England pray for Pietersen heroics
by Cricket Archive Staff Reporter
DateLine: 20th November 2006
Kevin Pietersen helped England win one Ashes series: now the question
facing him and the rest of Andrew Flintoff's side is can they do it
Pietersen already had an important role to play in England's batting
line-up before the Australlia tour started but, with opener Marcus
Trescothick having returned home with a recurrence of a stress-related
illness, the expectations on the top order shotmaker will increase.
That is unlikely to be a problem for Pietersen who doesn't suffer from
the diffidence that has hampered the careers of many England
cricketers. The Hampshire batsman is well aware of his own talents and
worth. He has a directness and brashness that plenty find hard to take,
never mind the diamond-earring and now discarded 'skunk' hairstyle. And
that's just in England.
Indeed, there are many who contend that the 26-year-old is playing for
the wrong country. Born in South Africa but qualified for England
through an English mother, Pietersen quit his homeland in protest at
being dropped from the Natal side because, he said, of a racial quota
system. "To me, every single person in this world needs to be treated
exactly the same and that should have included me, as a promising
20-year-old cricketer," Pietersen wrote in his autobiography.
Sportsmen are renowned for their tunnel vision but there were those in
South Africa and beyond who were annoyed by Pietersen's apparent
refusal to understand why, even if misguidedly, a quota system had been
Soon afterwards Pietersen came to England where he joined
Nottinghamshire for three eventful seasons before moving to Hampshire,
captained by Australia leg-spinner Shane Warne, at the start of the
2005 campaign. By then he'd already scored a century in a one-day
international against South Africa in Bloemfontein, where he celebrated
reaching three figures by kissing the England badge on his helmet. Then
came the Ashes where he scored 473 runs in five Tests against the
world's best team, starting with a pair of fifties on debut during the
crushing series-opening defeat at Lord's.
Although essentially orthodox, Pietersen's ability to whip good length
balls through the onside and his preparedness to attack Warne by using
his reach to play sweep shots, marked him out. Come the last day of the
final Test at The Oval, with the series still in the balance,
Pietersen counter-attacked after a top-order collapse to score 158 and
secure the draw that saw England win its first Ashes campaign in 19
years. His audacity was evident again at Edgbaston in May when, during
a Test hundred against Sri Lanka, he reverse-swept off-spinner Muttiah
Muralitharan for an astonishing six.
Often criticised for being addicted to celebrity, Pietersen's fame has
yet to adversely affect his cricket. For example, he scored the first
century of England's Ashes tour when he scored 122 against New South
Wales last week.
After the end of the last Ashes series, Pietersen insisted he would not
be distracted by the trappings of fame. "We have to make a living out
of what we do and as long as it doesn't interfere with our cricket,
it's okay," he told the Sunday Times. "Why would I want to take the
mickey out of cricket? I haven't written to the newspapers and said 'I
want to be a celebrity'. "Cricket will always be my priority."