Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Sport: Nuts about KP?

Kevin Pietersen. KP. The Enigma. Mercurial genius or overrated pretender?

This is a question that has been asked of many a sportsman over the years and probably only ever answered in unequivocal fashion by very few of them.

As the ‘Drop Kevin Pietersen’ bandwagon gathers ever more pace due to his repeated failings in South Africa and now Bangladesh it is a question the big man is going to have to find an answer to. Quickly.

Achilles injury? Technical deficiency? Mental weakness? Boredom? Arrogance? All are touted as reasons for his drop in form yet very few agree as to which one is truly to blame.

Let me say very early on that I am in the ‘KP is a genius’ camp. I believe he is truly talented, world class cricketer who has sacrificed much in his quest to play international cricket for his adopted nation. His ability to play game-changing innings seemingly at will when in top form is unmatched by anyone else available for England selection. He is a man who has scored a Test Match hundred against all test playing nations, brings athleticism and skill in the field and has an aura of greatness that surrounds him and each of these are factors that cannot yet be ignored.

The internet message boards, phone-in debates and even some ‘experts’ are all calling for him to be excluded from the side – citing anything ranging from footwork deficiencies through to a lack of passion as justification for the appearance of the executioners block. Anyone who saw that innings and knows how hard he works will attest that this is simply not the case with KP.

I often wonder if these are the same individuals who were baying for the blood of Andrew Strauss in New Zealand two winters ago. The same Andrew Strauss who went on to score 177 in his ‘final’ knock and has subsequently gone on to become our most prolific runs scorer in recent times and a highly effective and competitive leader of the side. I wonder where these ‘experts’ are now.

Sure, Andrew Strauss went away from the side to work on his technique but let’s not forget that a) he is an opener who relies upon sound technique and economy of movement for survival, b) he is a quiet and reserved character and c) England had replacements lining up to take his place at the top of the order.

This is not the case for KP. He is a brash, destructive batsman who feeds off of instinct and freedom to excel and is certainly not as well equipped mentally to deal with being dropped. The debacle with Peter Moores when he was captain indicated a guy who needs to feel wanted and appreciated by his team mates and his country to give of his best. Is KP cocky? Very probably. Is he insecure? Most definitely.

I believe this stems from how he was treated by the South African system during his youth and we as England fans must not make the mistake of simply giving up and letting him drift away. In cricket, and indeed in life, some people must be challenged in order to give optimum performance whereas others need to be supported and reassured. Think about your friends, family, children, colleagues and you will find this to be true. There is no magic, one-size-fits all method to extracting greatness.

One of the message boards I read today stated that England should “drop Pietersen because he needs to know he is not a guaranteed pick”. Now while there is merit in this idea I feel it is slightly misguided in this instance. This is because whilst many batsman bat for their place in the team, Kevin Pietersen bats for his place in history. As a result allowing him to feel confident in his selection despite undoubted difficulties is crucial to enabling him to produce the spectacular displays of which he is unarguably capable.

It is easy to appreciate that he is often loose outside the off stump, that he is moving far too much in his stance prior to delivery and that he has issues with left arm spin. However, as even the most village of village cricketers such as myself will know, when relaxation and concentration on the job at hand are the foundations of your mind-set then the runs will come. (Personally I find they come in a rather unorthodox version of ‘the V’, namely between 3rd slip and fine leg, but they do come).
Put simply if KP is supported by public and media alike he will relax. If he relaxes then the movements in set-up become less pronounced and the head remains still. If the head remains still then judgement of line and length becomes much more accurate and balance is better. If both of these things happen then timing becomes easier and more natural and as we all know when Kevin Pietersen is in a groove and timing the ball then he is pretty much impossible to bowl at. It really is as simple as that.

This is surely what we as England fans want and need to see. I therefore hope that Andy Flower shows some sense (and to be fair he rarely seems to do anything else except from in the case of Ryan Sidebottom’s continued selection but that’s another story..) and perseveres with Kevin Pietersen. After all, in the era of 20/20, Test cricket needs players of his like more than ever. Ask Ricky Ponting/Graeme Smith/M.S Dhoni if they would drop him from their sides and you would get a short answer in the negative from each of them.

I’m pretty sure he will come through this current rut and I am very much looking forward to watching him at his best over the years to come. Because as another truly great sportsman embroiled in his own quest for redemption recently said; it’s not what you achieve that matters, but what you overcome”.

It is true that KP has issues to overcome but he must still play as he has much yet to achieve.

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