Saturday, March 17, 2007

Kevin Pietersen, Batsman, Hustler, Entertainer

Although England lost their opening World Cup game – some would say predictably – to New Zealand, one of the highlights of the game was the performance of Kevin Pietersen. And I’m willing to say that Pietersen is one of the most entertaining batsmen in all of cricket today.

To put his knock of 60 in perspective you have to understand the circumstances under which it was conceived. England’s innings was under threat of disintegration at 52 for 3, with their captain having just chopped a ball rather injudiciously onto his wicket. The wicket had a bit of variable bounce and was soft enough that it made timing the ball difficult. The ball wasn’t popping off the pitch and coming on to the bat. In fact, the pitch was tailor made for New Zealand’s bowlers. (Note to the New Zealand Cricket Association: forget those hyper-seaming pitches and instead cut a piece this of strip and take it home with you). Shane Bond was fighting off early indifference to gain ascendance and Daniel Vettori lurked waiting to take charge of the middle overs.

A refusal to be dominated
Despite the situation, Pietersen refused to be dominated. Like a bad boy who doesn’t learn his lessons, he constantly hustled the Kiwi bowlers. Such is his agility and impetuousness that he was constantly trying out ways to score runs. Often he would meet the ball outside the line and swat or tap it into an empty spot. If a spot was plugged, he would improvise to find the gap left by the plug.

He is constantly thinking, this guy. You could see it in his eyes, constantly darting around as if trying to find answers to the many questions the bowlers raised today. If you tried hard, you could have heard his brain ticking.

Power and Competitiveness
Pietersen heavily favors the leg side in his shot production. He has an unconventional defense, but he makes up for it with hand-eye coordination, a lot of power from his shoulders and forearms and that big stride that allows him to play well forward or shimmy down to take the bowlers on the rise.

Sometimes he isn’t the prettiest to watch – especially when he resorts to those cross-batted swipes. But to call him arrogant would be a mistake. He genuinely enjoys taking on the bowlers. He is hyper-competitive. And you can see it in the way the bowlers respond to him – when they run up to deliver the ball to him, they do so on edge.

Almost every English player played the bowler and then the wicket today. Pietersen was the only top order bat who played the situation. And it was hugely absorbing to watch.

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