The eulogies are in, but Kevin Pietersen will influence English cricket for many years to come
In perhaps the least surprising episode of an extraordinary and unpredictable career, Kevin Peter Pietersen has hauled his coffin up to the loft and gone to run with the rhinos. There was little shock when it came, hinted at for many months, and there were no prizes for guessing that confirmation arrived via social media.
Writers have gushed over his impressive statistics and assessed the headlines that followed him throughout his stellar career. But it is not clear that we are any closer to knowing the true measure of the man. Even EJ Thribb (17½) himself might struggle to complete this article’s headline.
The numbers speak for themselves. From the start of his debut Test to the final day of his last no-one played in more Tests or scored more runs, and he did so at a lick bettered only, amongst serious batsmen, by the likes of freaks such as Sehwag, Gilchrist and Dilshan. Throw in his ODI record and a man-of-the-tournament performance in the 2010 World T20 and you have the complete package.
Those headlines are familiar too, yet they do nothing to decide the argument in either direction. Brash showman or insecure genius? Adopted son, branded with a Three Lions tattoo, or opportunistic migrant who whistles his way through team meetings?
The more that is written the less we seem to know. So let’s concentrate on his twofold legacy for English cricket.
Consciously or not, every batsman to have played for England since KP arrived on the scene has likely been influenced by his beguiling talents. A true master of all formats, he encapsulated the attitude that regularly seems to desert his compatriots across all professional sport – no freezing, the cold ability to block out the voices and execute the plan. But he’s no metronome; everything was done with a swagger and a flick of the wrists.
The young Skywalkers of the modern game may no longer see him as an Obi-Wan Kenobi-like figure; in less than 10 years it is likely that there will be someone receiving a Test cap who was not even born in July 2005, let alone who had the opportunity to fully appreciate his flamingo shot live.
More importantly, in the back of every administrator’s mind there will be the nagging doubt about what could have been. If somehow it could have been possible to integrate his personality into the team for longer… If T20 had not emerged and Tests / ODIs were his main source of income… If he’d not sent those texts…
From now on every blazer will feel like a Roman emperor with a notional slave at their ear, whispering “memento mori”. He is Trenzalore to the ECB’s Doctor Who.
He is the number 42, the answer to an unknown question.
For all his achievements KP will, to some extent or other, always be defined by what could have been. Perhaps Wisden in a quarter century’s time may manage some form of objectivity, but for now trying to define Pietersen is like trying to grasp a fluffy white cloud. You feel its texture, but you can never hold on.
Would we have had it any other way?