WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN

On May 31st, 2012, Kevin Pieterson or KP as he is known ever so fondly by cricket enthusiasts all over the world, announced his retirement from ODI cricket. Citing the brutal international schedule (and steering clear of mentioning the effect of the IPL on players’ bodies), KP decided that he had had enough. That this shocking decision came days after yet another fine imposed on him by the ECB for a twitter rant about cricketer-turned-commentator Nick Knight- is but a backnote in this intriguing story. By some bizarre ECB rules in their central contract, that meant that KP would no more be available for T20 internationals either, months before they defend their hard-earned title in Sri Lanka.   

Some say he is just playing around with the ECB to ensure that they go on their knees to call him back, and give his ego a nice boost. He was Man of the Series in the last World Cup, and he knows very well that his team can’t function in the shortest format without his services. Some say he is sick of their continuous stepfatherly treatment, and their uptight rules, despite being the most influential cricketer of a generation- he was earlier fined for blasting the ECB on Twitter after he was dropped for an ODI series last year. He did have a point, though, and even though he has scored only 5 ODI centuries in the 115 matches that he played between his first year and the Pakistan series (3 in his first 10 games, and 2 in his final two), they needed his quickfire 40s and audacious switch-hits to unsettle an opposition attack. He was like a fast bowler at the crease, armed with a bat, and he often charged down bowlers even when he was woefully out of touch. It did look ridiculous at most times, but atleast he remained true to himself- because there is nothing more destructive in this world (apart from a Gayle snooze) when KP is on song in that mood. 

 Rumours will fly, and whispers will be exchanged amongst experts across the world- but only KP knows the reason he is cutting short a career that had yet again hit a purple patch. He may believe in retiring at his best, and he does want to know if he merits a Test Selection inspite of his wobbly form, but one can’t help but imagine that there is a certain amount of ‘gameplay’ or ‘politics’ attached to this decision. He wants to play ball with the ECB, and he wants to be reminded of his worth again- either that, or he believes that he can do a Gayle, because on form, he is currently the best T20 International cricketer in the world. There will be no shortage of offers, especially after his short explosion for the Daredevils in IPL 2012. He may want to be England’s first freelance superstar, but this may contradict his statement about his body not being able to cope with the rigours of all 3 forms.    

Pieterson is the primary reason England are World Champions in T20 cricket, though he cannot take maximum credit for their current ranking of Number One in Tests. He is also the reason English Cricket was able to stand up tall and take on big bullies Australia over a period of six eventful Ashes-laden years. He is the X-factor, which his rebellious skunk haircut in 2006, that England so badly needed to counter the punk influence of Shane Warne. He is the brat, a charismatic sports star, that his painfully correct-and-gentlemanly country needed in the World of Sports. That he was born in South Africa, rejected there, and migrated to England to make a career out of a Viv Richards brand of cricket, only deepens the romanticism associated with his brief career. 

Like any cricketer blessed with oodles of talent and a shocking abundance of self-confidence, KP has had his ups and downs. Over the last four years, after a terrific explosion onto the international scene in 2005- where he was expected to break most limited over records and drag his team to the top of the world (in which he has partially succeeded along with Freddy Flintoff)- KP had a barren patch. 9 centuries in 127 one-day internationals do not tell the entire story, and a decent average of 41.84 is still not a patch on the 55 he began with for his first 30 games. Nevertheless, it made him more human, and his struggle was often darkest before the dawn.  

Who can forget his outrageous Ashes century against Warne and Co. in 2006, then a whirlwind 102 against the West Indies in Lara’s last international game in World Cup 2007, and most of all- his back to back centuries (after almost two years of nothing) against a fired-up Pakistani attack in their own backyard earlier this year? His series-leveling century against Sri Lanka in Tests wasn’t a struggle at all, because by then, he had reconciled with confidence- and stroked his way across the slow turning pitches of Sri Lanka. That he, along with Ian Bell are the only English players who can play spin- forget playing spin well- was well known, and his retirement might only plunge English hearts into despair, because a flawed hero is no more. 

The ECB might do well to pay heed to his ‘I want to play the T20 World Cup’ wish, but they are known to harbor a certain amount of dislike for the man- more so, because he is the only English Cricketer (and to a certain extent, Swann) who makes no bones of the fact that he doesn’t operate for tradition and history. 

He operates on his own terms. How else can you explain changing the grip of the bat before the ball is bowled, pounce into a left-handers stance, intimidate the confused bowler with a slight crouch, and change the 132 year old rulebook of batsmanship- all in a single ball? 

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