KP made the impossible seem possible
Typical. You nip outside for a quick fag and a stretch and by the time you get back the world has turned.
Flower gone. Pietersen gone. The ECB gone mad?
Coaches come and go of course. They don’t generally epitomise cricket teams in the way that they can in football. But when it comes to great players, there is always that hope that they will carry on and on.
Pietersen’s case is an odd and divisive one, which will no doubt be played out in more detail as the current generation of players turn their ghostly hands to autobiography in the coming years. But for sheer edge of the seat excitement and unpredictability, he will be hugely missed.
In 2005 I had tickets to the Sunday of the Lord’s Test against Australia. It rained until tea, with England on the verge of losing and the Ashes seemingly Oz-bound yet again. When the sun came out, England's 8, 9, 10 and 11 were all out for ducks and the match was duly lost; but Pietersen, on debut, smote Shane Warne into the stands and gave every spectator in the ground hope. It was a hope on which the fulfilment of that summer was built.
Ultimately, Pietersen made the impossible seem possible. He made Warne look mortal; he made Murali look silly; and he is the only batsman I have ever seen who could treat Dale Steyn like a net bowler.
Indeed, the moment of Pietersen’s batting I will remember most brightly is a swatted straight drive on the walk against Steyn at Headingly in 2012. If the ball had hit Steyn it would have killed him; as it was, the shot left him blinking like a little boy. Pietersen’s brilliant century that day was scored at the height of the text-message saga which led to his temporary breach with the team. It was an innings and a context that summed him up perfectly.
As Australia rise again, India are in the doldrums with England
There is no point being too morose about Pietersen. Teams move on, circles turn. Australia’s return to winning ways shows that only too clearly.
India meanwhile, are in the ditch with England, having been beaten by New Zealand in a test series for the first time in over a decade. The fact that Zaheer Khan is still leading the attack at the age of 35 suggests that bowling resources in India are at a truly low ebb: the consequence of too much emphasis on short-form cricket.
On the other hand, Brendon McCullum's triple hundred in the Wellington test last week was particularly heartening, not least in showing how much test cricket means to a man who could easily have been lost to the world of Twenty20. It was, after all, not a match-winning innings but a series-winning one by virtue of enabling New Zealand to come back from a seemingly impossible position to secure a draw. If Mitchell Johnson is the player of the winter, McCullum's innings is the best one-off performance.
Bravo to England’s women and to Afghanistan
The ensnarement of international cricket by the three major national boards in the past few weeks was possibly inevitable, given the long-standing inadequacies of the status quo: but it doesn’t mean that the current solution will itself be long-lasting. There are too many egos at play to imagine there will not be further ructions as the game moves ever onwards to the high altar of mammon.
Nevertheless, two other recent developments show that at least some of those in positions of authority are running things with aplomb. First, the full professionalisation of the England women’s team came as a hugely welcome step and ought to allow for the further advancement of cricket as a sport played widely by both sexes. In terms of inculcating girls as well as boys with a love of the game, it is (in this all too often gender-demarcated world) crucial for the women’s team to have the highest profile possible.
Second, the Asia Cup begins today with Afghanistan participating for the first time. When you stop to consider what that country has been through in recent times, it is truly a miracle. And what is more, they will not be pushovers. If they can pull off a win, most probably at the expense of Bangladesh, there really might be some trembling in cricket’s old order.