HOOK SHOT: The World T20 is underway and the county cricket season is just a few weeks away at The Oval. So, we need to talk about Kevin…
MARCUS HOOK opens the batting on a new column
Even if Kevin Pietersen remains true to his word and sits out the 2016 county cricket season, Surrey will head into this summer’s NatWest T20 Blast as firm favourites.
When Twenty20 cricket took off well over a decade ago, it fitted Surrey’s brand of cricket at the time like a well-worn batsman’s glove, with innovative captain Adam Hollioake pulling the strings, Alistair Brown given even more licence to play his shots and Saqlain Mushtaq’s “doosra” undoing batsmen for whom waiting for the bad ball was no longer an option. Even Mark Ramprakash revealed another side to his game. In 2016, that “fit” is looking very good, and there’s still a possibility (albeit an outside one) that Pietersen could be part of it.
The former England captain’s dream of ever playing again for his adopted country now seems certain to remain unfulfilled. A year ago there was the suggestion that if Pietersen made runs in county cricket while playing for Surrey, then the England door would be eased ajar again. . He went out and hit an unbeaten 355 against Leicestershire in the County Championship.
Point made, KP was then told by Andrew Strauss (the England and Wales Cricket Board’s director of England cricket) that it didn’t quite work like that.
Pietersen’s detractors dismissed the significance of his big innings. It was only in Division Two, after all, and any big score against perennial strugglers Leicestershire was cheap runs. This all conveniently ignored the fact that the next best on the Surrey batting card was Kumar Sangakkara’s knock of 36.
And it can’t always have been so easy against Leicestershire: Pietersen’s was the first time an England-qualified batsman had hit a triple century against them since 1905. Ally Brown – a man who knows only too well how it feels to be on the outside of the England camp looking in – came within touching distance when he struck an unbeaten 295 against Leicestershire at Oakham School in 2000.
But as yet, it seems, Pietersen himself does not know how he wants to play it during the 2016 English summer. In January, he said, “I feel I am in the best form of my life.”
But then he wrote recently ahead of the new season: “I will not be playing county cricket. Unfortunately, I find the NatWest Blast is spread over too long a time for me to get any consistency.”
KP is a Marmite figure even among the Surrey faithful. His critics at The Oval point to his T20 record for the Brown Caps. Pietersen, who will be 36 next birthday, averages just 23.20 runs per innings for the club in the format. In 21 Twenty20 innings for the south Londoners, Pietersen is yet to score a 50. What also needs to be considered, though, is that the bulk of KP’s appearances for Surrey, two years ago, coincided with a troublesome knee.
His knee fixed, his form elsewhere has been much better, as he has globetrotted on the lucrative T20 circuit, where his earnings are estimated to be around $1 million a year.
Since both he and Surrey hobbled out at the semi-final stage of the English short-form series in 2014, Pietersen has racked up 1,527 T20 runs at an average of 41.27 for a combination of the Melbourne Stars, the St Lucia Zouks, the Dolphins and the Quetta Gladiators, including a brace of back-to-back unbeaten hundreds last November.
England rugby union head coach Eddie Jones said, only this week, in reference to the likes of Pietersen and Chris Gayle: “In any one team you can have one outlier who’s a bit different and has a bit more freedom because of his unique talent.”
Yet in the middle of the World T20 in which England will still struggle to go the distance unless South Africa beat the West Indies convincingly tomorrow, Pietersen is reduced to commenting on social media about the hardness of butter.
Kevin Pietersen is not the only notable absentee from England’s T20 squad – James Anderson and Stuart Broad popped up in the SkySports studio the other day to perform pundit duty. Unlike KP, however, no one is expecting them tell it like it is if there’s even the slightest risk of upsetting a mate.
Surrey remains close to Pietersen’s heart, even after the departure of his mentor Graham Ford, their highly-rated, now former head coach. Certainly, Pietersen is never far away from Kennington: it has not gone unnoticed that the video clips for KP’s column on the Telegraph website are being filmed in the Committee Room at The Oval.
There’s still a glint of opportunity for Pietersen to play cricket in England this summer. KP is committed to playing in the Indian Premier League and the Caribbean Premier League, but there is a gap between the two when he would be at a loose end – from the beginning of June to about July 10. Surrey have seven T20 fixtures in that time.
Should Pietersen change his mind, his involvement in the NatWest T20 Blast would represent the icing on the cake given Surrey’s winter recruitment campaign, which has bagged them the services of three of the biggest names in T20 cricket – namely Dwayne Bravo (West Indies), Aaron Finch (Australia) and Chris Morris (South Africa), and they also have the returning Sangakkara.
Okay, so only two overseas players can play at once, but Twenty20 cricket is now at the core of The Oval’s business model. Last year, 117,603 punters packed into the Kia Oval mainly on Friday nights between May and July to watch Surrey in the T20 Blast – an average of 19,601 and an increase of 26 per cent on 2014.
Consequently, the club is about to announce a record annual profit for 2015-2016. And who’s to say that the pulling – and hooking – power of Kevin Pietersen couldn’t help to improve on those figures in the next financial year?
- Marcus Hook has reported on Surrey county cricket since 2000. Last year, his column for the South London Press was commended in the ECB’s County Cricket Journalism Awards
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