from the headlines for good or bad. But his divisiveness will for some overshadow the enormous contributions he made to the English game. Sport needs characters, whether the mischievous or the downright entertaining. Pietersen ticked both boxes and had the talent to make amends for his, at times, brash and egotistical persona.
From reverse sweeps to the controversial switch hit, Pietersen’s armoury had it all. Aggressive even when facing the world’s greatest bowlers, his play gave the side pizzazz and a steely attacking edge that helped catapult him to stardom and his team to the heady heights that the current crop can only dream of. As England currently struggle for consistency, Pietersen’s exit stage left will only leave fans pining for players of his ilk, a reputation assured as one of the best to ever pull on an England shirt.
Pietersen’s status as a pillar of the glorious England successes between 2009 and 2012 is forever enshrined. He was the architect of the country’s single limited overs success, the World T20 in 2010, and was front and centre as England stood atop the world rankings in all formats. A veteran of four Ashes successes, who can forget his magnificent maiden Test century, that stunning 158 at The Oval in 2005 that confirmed the famous urn’s return to British soil for the first time in 18 years? And what about his awesome 227 at Adelaide in 2010/11 or his double century against India in 2011?
A fiery and fiercely passionate batsman who conquered the fine art of batting, he deserves to be remembered for his innovation and for the unbridled joy he brought to millions across the world. While he racked up the air miles and that final pay cheque on a farewell tour of sorts that took in stops in the Caribbean, India, Pakistan and Australia, Pietersen can finally walk away on his own terms. A trailblazer who was scarcely out of the spotlight, he should be remembered for what he was: an enigmatic entertainer.
Image courtesy of Andrew Sutherland