Smiles better: Pietersen departs after falling to Lyon at the WACA
Kevin Pietersen has recently been in the spotlight once again, although for all the wrong reasons on this occasion, and yet those who blame the mercurial batsman for England’s humiliating Ashes loss are picking the wrong target.
Headlines such as the Independent’s "Kevin Pietersen recklessness sees Australia tighten grip on the urn" have been all the rage these past few days as England lost the third Test to Australia by 150 runs at the WACA, and with it the Ashes, too, for the first time since 2006/07.
In fact, such has been the complete and utter focus on just one man’s foibles that it has been hard not to escape the conclusion that the 33-year-old has been solely responsible for single-handedly surrendering possession of the urn back to Australia.
In particular, though, it was the nature of KP’s second-innings dismissal in Perth that appears to have really stuck in some people’s throats, after the Surrey batsman was caught at deep long-on attempting to hit off-spinner Nathan Lyon for a maximum as England battled in vain to save the Test—and with it the series, too.
However, if ever the saying "A leopard never change its spots" applies to one person, then it is Pietersen.
He has been playing in this carefree fashion ever since his very first Test appearance for England against Australia at Lord’s back in 2005, when he smashed 57 from 89 balls, followed by an unbeaten 64 from just 79 deliveries.
And not much has really changed since in the following 102 Tests that the South Africa-born batsman has played for his adopted country, with Pietersen often veering wildly from the sublime to the ridiculous—sometimes even in the space of the same over.
"I can understand the frustration some people felt about the manner of his dismissal, caught at long-on off Nathan Lyon," wrote former England captain Nasser Hussain in his Daily Mail column on Monday.
"But I’ve said it before: you are not going to change the way Kevin Pietersen plays. It’s too late in his career for that."
However, what Pietersen should be severely criticised for is the repetitive manner in which he was dismissed in the openings two Test matches: On both occasions, in Brisbane and then again in Adelaide, the England No. 4 was caught by one of two mid-wickets specifically positioned by Australia captain Michael Clarke for such an indiscretion.
Now, to be seen off once in such a fashion may be considered foolish, but then to repeat the mistake in the very next match is sheer folly bordering on arrogance from the Surrey player, a fact not lost on Test Match Special summariser Geoffrey Boycott.
"Irresponsible. He got out twice like that in Brisbane," said the ex-England opener in the Mail.
"They didn't give him anything to hit for 12 balls - he got two outside edges only - and what does he do, he can't resist from whipping, not even off his legs, from off-stump to two men waiting for it in the box."
And Boycott is absolutely right—a player of Pietersen’s experience and seniority in the team should be setting a far better example to his younger, impressionable team-mates than being lured into the same leg-side trap twice in succession.
However, as Hussain also noted, it would be counter-productive for England suddenly to ask KP to stop playing in the same attacking vein in which he batted in the second innings in Perth, when he looked the best he has done all series in making 45 from just 57 balls.
"Personally, I’d rather he played like that – in the way he has played while scoring more than 8,000 Test runs for his country,” wrote Hussain, who makes a pertinent point that this is, after all, a player who has just become the youngest and fastest to reach that landmark for England, while also being recently labelled as "the best England player I have seen in 30 years" by one-time England skipper Mike Atherton.
And when you consider that Pietersen is invariably both the first and last player out of the nets in training, while at the same time being renowned for his ferocious work-rate, then perhaps the finger of blame for the predicament that England currently find themselves in should be pointed elsewhere.
For one thing, Pietersen is hardly the only senior player to have failed with the bat on this tour, with the likes of captain Alastair Cook, No. 3 Jonathan Trott (before his unfortunate departure) and vice-captain Matt Prior having all also been way below their best in the series so far.
Meanwhile, other key figures in each of England’s previous three Ashes victories, bowlers James Anderson and Graeme Swann, have both desperately struggled to recapture even a semblance of that form in Australia, although sometimes the opposition just does not allow you to play to the best of your best abilities.
However, there is no shame at all in holding your hands up and admitting that the best team won, and deservedly so, and there can be no doubting whatsoever that in this series Australia have finally decided to bring their A game to the table—and none more so than opener David Warner and left-arm paceman Mitchell Johnson.
Is Pietersen to blame for England's Ashes loss?
Now England may have won the previous Ashes 3-0 on home soil last summer, but that final scoreline greatly flattered Cook’s side, while at the same time also serving to paper over a number or cracks in the team that Australia, in particular with the help of men-of-the-series Johnson and Warner, have now horribly exposed for all to see.
So simply singling KP out for the events of the past three-and-a-half weeks is just too easy and convenient a way of explaining what has gone wrong this winter, when, in actual fact, the flamboyant batsman is just one of a number of factors behind England’s limp surrendering of the urn.