Kevin Pietersen has proven the doubters wrong and taken the captaincy of England by storm, winning both the final test against South Africa, scoring a century on debut and thrashing the tourists in the one- day series 4-0.
This was not only vindication for the selectors decision to hand the position left by Michael Vaughn’s to the soft speaking South African, but also lays a platform for which England can step confidently towards the coming series against the West Indies and next year’s Ashes series at home.
From his early days it was clear that Pietersen, a fabulously talented and broad shouldered player was always going to need some trust to be put in him for him to reach his potential.
On his debut series against the Australians in 2005, the brash, raw talented Pietersen struggled to cope with the intensity of the test match arena in a series that garnered attention across the cricketing world.
His obvious talent was clear for all to see, not least the match saving 158 he hit on the final day of the Oval test to win the series. The brutality to the experienced Australian bowling attack of the day, Warne and McGrath included was awesome, almost insouciant to the legacy that the Australians spent more than a decade developing together.
But for all his brilliance with the pads on, Pietersen failed frequently with his concentration in the field throughout the series, typified by his failure to hold a single catch in the series, dropping half a dozen, some embarrassingly simple for an international cricketer.
His over the top persona, huge mo-hawk included, belied a gentle man, who was just on the cusp of discovering just how good he was going to be a little over awed with the tension around him.
It wasn’t for another year that he started to settle into his position in the team, moving from becoming a pinch hitter to an established force in the middle order, improving his techniques and concentration to the point where he was regularly taking apart the best bowlers in the world and moving his average beyond the magical 50 mark and more frequently into the centuries.
England must have been hard pressed to announce the very un- English sounding player to be captain of the national team, especially coming on the heals of North Yorkshireman Vaughn, much loved and very cricket astute cricketer who won the ashes. But it was not unprecendented, with another South African born Tony Greig captaining in the 70’s.
Apparently weighing heavily in his favour was playing in the one-day and test teams (anyone think he wouldn´t make the 20-20 as well if it was regular?). But national selector Geoff Miller has pulled a master stroke in recognising the ability of his charge to take the pressure off other key players who have struggled under the pressure of captaincy in recent years.
He will continually set the benchmark for performances from other team members particularly Andrew Flintoff, who has struggled to cope with the expectation heaped on him to excel when he has been fit.
Ian Botham claims the Pietersen era is likely to be the making of him and expects him to improve his average into the 60-70’s range because of it, not despite of it. This larger than life personality now has a voice and a platform to impose himself on.
With the respect of the management and the backing of the team he will lead England into the future years with bright prospects. There is a breath of fresh air for the future of English cricket. It will bring out the best in Pietersen and that is something other nations will not want to hear.
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