Kevin Pietersen might not be everyone's cup of tea, but he played innings for England that very few could

Kevin Pietersen played some of the great innings of the modern era in an England shirt. (AFP)
Updated 18 March 2018
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Kevin Pietersen might not be everyone's cup of tea, but he played innings for England that very few could

BANGLAORE: Years from now, if someone asks you how good Kevin Pietersen the batsman was, you need only show them a 30-second clip as your answer. It is from the fractious summer of 2012, and a series against South Africa that would cast a long shadow over the rest of his international career.
The visitors won by an innings at The Oval, with Dale Steyn taking five for 56 in the second innings. At Headingley, facing a South Africa total of 419, Pietersen played one of the finest innings of his career, 149 off just 214 balls. One stroke exemplified his dominance. Steyn, then in his prime, dropped one short. Pietersen barely moved from his stance while swatting the ball through midwicket for four.
Contemptuous doesn’t even begin to describe it. Imperious. Regal. Dismissive. But the highlight of the footage is not the shot itself. It’s the sight of an incredulous Steyn walking back to his bowling mark, muttering. The body language is telling. It is like he is asking himself: “How do I bowl to this bloke?”
Three of the hundreds Pietersen made that year, including the Headingley one, may never be bettered by an England batsman. At the P Sara Oval in Colombo that April, on a pitch where the average run rate was well below three, he smashed 151 off 165 balls, with 16 fours and six sixes. Then, with England chasing 94 for a series-leveling win, he came out and thumped 42 off 28.
At the end of the year, England were in India. They lost the first Test in Ahmedabad, and Cheteshwar Pujara’s doughty century then took India to 327 on a raging turner in Mumbai. Expert commentators and veteran journalists alike reckoned England would struggle to get anywhere close to that total, with R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha having the ball on a string.
When Pietersen arrived at the crease, England had eked out 68 for two in 34 overs. By the time, he was sixth out for 186 (233 balls), they had added a further 314 at four an over. Pietersen’s drives, cuts, flicks, sweeps and reverse sweeps utterly destroyed the bowlers’ confidence, and England went on to win both the Test and the series.
Yet, less than 14 months later, he had played his last Test for England, tallying three and six in Sydney as England lost the Ashes 5-0 for the second time in seven years. He was a convenient scapegoat, especially given his behavior during the series loss against South Africa in 2012. His description of Andrew Strauss, his then captain, as a "doos" [an extremely unflattering Afrikaans word] in a text message sent to the South African camp ensured that his relationship with the rest of the dressing room was a tenuous one. Though a few players stuck up for him after he was axed, there was no mutinous mood over the jettisoning of England’s most captivating batsman.

That tended to be a theme wherever he played. When he left South Africa as a young man, convinced that the transformation policies would stymie his progress, the general response was ‘Good riddance’. You heard the same thing from his teammates at Nottinghamshire, where he made all the runs that got him into the England reckoning.
Some though would argue that the abrasiveness was a self-protective shell. Michael Vaughan, his captain during that famous Ashes summer of 2005 when he made both his debut and his name, certainly thought so. In an interview with The Guardian after the urn had been won back, Vaughan said: “KP is not a confident person. He obviously has great belief in his ability, but that's not quite the same thing. I know KP wants to be loved. I try to text him and talk to him as often as I can because I know he is insecure.”
With Pietersen, what you saw was seldom what you got. He was a master at saying the right things to the right people. In December 2008, a few weeks after terror attacks in Mumbai left hundreds dead and wounded, India chased down 387 in Chennai against an England side led by him. At the press conference, Pietersen was charm personified, calling Sachin Tendulkar "Superman" and making all the right noises about India and its people.
A few months later, he went for $1.55 million at the IPL auction. But in nearly a decade, he played just 36 IPL games, and none at all after 2016. The franchises thought him box-office, and he played the odd innings that proved as much, but you could never escape the impression that he hated the goldfish-bowl atmosphere of the IPL.
The last four years have been a blur of Twenty20 games across continents, most of the innings forgotten by the next morning. But what will endure, despite all the controversy, is his body of work with England. Just think back to that Lord’s debut — the six over long-off against Glenn McGrath, the soaring clip over midwicket off Shane Warne, and the Brett Lee short ball that landed up on a balcony.
He may not have been everyone’s cup of Tetley tea, but Pietersen could play. Like few others ever have.


Jose Mourinho’s sacking leaves the ‘Special One’ at a career crossroads

Updated 18 December 2018
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Jose Mourinho’s sacking leaves the ‘Special One’ at a career crossroads

  • Since the middle of last season, Mourinho had been involved in a power struggle with senior members of the playing squad
  • A string of uninspiring performances since the season started saw Mourinho come in for criticism from all sides

LONDON: Five years after being snubbed for the Manchester United job immediately after the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho has once again been unceremoniously rejected by the club after two-and-a-half fractious and tumultuous years at the helm.
And the truth is, it was an inevitable divorce.
Since the middle of last season, Mourinho had been involved in a power struggle with senior members of the playing squad, openly criticized board members for a lack of backing in the transfer window and the majority of fans had started to turn on the so-called “Special One” and his tactics.
And while they would never do so publicly, no doubt several of the players who had fallen foul of Mourinho’s wrath were privately breathing a sigh of relief when the club announced that Mourinho had left the club with “immediate effect” on Tuesday.
Indeed, the player Mourinho clashed with the most — £89 million ($112 million) midfielder Paul Pogba — deleted a controversial social media post of himself smiling after the news broke.
That controversy was a microcosm of the French World Cup winner’s stormy relationship with Mourinho.
But the former Juventus player, who retuned to Manchester United having already been with the club during the Ferguson era, was repeatedly criticized by Mourinho during his reign and Pogba was stripped of the United vice-captaincy earlier this season.
The pair were captured having a frosty exchange on the training ground as Mourinho grew angry with his key midfielder’s lethargic performances, dropping him on several occasions to spark talk he would be sold by the end of the season.
And even on the pitch, the writing has been on the wall for a while.
A string of uninspiring performances since the season started saw Mourinho come in for criticism from all sides, as the Portuguese became more and more embittered and paranoid in his dealings with the media.
The final straw for the club was Sunday’s 3-1 defeat to Liverpool, who United usurped as the biggest club in England under Ferguson’s 27-year reign. And the Scot was seen shaking his head as he watched his dynasty unravel in front of his eyes at the hands of United’s bitterest of rivals.
While the Merseyside club battle it out for the Premier League title with Manchester City and Tottenham — all playing a refreshing, exciting brand of football — United find themselves 19 points adrift of the summit and struggling to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
Mourinho’s stagnant, defensive approach jarred with supporters, some of whom have only known the rampant attack-minded approach the club used to such devastating efficacy under Ferguson.
Mourinho was brought in to bring back those glory days after David Moyes and then Dutchman Louis van Gaal struggled to step out of Ferguson’s shadow.
And despite first-season League Cup and Europa League titles, he has failed miserably since. And he has bought himself little good grace with fans and officials, finding new excuses and ways to blame each latest defeat on his players, while ungraciously reminding critics of previous successes at Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid.
But this ignominious end for Mourinho in what he called his “dream job” leaves him at a crossroads in his career. Few clubs will have been inspired by his playing style with a highly-talented team, even fewer will want to deal with the off-field tantrums and constant bickering.
Having arrived in English football as a breath of fresh air, he leaves it (for now) like a foul odor. With the prospect of no club to manage, no trophies to win and no teams to build, Mourinho is now much less the “Special One,” and more and more likely to be the “Tainted One.”