“Both sides are at fault – the bottom line is Kevin Pietersen is not playing international cricket, which is a tragedy.”
These are the words of legendary former Australian bowler Shane Warne on learning Kevin Pietersen will not be part of the England squad travelling to Sri Lanka for the Twenty20 World Cup in September.
Undoubtedly the word tragedy is overstating the situation. The defending champions England will still travel to Sri Lanka with the loud and raucous Barmy Army trailing behind them, tooting their horns. There is no tragedy involved but Warne is right that the whole situation is regrettable, and very sad.
Although Warne is a good friend of Pietersen, even he couldn’t defend the recent actions of the South African born player. Sending abusive texts about your captain – Andrew Strauss – is already scandalous but to send them to the opponents during a crucial Test series is unforgiveable.
Especially if many already see you as a South African in England clothing.
However, Kevin Pietersen fell out with England selectors before the infamous text messages were sent.
Just a few months ago, Pietersen ruffled a few feathers when he announced his retirement from one-day and Twenty20 internationals. It was believed Pietersen wanted to concentrate on a lucrative contact with the Indian Premier League and that the strain of international cricket was taking its toll.
However, following recent talks with the England Cricket Board, Pietersen revealed he had a change of heart on YouTube and committed his future to all forms of cricket for England.
And this is where the story should have ended. With a happily ever after.
Instead, one form of technology undid the work of another; the text messages were sent and the damage was done.
A massive loss
While he is certainly not the most likeable player in the England team, Shane Warne is right – Kevin Pietersen is a loss. A massive one.
For me, there is no player in world cricket who brings the crease to life like he does.
In a game dominated by long pauses and quiet, non-assuming gentlemen, the sight of Pietersen arrogantly strutting up to the stumps often signifies the end of the calm and the beginning of something less predictable.
His difficult temperament off the field translates to something far more likeable on it. Pietersen’s fierce nature and puffed-up demeanour makes him one of the few batsmen who appears immune to fear.
When KP comes in to bat, it is the bowlers who should be scared.
When he hits the ball, he means it, and he’s not afraid to take the colourful, angular shots that can lead to an early demise.
The current England team need Pietersen for many reasons – not just because captain Andrew Strauss is forming a closer bond to his cricketing chum – the duck.
Pietersen has proved himself in all forms of the game, his Test average is a whisker away from 50, he has 21 Test centuries, nine one-day centuries and was player of the tournament during England’s victorious Twenty20 campaign in 2010.
And at the age of 32 he is certainly not past it, impressing in the IPL and hitting 149 runs against South Africa in the second Test at Headingly.
“He has always managed to let his skill rise above his cockiness, perhaps until now”
But again it isn’t his overall form that makes him special.
He is the type of player that broadens cricket’s appeal and makes the old and young, male and female love the game. Over the years, I have relished watching him over any other English batsman, by a country (or county) mile.
His performances always stick in the mind.
Who can forget the role he played in 2005 with England needing a draw to claim their first Ashes win in 18 years.
Not a man to let the occasion get to him, Pietersen fired 15 boundaries and seven sixes to secure one of the most precious draws in England’s history with an innings of 158. What made the feat even more remarkable was that this performance came in his debut Test series for England.
His tenacity and need to prove his critics wrong also helped drive England to becoming the top Test team in cricket in 2011. During England’s dominating series win over India he passed the 6,000 run mark in Tests in the fastest time ever, exactly six years.
When England cricket fans look back to why England became such a force to be reckoned with in the early years of the 2010s, they might trace it back to one coach – Andy Flower – and one cricketer – Kevin Pietersen.
His wicked behaviour off the wicket to one side, Pietersen has always shown heart, grind, passion and a love of cricket when playing for England. You can feel it like an electric current, whether you are watching him on TV or at Lord’s.
Pietersen is one of the rare players who doesn’t scream ‘middle-aged boring sport’ to young sports fans. Instead he shouts personality, determination, bravery and balls. He has always managed to let his skill rise above his cockiness, perhaps until now.
It is for these reasons his absence from England’s Twenty20 squad is almost a tragedy. Almost.
Pietersen deserves to appear on the big stage he has so charismatically lit up for the past seven years.
Even if it is just to wave one final, heart-felt goodbye (preferably with bat in hand after scoring another heroic century for his country).
Joanna Tilley is a freelance journalist working with Al Jazeera on the Sport website. She has worked at Sky News, Sky Sports News and LBC Radio.
Al Jazeera is not responsible for the content of external websites.