Surry vs Nottinghamshire, The Oval, Day 3 Sep 6th 2012
Two balls from Fletcher. Kevin Pietersen is 9 not out. The first is a standard seam bowler’s back of a length delivery on off or middle-and-off. KP skips down the wicket to get to the pitch of the ball and, in trademark one-foot-skanking style, he on-drives with the hard crack of a thick bat, perfect timing and strong forearms to the mid-on boundary for four.
Fletcher is angry. A medium-fast bowler should not see batsmen dance down the wicket to him. He bowls a Yorker, speared in on middle or middle and leg. Kev adjusts immediately, stays in his crease this time, moves his body so he is angled in line with the delivery and straight drives the ball back where it came from. Again, the sharp sound of a powerhouse batsmen with excellent timing. This time, however, the ball thuds into the stumps at the bowler’s end, sending the bails flying and his batting partner scuttling back into his crease. The crowd collectively oo’s in disappointment. Kev had won that exchange, reacted instinctively to the bowler’s effort ball, only for the non-striker’s stumps to get in the way. The over ends and Chris Read, the Notts wicketkeeper-captain takes Fletcher off immediately.
At the Vauxhall end, White is bowling left arm off spin. Next over, he bowls Burns, who is on 44, with one that turns sharply through the gate.
Reed brings on another left-armer at the Pavilion end – Gurney, the fastest bowler in the Notts attack. This is a shrewd move by one of the most intelligent captains in county cricket. The problem for KP, with the ball slanting across him from Gurney or turning away from him from White, is that his most comfortable scoring strokes are through the leg side, and will thus be against the natural angle of left-armers. To compound this problem, Reed sets the mid-off and mid-on 3/4 of the way back to stop (or to tempt?) KP going over the top to the spinner and he sets two men on the boundary at long leg and fine leg for his quick to protect Gurney’s short ball or encourage him to hole out.
Gurney’s first over to Pietersen. A ball outside leg stump. Kev swipes at it without moving into line, misses it completely and kicks the dust in disgust. But not before walking to square leg and moving to the adjacent square. Nothing petulant, just a word to self. On off-stump he defends solidly. When the ball is pitched up, he pushes hard to extra cover but straight to the fielder. He rehearses the shot again. A little to the left or right and it’s 4 on this fast, vast Oval outfield. On middle-and-leg, he flicks to midwicket and again picks out the fielder. Again he rehearses the necessary adjustment. He is learning the field-settings, finding his rhythm.
Next Gurney over, he gets a short one first up into the ribs. He plays it down into the ground backward of square. The fine leg is on the boundary. Is it sheer recklessness that makes him sprint two to the surprise of De Bruyn at the other end and the general disapproval of the crowd? Or is it to make the Notts captain think? Should he bring up the fine leg and save 1 or 2? Kev is only 13 not out after all.
After lunch, now with 4 on the leg side, he gets a ball almost identical to the first ball he faced from Gurney. Short and outside leg. This time he moves into line and deflects it down to the fielder on the boundary. Again he makes sure that they sprint for two. Runs are hard to find. De Bruyn, facing Gurney plays twice to balls outside off: once defensively where it flies off the edge wide of the slips for 4, and once with an ugly cover drive which he just avoids edging. Outside off, KP consistently plays no stroke.
White, the slow left-armer (supposedly Kev’s nemesis) is also keeping the runs down. Kev middles one hard with a cross batted, unorthodox cut in front of square which is very well stopped by Taylor at short extra cover. Next ball, perhaps disappointed not to have scored the 4 he thought his shot deserved, Kev comes down the wicket, doesn’t quite get to the pitch and launches White high towards long-off. He has sliced it. The crowd knows it. He knows it. The long off runs round to his left and Pietersen is out for 22. Another waste of greatness.
Fortunately for myself as Surrey member, Pietersen has retired from the England one-day teams after an unresolved argument and then, apparently, sent a rude text about his test captain Andrew Strauss to the South Africans, who in Machiavellian intrigue, showed it to the England dressing room and got them to drop their best batsman, the batsman who had single-handedly destroyed the SA bowling attack at Headingly. Now I get to watch him for no extra cost in a more than half-empty ground.
Pietersen is a genius. The only batting genius in England at the moment. Yet, once again, as I have complained about before, England sporting teams cannot find room for geniuses. I don’t know what he is like as a person or exactly how difficult, disruptive or subversive he is in the dressing room. However, you can’t imagine the Australians dropping him for being a bit full of himself. He is far too good to leave out. Arrogant prima donnas have been cricket’s great men from W. G. Grace to Viv Richards. He gets himself out sometimes like he did today against Notts, but even in this brief knock at the Oval you could see what an intelligent cricketer he can be, what total command he is capable of asserting when he gets in. His faults are the flip side of his talents. But for now he suffers as others before him in English sport, for not being boring and mediocre enough. England teams never found a proper place for Chris Waddle, John Barnes, Ian Wright or Gazza in football. They preferred Rob Andrew to Stuart Barnes in rugby; Danny Cipriani may well prove a wasted talent. Robert Croft was picked far too often ahead of Phil Tufnell. The hugely talented Mark Ramprakash never flourished.
Obviously, they should get over themselves, sort out their differences and get KP back in the team! But then again, I wouldn’t get to watch him at Surrey…