12 May 2015

The Kevin Pietersen Saga

Kevin Pietersen may be one of England's greatest ever batsmen. Whether he is or not is a disputable fact. But the stats speak for themselves.

His debut was in 2005 in the Ashes series, being a controversial selection as he and Ian Bell were selected ahead of Graham Thorpe. He cemented his place in his very first game: England's batting at Lord's in 2005 was a sorry tale. Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss got England to tea on day one at 10-0. Glenn McGrath came on, and first ball after tea, started one of the worst collapses I've ever seen. Trescothick, Strauss, Michael Vaughan, Bell, and Andrew Flintoff were all victims to McGrath, and England were 21-5. Pietersen - on test debut, coming in at 18-3 - stopped the rot and made 57 (including mowing McGrath onto the pavilion balcony and Shane Warne into the Grandstand). In the second innings, Trescothick and Strauss started well, getting to 80-0, before Strauss perished to the short ball from Brett Lee, Trescothick perished to the Warne slider, and Bell padded up to a straight ball. Pietersen comes in, but they're still dropping like flies. Vaughan plays down the wrong line to Lee (if anyone's seen the missing off stump that went crashing, please call the MCC immediately, they still haven't found it after 10 years), and Flintoff perished to the Warne slider. 119-5, as Pietersen cut a forelone figure. Yet again, he had to play the starring role, making 64 not out as McGrath tore through the rest of the order. 

Pietersen had already shown how he wasn't prone to England collapses against Australia. The other big innings that really cemented his place (not including 73 at Edgbaston) was on the final day at The Oval.


Australia had to win to retain the Ashes, and with England only needing to bat out day five to win them, it looked like it would be England's day. But two in two for Glenn McGrath took England from 67-1 to 67-3, and Pietersen was next to face. In an innings with three dropped catches (Matthew Hayden, Shane Warne, Shaun Tait) and four very close calls (McGrath/Ponting, Lee/slip cordon, Clarke/run out, Warne/Hayden). Pietersen made 158 and gave England the Ashes whilst the top order collapsed around him - it was 126-5 at one point. Pietersen and Ashley Giles (of all people) put on 109 for the eighth wicket and took the game away from the Aussies.
In 2013-14 down under he was England's leading run scorer in a series where England couldn't bat at all. All right, Mitchell Johnson didn't help, but I had flashbacks to Lord's in Brisbane. We rolled the Aussies for 295 and England promptly went from 82-2 to 91-8, sparked by Pietersen's dismissal. Our batting averages were atrocious, but were the ECB correct to axe two of the top three? Ben Stokes was top and was kept, but Pietersen and Michael Carberry were sacked, unfairly so.

The England management have recently been completely appalling. Sacking Pietersen and Carberry was one thing, but not removing Cook, the shambolic opener merry-go-round, and a too defensive style show what is wrong with the ECB at the moment.

Alistair Cook is a good batsman. Do not get me wrong. But as a captain, he is poor. He is too defensive, too predictable, too obsessed with nightwatchmen (I have NEVER seen someone put another one in when the first one got out before), and too unwilling to experiment. Against Sri Lanka in 2014, Cook could have capitalised and made some bold decisions that would have won us both games, but instead we lost 1-0. The "standing stones of Marylebone" field at Lord's was beyond belief. He also ball-watches, in that if a player hits the ball to a part of the ground ONCE, he will put a fielder there. If it becomes regular, put a fielder there. Once is not enough. There was one game (that escapes me) where James Anderson was put in as a nightwatchman, before getting out, so Tim Bresnan was sent in as another nightwatchman. He is also too unwilling to experiment. Our run rates are very slow, in comparison to about 10 years ago where we would score at about 5 runs per over.

Kevin Pietersen has just made 355 not out for Surrey in their county championship game against Leicester. England's selection policy is appalling. What you must do in any sport is pick your best players. Did Luis Suarez get snubbed when not banned for having an appalling team ethic at Liverpool? No. Did Dimitar Berbatov get snubbed for being a lazy plodder and someone who was publically against Martin Jol at Fulham? No. You pick your best players - full stop.

With this in mind, this is my next squad for England:

Alastair Cook
Adam Lyth
Gary Ballance
Ian Bell (c)
Kevin Pietersen
Joe Root
Moeen Ali
Ben Stokes
Jos Buttler (wk)
Stuart Broad
James Anderson.

I'd easily put Steven Davies in place of Buttler and Adil Rashid in place of Moeen Ali or, indeed, Ben Stokes. Play four bowlers with either one or two spinners. If you play four bowlers with two spinners, Anderson and Broad take the new ball, and you switch to Ali and Rashid, requiring only a few overs from Bell or Root to bridge the gap.

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