'I'm not one for settling for mediocrity' says Pietersen
Captain not content to rest on his laurels as he calls upon his troops to stand to attention
Sunday 31 August 2008
Wondrously, it keeps getting better and better for Kevin Pietersen's England. Had anybody suggested this scenarioas recently as 10 days ago, itwould have been merely for the purposes of attention-seeking.
Pietersen himself is not wholly averse to the glare of the spotlight, but the comfortable defeat of South Africa in three consecutive one-day matches and the perfectly serious contemplation of a 5-0 series whitewash are the sort of outrageous aspirations harboured by reality TV participants. Based, that is, on anything but reality.
But here England are, four matches into the Pietersen era and with four wins. It began with victory in the Fourth Test at The Oval, where South Africa – disas-trously, it can be seen now – first took their foot off the throttle and have been utterly unable to relocate the pedal in question since. At The Oval on Friday, the Nat-West Series was effectively concluded in front of a late-summer crowd having a high old time.
Pietersen is doing something right. There will be cricketing days in the months and years ahead when his side are up against it, his bowlers are being battered to kingdom come and his batsmen are whistling in the wind. But not now. He has galvanised this side in his own image, and in promoting so ener-getically the causes of two key players, Andrew Flintoff and Stephen Harmison, he has been uncannily shrewd.
It is still too early to be sure what kind of captain Pietersen will become. Only when the cares of office have worn down on him (or, heaven forfend, worn him down) will that become apparent, but he is beginning to expand on how he sees it and what he wants. The ink was barely dry, so to speak, on the trophy-engraver's work when King Kev delivered his assessment.
"I just want the guys to do as much as they can, deliver and deliver and deliver," he said. "There's a lot of mediocrity that people settle for in this country in terms of county cricket and the comfort zones of international cricket. I'm not one for settling for mediocrity.
"I want to get better and better and better and do so much better every single time I practise. Then you can just entertain when you come out here, because you can back yourself knowing you have done the hard yards before."
It was possible for a moment to presume that this was his South African upbringing bursting forth. They do things differently there. He named names as well. If his players did not know before, they do now. "It's not just me who's got it," he said. "There are a lot of people in this country and in this team who have got it. Freddie has certainly got it, Steve Harmison has it, so do Michael Vaughan and Paul Collingwood."
Then it became really interesting. Pietersen called out the chaps who had not quite got it, it being the level of competitive zeal, determination and hardness necessary to win and not merely survive at the top level.
"There are a lot of guys who are there and thereabouts, and that's my challenge, to get the best out of them, the Bells, the Shahs, the Boparas, the Wrights, the Andersons, the Broads, delivering day in, day out.
"Don't take five wickets one day and not deliver the next day but just keep going and going. That's the only way to be happy as a person, surely."
He knows when to heap praise, but his opinions when they lose could be withering. But England knew what they were getting when Vaughan recognised (was it really only four weeks ago today?) that his time had come. The effect has been astonishing.
"Our goals now are to get the best out of the players," Pietersen went on. "To make sure the players don't talk about their talent but deliver their talent on a cricket field, deliver it in a gym, at practice, and deliver their talent to each other. They need to be honest with each other, being able to talk like men to each other, not behaving like kids, to be all grown-up men, to just deliver and do what they should be doing."
Nor is it only England that Pietersen has touched. This set of results has forced South Africa into dramatic change. Considering that they were optimistic of securing the 4-1 victory they needed to supplant Australia as the No 1 one-day team in the world, the grimness of their reversal has been multiplied.
Their candid coach, Mickey Arthur, said they would now re-evaluate the personnel, which could mean the end for Herschelle Gibbs and the beginning of the end for Jacques Kallis. "Lord's could be the starting point for the regeneration of the one-day side," said Arthur. "It's the start of a new era."
For Pietersen to have impelled two new eras in a month, one in his adopted country, the other in the land of his birth, is already a remarkable achievement.
There may be more to come. India and Australia are next, but predicting that would be attention-seeking of the very highest order.
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