India shares the delight as Kevin Pietersen returns to one-day fold
A popular figure on the subcontinent, KP will also lift an inexperienced England side
Saturday 05 January 2013
"So good to be back." With those words Kevin Pietersen announced his arrival in Delhi for England's five-match one-day series against India beginning in Rajkot on Friday.
Like so many Pietersen statements this was multi-layered: he is "back" in the country that adores him; "back" to the scene of his successful "reintegration" process; and, most significantly, he is "back" playing international one-day cricket, undoing the retirement he announced in May last year.
To take Pietersen at face value, he is glad to be back on Indian soil. His love affair with the country is long-standing. This romance started in this very city in March 2006, not with a kiss, but with a typically brash run-a-ball 46 as the Indian public got their first glimpse of his talent in the flesh.
It blossomed with Pietersen game-changing switch-hit sixes in 2008 and was sealed in 2009 with a loving £1.3-million Indian Premier League contract. Pietersen's sensitive handling of the fallout from the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008 while England captain, and his more recent stint on Indian television during the World T20 provided a human edge to his godly status.
Asked about Pietersen's enduring appeal to IPL owners in spite of his scant availability, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the India captain, said, "Kevin Pietersen is a really different batsman. If he's available for half a season, the sides can still gamble that he can play seven or eight games at least. He's a special player."
The Delhi Daredevils considered Pietersen so "special" that they signed him for IPL last year. Eric Simons, their South African coach, believes Pietersen's appeal extends beyond his on-field exploits.
"KP's strength is the way he is," Simons said. "He was a crucial part of our team at the IPL. What you don't see is what he contributes off the field."
Unmukt Chand, captain of India's Under-19s World Cup-winning side and a Daredevil team-mate, illustrates the point: "You really feel confident when you've had a session with someone like Kevin Pietersen. I had an elaborate session with him in Pretoria where he gave me some valuable tips on technique."
Pietersen may loom large from billboards all over India but he is not averse to meeting mere mortals. During England's final warm-up match in Ahmedabad last November, his generosity with the pen sent one trespassing Indian family home happy, even though they were marched out of the ground at gunpoint.
After sealing victory in the Mumbai Test, Pietersen tweeted: "Dono teams ko support dene ke liye shukriya". It may not mean much to you or me, but it meant the world to the Hindi-speakers who make up a significant portion of his 935,000 followers, and who understood it as, "A big thank you to the fans of both teams for your support".
Two weeks later, wicketkeeper Matt Prior tweeted a picture of Pietersen parading in a shirt signed by his team-mates. At that point the word reintegration, along with his retirement, was consigned to a box marked "lessons learned".
In the last two ODIs before that ill-considered announcement, Pietersen produced back-to-back centuries – the eighth and ninth of his career – to help England beat Pakistan 4-0. That series win sparked a remarkable one-day run that has seen England leap to No1 in the current rankings. Despite winning eight of the 11 ODIs England have played since, six of those wins came at home against a West Indies side in disarray and a visiting Australia team for whom the phrase "shadow of their former selves" does a disservice to shadows. The two defeats in that time were at the hands of the far more significant South Africans.
Pietersen blamed his early retirement announcement on "the intensity of the international schedule and the increasing demands on my body". Seven months on, with that warning heeded, the England and Wales Cricket Board are resting Pietersen for the one-day portion of next month's tour to New Zealand. He may not be missed against Brendon McCullum's side but, just as with the Test series before Christmas, England need him "back" to end 29 years of Indian misery.
That last ODI series triumph here in 1984 is England's only series win out of seven played in India and you have to go back 13 matches for their last victory here, one of only three wins in their last 20 matches in India.
By contrast, Pietersen raises his game on Indian soil. In 21 matches he averages 49.21, as against his overall average of 41.84, and those runs come at a better strike-rate.
Pietersen's presence is more valuable than statistics, especially with experienced campaigners Graeme Swann, Jonathan Trott and James Anderson all rested and Stuart Broad missing for the first three matches. Their absence at least gives relative newcomers Chris Woakes, Jos Buttler and Joe Root a chance to make an impression, starting with a warm-up game against India A tomorrow.
With Alastair Cook and new one-day coach Ashley Giles trying once again to make history, Pietersen's attitude that it is "so good to be back" will be music to their ears.
13 One-day games in India since England last won there
Continental drift: Match Schedule
* Three of the five one-day internationals will take place at grounds England have never visited before.
Warm-up v India A (Delhi; 3.30am GMT)
Warm-up v Delhi (Delhi; 6.30am)
First ODI v India (*Rajkot; 6.30am)
Second ODI (Kochi; 6.30am)
Third ODI (*Ranchi; 6.30am)
Fourth ODI (Mohali; 6.30am)
Fifth ODI (*Dharmasala; 3.30am)
*new ground to England
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