Every so often in cricket there comes a bowler that appears untouchable. It is not through talent or training – it is an intangible aura. Dale Steyn has it. He imposes himself on batsmen, so much that when you consider his prodigious ability to control the ball, it becomes impossible to believe that he could be beaten comprehensively – yet it happened at the hands of Kevin Pietersen.
It was an unstable time for the adopted Englishman. South Africa led 1-0 entering the second test at Headingley. Earlier in 2012 Pietersen had blazed to a magnificent 151 against Sri Lanka filled with improvisation and enterprise, but his past heroics were long forgotten. There were mocking parody tweets flying around that he suspected were masterminded by teammates. There were text messages concerning tactics that he’d sent to opposition players. There was a growing sense of distrust between the players in the English dressing room and a rift slowly emerged. The ominous cloud that hung over Pietersen grew darker by the day as the public and media weighed in on the fiasco. He was a man under siege. His future was on the line when he strode out to bat on day three.
Pietersen is a maverick that can play innings of a brutal nature when the mood strikes him. There are always warning signs beforehand, like the earthy smell of rain before a storm. There were a few shots here and there, but he was sedate at first – then he stood tall on the front foot, crashing an out-swinging Steyn delivery through the covers with contempt. You could sense the storm brewing. He swiftly struck his half-century before unleashing his wrath late in the day.
First he stood still and swatted the ball to the midwicket boundary with a baseball swing. Then he carved it through the covers and a smile snuck onto the face of Steyn. Perhaps it was all part of his grand plan. At the other end, Kallis replaced Morkel only to be met with an advancing Pietersen, who breezily lofted over the onside field. There was a ferocious cut through point followed by an imperious straight drive. He was on song. He happily skipped down the wicket to take a single, in doing so bringing up his hundred – his emotions were finally unleashed with a leaping, screaming celebration that made clear how much he wanted to succeed.
He nearly decapitated Steyn with a crunch off the front foot and as the South African made his way back to his mark, he looked unsettled – a forgivable offense considering the speed in which the leather passed his skull. He went shorter and Pietersen lazily lent on his back foot and dismissed the delivery like a king would his servant. It was pure disdain. The cameras focused on the bowler under fire as he briskly walked away from his superior – he was shaking his head. There was disbelief on his face. There were no more arrows in the quiver – he was helpless. When the next ball was violently belted back over his head for six, the muscles in his face were taut and his lips thin. Dale Steyn was being annihilated and had no answer. He was defeated.
It is a reflection on the nature of Pietersen that he was out second ball the next morning. The crowd had packed into Headingley expecting the massacre to continue, but it was not to be. Perhaps he didn’t feel up to it – he certainly had on day three, but by day four he was in a different mood. He smiled when the umpire raised his finger and marched off the field without any emotion. There is no way to predict what will happen with Pietersen. Usually he is classy, sometimes he is placid and on occasion he is absolutely unstoppable.
For a man who revels in the increased attention, the summer of 2013 was a relatively quiet affair. He was subdued, well contained by a persistent Australian bowling attack. He made an unusually sedate 64 of 150 balls at Trent Bridge, failed with 2 and 5 at Lord’s, made 113 of the most responsible runs of his career at Old Trafford, then made no impact at Chester-le-Street. His first-innings 50 from 133 balls at The Oval was unbearably slow for a man with his aggressive tendencies. His second-innings 64 was a glimpse of times of old – he had the license to attack in what was a frantic run chase, taking his runs at more than a run a ball. His innings took England to what could have been the unlikeliest of victories, the result denied only by poor light, but it was hardly the swashbuckling century that the fans craved.
The return series in Australia could be what Pietersen has been waiting for. He might explode – then again, he might not. When he does, he strips the bowling of its dignity and clubs it wherever he wants. He becomes an untouchable deity that controls the game like no other can. We may not have seen it in England, but the potential is always there. Pietersen is unique, a man with an unparalleled ability to turn matches and a fearless disposition. He is a rare gift, and modern cricket fans may never again witness a man of his ilk.
Image Source: The Times