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The Prodigal Son

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Ten years ago Kevin Pietersen was dropped from the provincial side Natal in his native South Africa due to their 'racial quota system' despite his obvious promising talent. The decision left Pietersen disillusioned and inspired him to elope to England and join county side Nottinghamshire the following season.

"I was dropped because the quota system was brought into South African cricket to positively discriminate in favour of 'players of colour' and to fast-track the racial integration of cricket in the country," he said. "To me, every single person in this world needs to be treated exactly the same and that should have included me, as a promising 20-year-old cricketer. If you do well you should play on merit. That goes for any person of any colour. It was heartbreaking."

His decision was soon vindicated when, after impressing in county cricket for four years, he qualified for England and immediately joined their One Day squad for the tour of Zimbabwe. Pietersen was an immediate success, averaging 104 in his debut series and then 151, including three centuries, on the following tour, ironically of South Africa.

KP's sparkling limited overs displays earned him a test debut against Australia in the following series, thereby ending the career of England stalwart Graham Thorpe. It was this series in which Pietersen's national conversion seemed complete. With a three lions tattoo branded on his bicep he hit the most significant innings of the match, scoring 158 against one of the greatest bowling attacks ever assembled, to ensure that England regained the Ashes.

Over the next three years Pietersen honed his talent, flair and charisma and with an average of over fifty runs per inning he was without doubt one of the world's best players. KP became synonymous with aggressive, 'no-fear' cricket and this was perhaps why he was chosen to captain his adopted country in August 2008, following the resignation of Michael Vaughan. It was hoped that this attitude would filter through to the rest of the England squad, bringing out the best in their collective talents. Ironically though, it was these same qualities that brought about his downfall. By serving an ultimatum to the ECB, namely that if Head Coach Peter Moores was not sacked he would himself resign, Pietersen made his position untenable.

But Pietersen did not just lose the captaincy in the incident, he seemed to lose the support of the media who it seemed were supporting him by default because of his value to the team. The media had long been itching to get on his back, but criticism could only be fueled by 'failing' to convert scores in the 90s into century scores by playing over-attacking strokes. In this incident there was, at last, a tangible manifestation of Pietersen's fatal flaw, his arrogance.

Pietersen is too complex to be simply labeled as arrogant, he is a cricketer that needs to be loved. When he lost the support of the media and may be the nation, the thin layer of arrogance protecting the batsman was stripped away, revealing a fallible insecure individual underneath.

In the twenty tests since losing the captaincy, Pietersen has averaged 42.89 scoring only one century, an inferior record compared his previous 45 tests in which he scored fifteen centuries at 50.48. His ODI performances tell a similar story. In the same period his overall average has dropped from 48.36 to 42.16 and he has failed to add to his seven centuries. In short, Pietersen has transformed from a world-class batsman to a distinctly mediocre one.

Pietersen may have been vindicated in his assertion, that Peter Moores was holding the England cricket team back, by the substantial successes of coach Andy Flower and captain Andy Strauss; but for this he has received no credit, His sacrifice, unintentional though it was, has gone largely unnoticed. Instead Pietersen was vilified to an extent from which his ego has never recovered.

His career is far from over, and by the end he may well have won back English hearts, especially should he perform well in this winter's ashes. But for the moment he is falling and falling fast. And there may be a part of him that wishes he had remained in South Africa.




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