Man with a destructive bat

Published : Dec 23, 2010 00:00 IST

Kevin Pietersen is now the most intimidating cricketer in the world. There is no one else, since Brian Lara laid down his bat for the last time, who can destroy an attack, reduce the morale of a team to zero and boost his side's run rate so much that the bowlers have all the time they need to complete victory. By Ted Corbett.

At his most exhilarating, when he stands tall on a perfect pitch and whirls the bad ball from off stump to the deep square leg boundary; when the sun is shining and the crowds are calling his name; when the opposition bowling is, quite frankly, not up to much, Kevin Pietersen is the greatest batsman on the planet.

Sorry Sachin. My apologies, Ricky. I am sure you know what I mean, Kumar. I would not dream of writing it but I know it is true.

I cannot tell what KP will come to signify in the future but that Adelaide innings was Kevin Parfait and may even remain so to the end of his career.

He is now the most intimidating cricketer in the world too. Those monsters Walsh and Ambrose, McGrath and Warne, Richards and Flintoff have all quit leaving 6ft 5in Pietersen as the last of the giant ogres.

There is no one else, since Brian Lara laid down his bat for the last time, who can destroy an attack, reduce the morale of a team to zero and boost his side's run rate so much that the bowlers have all the time they need to complete victory.

That is what KP showed us as he made his highest Test score of 227 with an astonishing display of complete mastery. And, as he is a batsman dependent on confidence, we can be sure it will be the basis for at least one more thrilling innings during the Ashes series.

The old cheeky grin is back, alongside the humour — “All rounder? I am just the biggest pie chucker of all time!” So are the honest assessments that promised to make him at least the most interesting captain in England's recent history. Until someone, for no known reason, prised the baton from his hands and left him with so much self doubt that the runs dried up.

That blow, and his injury, meant that for 18 months he has not been KP but a tiny shadow.

Now KP is back. The Adelaide innings was a match — and maybe a series — winner, the platform for England to make 620, a joy for the Barmy Army as well as those stuck at home in minus however few degrees, and a rare chance for English sports fans to celebrate properly.

Total, glorious, unquestionable success is an infrequent achievement for England. The 1966 World Cup, 1981 at Headingley, Mike Brearley's and Mike Gatting's tours Down Under, the 5-1 football defeat of Germany, and the Rugby Union World Cup final defeat for Australia in their own land.

I have already called Adelaide the most comprehensive victory by England over Australia in many a year. It was more than that. It symbolised the day English cricket grew into the 21st century, accepted that the world had changed, showed their mastery over the new methods and took their first step towards a challenge of India for global supremacy.

Was it all down to Pietersen?

Read these stats, drawn up by TV's Jo King, and you will see how that KP innings set England on the right path.

When he went out to bat England were already in a fine position at 176-2 in the 49th over as they replied to Australia's puny 245. Those runs had been gathered at a decent 3.64 an over but that was not good enough to ensure domination.

Most teams would have settled for such a run rate. England would once have been delighted but post-KP they did not have to accept such a low rate. By the time KP was out at 568-5 in the 147th over England had scored at four runs an over during his time at the crease and pushed their rate above four for the whole innings.

They went on to win in comfort, at least in part because he bowled the loopy off break from which Michael Clarke contrived to get himself caught in the last over of the fourth day.

Typical Pietersen. You never know what will come next but you can bet your next century it will be a surprise.

He has been like that since the moment his form with Notts forced the selectors to find a place for him in the England side. Do you remember the circumstances?

It meant sacrificing Graeme Thorpe, one of the finest left-handers in their history. I came back from a tour at about that time and bumped into a former England captain.

“You were in Pakistan?” he inquired.“Yes.”“What did you think?”

“Every time a top order wicket fell I used to think ‘I wish Thorpy was coming in next.'” His thoughtful nod was almost unnecessary.

That is how important Thorpe was, at the end of a great career, and it was the gamble the selectors took as they preferred Pietersen.

The rewards were soon there for everyone to see. His dazzling innings at the Oval was a refreshing mix of good technique and supreme talent and it made sure England won back the Ashes.

He had already hit every South African boundary fence as regularly as the clock ticks and the only question against him seemed to be his hair which changed colour, style and shape as if he might be one of the lightly brained models he chose as his dinner companions.

When he met the singer Jessica Taylor and, quick as his cover drive, decided she ought to be his life's companion, there was a perceptible change. He comes from a settled family and he likes that atmosphere. Don't expect him to change his married status any time soon.

Then came the terrible business of the captaincy. Don't ask me what went wrong, but it was a typical piece of English management. I am not sure the principal actors understood why it was, after persuading the players to forget the miseries of Mumbai and return to complete the tour, he found himself being asked: “Are you resigning?”

It was a savage blow to his career and his pride and anyone who has seen him bat since must suspect it struck deep.

Somehow — he says a brief trip to South Africa before this tour is responsible — in the deep heat of Adelaide, under the shadow of that lovely old cathedral but with the Barmy Army singing in the background he is the old KP once again.

The old, vainglorious, positive, look-at-me, I'll win the match while you guys sit back and watch, KP.

I am told that when he took the vital wicket of Michael Clarke off the last ball of the fourth day he told his team-mates: “I'm an all-rounder now!”

No you are not KP. Sometimes we will be grateful if you take a wicket or two but don't get ahead of yourself. You are the greatest batsman in the world and that is enough for those of us who love you to pieces.

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