Pietersen's slump in form begins to worry England as thoughts turn to Ashes
In the days when Kevin Pietersen was on top of the world, there was mild concern about a tendency to recklessness. How gratifying it would be to revisit that particular worry.
For the moment, Pietersen has nothing to be reckless about. He used to become slightly carried away by his own dominance, so determined was he to not only slaughter the bowling, but also to be the great entertainer, that he would reach too far. Five times he has been out in the nineties in Test matches, usually when seeking glory.
But to watch Pietersen at present is not a pretty sight for those who wish him well, those who know a firing Pietersen will be necessary for the tough challenges ahead. Not that they are likely to come from Pakistan in the rest of the four-match series.
The tourists felt they had no option but to recall their former champion, Mohammad Yousuf, who will be 36 later this month, after their defeat by 354 runs in the first Test in Nottingham on Sunday. He has not had an innings since March and had announced his retirement after an ill-starred tour of Australia last winter when he was captain and the team capitulated. But he will probably play at Birmingham in the second Test, starting on Friday.
England played with burgeoning authority at Trent Bridge, eventually sensing their opponents were there to be finished off and racing to the line. Of England's 616 runs in the match, Pietersen scored 31.
Andy Flower, the team's coach, is not inclined to melodrama and, in any case, is hardly going to damn his recently most-prized player, but nor is he needlessly disguising obvious defects.
"Most batsmen looked a little iffy against that swinging ball and it wasn't only swinging – there was a little movement off the pitch as well," Flower said of Pietersen's display. "He did look better towards the end of the second innings and that time in the middle is very important for any batsman, so I am glad he spent as long as he did at the crease, both for his own good and the good of the team."
What happened to Pietersen can happen to any batsman, but he is not just any batsman. In the first innings he was all at sea, in the second he was beginning, just, to look something like the KP of old, when he was out to a remarkable catch behind the wicket by Kamran Akmal. But that still obscures the main point of the dismissal – not that Kamran caught it, but that Pietersen edged.
It is a mere two months since Pietersen was man of the tournament in the World Twenty20, which England won, so perhaps not too much is awry. But in Tests, the figures tell something of the story and something is wrong.
When his short-lived captaincy ended in tears in early 2009, Pietersen averaged slightly above 50 in Test cricket, the benchmark for possible greatness. Since then, his average has been 42.92 and, since his return from the Achilles operation which forced him to miss most of last summer's Ashes, he has scored 550 runs at 39.28, which makes him human after all.
He is struggling and part of the trouble is that he is having to try to rediscover form in international cricket.
Netting hard and often as he is – with England's batting coach Graham Gooch as well as anybody else he can persuade to throw a ball at him – all may be well eventually. But there is an anxiety about his shots, a searching for the ball where once it seemed to find him. Were he on cordial terms with his county Hampshire, he might be able to have a county match but the crammed international schedule does not allow any breaks and England are disinclined to use the dreaded D-word, for drop, when it comes to Pietersen.
They are, however, using the A-word. Far from shunning talk of Australia, where England will defend the Ashes this winter, Flower was candid. "We are trying to beat Pakistan this summer, but we are planning and talking about the future."
Pietersen's travails apart and although England's batting faltered twice, there are many good things to talk about: Jimmy Anderson, Steve Finn, Eoin Morgan and Matt Prior to name four. Anderson exploited favourable conditions wonderfully to take 11 for 71 and Flower said he was learning all the time to be more effective in other circumstances. He pointed to Finn's mature approach – and he does indeed appear to have a 30-year-old head on 21-year-old shoulders.
Flower said he considered Morgan's 130 to be "a typically perfect Test innings" and that he had never seen Prior bat better for his second-innings century. Doubtless he craves to give a similar assessment soon on Pietersen.
KP's lack of runs
Last Test century came against West Indies in March last year; has passed 50 five times since then
30.16 Pietersen's Test average this year
Best score this year was in Chittagong against Bangladesh, when he hit 99
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