Chris Waters: Farewell to Kevin Pietersen - a rare talent who lit up the game

England's Kevin Pietersen walks off the pitch dejected after being dismissed for 149 runs against South Africa at Headingley in 2012. Picture: Paul Thomas/PA Wire.
England's Kevin Pietersen walks off the pitch dejected after being dismissed for 149 runs against South Africa at Headingley in 2012. Picture: Paul Thomas/PA Wire.
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HE arrived in English cricket practically unnoticed and he has left it in much the same way.

As another cricket season draws to a close, it is easy to forget that it is one which has marked Kevin Pietersen’s exit from the English game.

The history books will show that Pietersen’s last appearance in England was for Surrey in a T20 game against Middlesex at The Oval in July.

The 37-year-old was out for four in a match in which he limped off with a calf injury and out of English cricket forever.

Of course, the history books tell only half the story.

When Pietersen arrived in this country 16 years ago, few had heard of him outside of his native South Africa.

Kevin Pietersen: Has bowed out of the English game for good.

Kevin Pietersen: Has bowed out of the English game for good.

He was just another overseas import – classed as an off-spinning all-rounder back then, who joined Notts under their then South African coach Clive Rice.

Few could have imagined that Pietersen would go on to experience one of the finest and most controversial careers in the game’s history.

Rice, however, had seen something special. In fact, he had spotted a genius – one which revealed itself as a batsman of extraordinary flair and ability.

No sooner had Pietersen torn up county cricket than he went on to tear up international cricket, too.

Few could have imagined that Pietersen would go on to experience one of the finest and most controversial careers in the game’s history.

Chris Waters on Kevin Pietersen

His series-clinching 158 at The Oval in 2005 clinched his place in the pantheon, and despite a plethora of controversies and a Marmite-type personality, he was undoubtedly one of the greatest batsmen of all time and the one who has personally given me the most pleasure along with Viv Richards.

Pietersen’s duels in 2005 with Australia’s Shane Warne were the greatest passages of Test cricket I have seen; indeed, I doubt whether they have been surpassed.

Prior to the subsequent Ashes series in England, Rice wrote that Pietersen “has barely scratched the surface of his cricketing potential”, adding that “there is a huge amount still to come from him”.

Rice went on: “If Kevin improves his focus and concentration at the crease, he can be up there with the top three cricketers who have ever played the game.

England captain Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen celebrate winning the fifth Ashes Test in Sydney. Picture: Gareth Copley/PA

England captain Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen celebrate winning the fifth Ashes Test in Sydney. Picture: Gareth Copley/PA

“That is a huge statement, but he is that good. He can beat Graham Gooch’s record as England’s leading run-scorer, that’s for sure.

“He can beat Sachin Tendulkar’s record for the most Test hundreds. On faster wickets, he can even beat Brian Lara’s record for the highest individual score in Test cricket. Kevin is capable of scoring 500 runs in a Test innings.”

None of Rice’s predictions came true, although Pietersen did become the highest run-scorer for England in all formats combined.

Instead, an unhappy relationship with the England captaincy and various brushes with authority saw the curtain come down on his international career after the 2013-14 Ashes.

Later, an incendiary autobiography ensured that it would never be lifted again as Pietersen launched an impassioned attack on those he thought had wronged him.

It was a sad end to a career that was a bit like a spectacular meteor flying through the sky before it eventually burned up. At times, we watched the Pietersen meteor in exasperation; at others, we relished it for its jaw-dropping glory.