Left field

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Does sporting immortality still beckon for Pietersen?

August 25, 2010

CRICKET/A casual remark from Pakistan fast bowler Wahab Riaz last week illustrated how swiftly life moves on in elite sport.

Riaz was asked which of the five England wickets he had captured in his test debut at the Oval had given him the most satisfaction.

The answer was not Kevin Pietersen, England’s premier batsman with more than 5,000 test runs and 16 centuries. Instead Riaz nominated Eoin Morgan, scorer of 234 runs with one century.

Even six months ago such a statement would have seemed inconceivable.

One transcendent innings at Lord’s in the final test against Pakistan this week would silence the doubters but something is clearly something amiss with Pietersen, who has not scored a test century since March last year. He dropped out of the 2009 Ashes series with injury and averages 28 in the current series against Pakistan, including 80 at Edgbaston where he was dropped three times.

The decline dates back to the start of last year when Pietersen, then the England captain, called for the removal of coach Peter Moores before a series in the Caribbean. Moores did go but Pietersen, misreading the implications of his stance in a highly political role, also lost his job.

Pietersen is currently without a county, finding the demands of playing for Hampshire incompatible with his decision to live in the upmarket west London suburb of Chelsea. It is an instability that has marked his cricket career.

He quit his native South Africa to seek his fortune in England, citing a racial quota system he controversially claimed was hampering his career.

A contract with Nottinghamshire began brightly before ending in acrimony and he opted to decamp to Hampshire. Due to his international commitments he has not made played a championship at their home ground since 2005 and announced in June he wanted to leave.

In 2008, Pietersen was named as England captain, celebrating with a century against South Africa at the Oval, only to be ignominiously sacked early in the following over the Moores issue.

Pietersen’s meteoric trajectory recalls the rise of another South African, Tony Greig, an accomplished all-rounder in the 1970s who also sought fame and fortune in England. Greig ascended to the English captaincy before he was sacked for recruiting players for Kerry Packer’s rebel world series. He did not play test cricket again and has lived in Australia since.

Pietersen is only 30, a prime age for an international batsman. He was the player of the tournament at the Twenty20 World Cup in the Caribbean this year and still averages a healthy 48.23 in test cricket.

But does sporting immortality still beckon for a player who scored more runs in his first 25 tests than any other batsman aside from Don Bradman? Will the grind of test cricket without the glamour and high profile of the captaincy be fulfilling?

Could his future ultimately lie in the Indian Premier League?

PHOTO: England’s Kevin Pietersen hits out during the third cricket test match against Pakistan at the Oval in London August 20, 2010. REUTERS/Philip Brown

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