Call it fate, destiny or whatever, when he walks out to toss the coin with "fellow" South African Graeme Smith at the Oval on Thursday, Kevin Pietersen will be the English captain. Interesting. Simply because five years back Michael Vaughan went to toss with Graeme Smith at the Oval and led England to a face-saving win to make sure honors were even. Trescothick scored a double ton, Graham Thorpe scored a hundred and a certain Steve Harmison snared four South African wickets in the second innings.
KP, by his own admission, was shocked to find himself the front runner for the post and we know he is not the most modest of human beings, while the ECB maintained the choice was unanimous. A job well done by the ECB by chance or choice. Increasingly I'm led to believe that this man's life is an example of great returns that great risks provide.
While signing for Nottinghamshire, thanks to Clive Rice - the top man at Notts, KP had said, "I'm not turning my back on South African cricket." But I think, every one knew he was about to. Born to an African father and an English mother, Pietersen was quick to point out that his affinity towards the 'Three Lions' stemmed from the fact that English and not Afrikaans dominated his residence. Phil Russell, the coach of Natal accepted that it was a big blow to lose the young talent from Pietermaritzburg. Having seen the rougher side of selection right from his school days, KP didn't think too much when he felt that politics could have played a part in his omission from the squad that toured South Africa in 2004. For him, if you had a brilliant first class season, you had to be drafted into the team. Period! After all, that's why he took a flight to England!
A fall out at Trent Bridge with his skipper Jason Gallian meant a move to Rosebowl. A move that was welcomed by the Australian great Shane Warne - his captain at Hampshire. I think this shift would have done him a world of good. A player and a captain who had the instincts of a gambler. Both loved to take their chances. Players who played hard and loved being in the limelight. Warne would later admit that KP was a brilliant student of the game and he picking the leggie's brains was one of the reasons why KP had a good Ashes in 2005.
As fate would have it, he was drafted into the one-day side in November 2004 against Zimbabwe and then against his country of his birth. A maiden century to boast against South Africa at Bloemfontein in just his sixth one-day international meant he became a hero in his adopted nation and a traitor in his motherland. The game itself had all the ingredients of a great contest - brilliant KP ton, good fight back by the South Africans and the contest tied!
England had lost the battle but in KP, they found a new hero that made sure the selectors took a decision that was until then associated with the Australians. A back injury and personal issues meant England was waving goodbye to Graham Thorpe - one of the better middle order batsmen they had. And in came Pietersen against the might of the Australians. No doubt his one-day performances before the Ashes would have played its part, but for England, guess it was probably THE decision of the decade. As David Graveney, the chairman of selectors put it, "This has been the most difficult decision that I have been party to in my time as a selector," Again a classic case of how the world conspires to offer you the very best. A victory in the Ashes meant Vaughan and Duncan Fletcher would be hailed for tactical brilliance while the pace battery and KP were hailed as match winners.
With Vaughan missing out due to injury, English captaincy was a bit of a musical chair with Strauss and Flintoff all part of the play. To be fair to Flintoff, guess the burden was just too much. He was expected to create magic with almost nothing. The management and the fans were expecting a touch of Midas in Freddie almost every time. That's when the burden of being an all-rounder seemed to weigh him down in every sense of the word. His body let him down and Vaughan didn't appreciate his talisman letting his hair down in the West Indies at the back of a loss in the world cup. Strauss had his own issues with the bat and Tresco meanwhile had succumbed to a mysterious illness. England seemed to meander. The best days of Fletcher and Vaughan seemed to be a thing of the past.
A decision by Vaughan to step down as the captain could not have been on the basis of this series loss to South Africa. I'm sure he had seen it coming over a point in time. With Collingwood following suit to make sure he attended to his form, I think KP was really the choice for ECB. From the days when drafting him to the English test squad being the toughest decision to the day when making him captain was a "unanimous" choice, life has come a full circle for KP and those next to him at the ECB. It will help KP that Freddie is no more burdened with the weight of expectations.
Collingwood has promised to be a better batsman and Vaughan, after a comeback will have the time to rethink his pull and cover drive.
In Peter Moores and KP we have an interesting combination. While the former swears by his excel sheet, the latter loves to choose his horses. Again, it's a gamble for the ECB. Time will tell us what sort of captain KP would be but my guess is he will be portraying a new face of English cricket. And that's not too bad at all. His bigger goal will be the Ashes, no doubt but his immediate plans will be the English tour of India. And that by no means is a walk in the park. It's not a do-or-die situation, but the English press will make sure a defeat is the end of the world. Everyone will be tempted to attend the post match pressers for sure. Good luck to KP.
Not many cricket matches are decided by the spin of a coin. But decisions have to be taken after the coin falls to the ground. KP's life has been about decisions - by him or for him.
More about Radhakrishnan Sreenivasan
S Radhakrishnan, better known as RK, is a sports freak. After dabbling in the world of Physics at the Madras Christian College, he did his Masters in Business Administration from Mumbai. Working in a corporate world didn’t suit him and he decided to enter the world of journalism. During his stint with ESPN Star Sports, RK covered the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2003, before moving on to join NEO Sports as their prime anchor. He is now the face of NEO Prime and NEO Sports.
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