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

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.

Riz Rehman is the man with a plan to ensure Premier League passion is Muslim-friendly

Updated 22 September 2018

Riz Rehman is the man with a plan to ensure Premier League passion is Muslim-friendly

  • Mohamed Salah's record-breaking season has focused attention on the Premier League's Muslim players and fans.
  • Past three players to win Player of the Year have all been Muslim.

LONDON: The face of English football has changed unimaginably since the start of the Premier League in 1992 — not least in terms of the number of Muslim footballers plying their trade in the most popular league in the world.
Twenty-six years ago, Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Nayim was the league’s only practicing Muslim. Fast forward to 2018 and there are now more than 40 Muslim players gracing England’s top flight — many of them global stars such as Mohamed Salah, Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante. 
This is a hugely welcome development for the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) and its education adviser, Riz Rehman, who is himself a Muslim. 
Rehman’s role involves him supporting players of different backgrounds — including Muslims — and aiming to boost their participation in football. Little wonder, then, that he is delighted that the past three winners of the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award were all Muslim — Salah, Kante and Riyad Mahrez. 
“It’s great for the Muslim community — young people, players, aspiring players and coaches — that three Muslims have won this award and that two of them (Salah and Mahrez) are Arabs,” Rehman told Arab News. 
“It’s very important because it’s created more awareness about Muslims being good at the game and sport in general. It’s important we highlight this.” 
Leading Muslim footballers’ soaring success and stardom have coincided with rising Islamaphobic attacks in Britain following the Brexit vote in 2016. Regressive attitudes toward race, religion and immigration have raged in some parts of the country, as Rehman acknowledged. 
“The biggest misconceptions are that Muslims are all terrorists or that they are all Asian and have long beards,” he said. “Isolated incidents are giving Muslims a bad name.” 
Mercifully for Rehman and the PFA, the likes of Salah and Kante are portraying Muslims in a far more positive — and realistic — light on and off the pitch. 
During his sublime 2017-18 season, Liverpool star Salah topped the Premier League goal-scoring charts with 32 goals and reached the Champions League final. His unstinting brilliance led to him being serenaded with his own song by Liverpool fans, which includes the line: “If he scores another few, then I’ll be a Muslim too.” 

Mohamed Salah has created a positive image of Muslims during his record-breaking year in the Premier League. 

Many social media posts and videos showing young supporters copying the Egyptian maestro’s overtly religious goal celebration have also been posted many times. This involves him performing sujood, the Islamic art of prostration. 
“Things like that are really helping to bring down barriers in the game,” Rehman said. 
Likewise, he cites the fact that Salah and his Liverpool teammate, Sadio Mane, visit a mosque every week after training for Jumu’ah, the Friday prayer. 
Meanwhile, only last Saturday the humbleness of Chelsea’s irrepressible midfielder Kante — who has two Premier League winners’ medals and one FA Cup success to his name — was widely hailed. 
After missing his Eurostar train to Paris, Kante — who achieved World Cup glory with France in July — was invited home for dinner by Arsenal fan Badlur Rahman Jalil after meeting him while praying at a London mosque. Remarkably, Kante duly obliged and spent the evening watching Match of the Day and playing the FIFA video game with Jalil and his friends. 
“People are more aware that we have Muslim players in the game,” Rehman said. “Players are not afraid to come out and embrace the fact that they are Muslims and showing the world that they’re good people.” 
But are the PFA — and clubs in the Premier League and England in general — doing enough to increase Muslim representation in English football? 
“I think things are better than ever. A lot of clubs are working hard on all-inclusive programs,” replied Rehman, who was a promising youth-team player at Brentford before injury cut short his career at the age of 17 in 2000. 
“We deliver workshops aimed at club staff to educate them about better engaging Muslim communities. We get staff and coaches together and tell them more about Islam, what it involves and discuss Ramadan and how it might affect performance and participation at all levels. 
“On the back of that, hopefully clubs will deliver programs around the needs of the community. There are clubs like Crystal Palace who are looking to deliver Asian-specific programs to get more Asian kids playing football, more Asian coaches and look at the Muslim community as well.” 
Rehman himself helped organized an Iftar event at League One outfit Portsmouth earlier this year, which “went really well.” 
“We also had players come along to support the day. Clubs such as Crystal Palace, Leicester City and a few others are showing an interest in holding similar events next season. 
“Leicester City are a club with a massive Asian community and we are supporting them with trying to set up some programs.” 
Also high on Rehman’s agenda is encouraging more BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) coaches into the game. As well as sitting on the advisory group for the Premier Leagues Elite Coach Apprenticeship Scheme, one key program he is involved in is “Sidelined-to-Sidelines.”

N'Golo Kante has been one of the best players in England's top-flight since he moved to the Premier League three years ago. 

This was established by the Zesh Rehman Foundation — which was set up by his brother, a former Fulham defender — to address a shortage of qualified South Asian coaches. 
“We are setting up sessions to try and recruit young coaches at clubs like Crystal Palace, QPR and Chelsea,” Rehman revealed. “Coaches wearing those club badges become role models and are able to influence their own communities and encourage more kids (from under-represented ethnicities) to take up the game.” 
Rehman is keen to recruit more Muslim “ambassadors” at clubs “up and down the country” to emulate the likes of the inspirational Salah. 
“We want them to work with the community, local groups, mosques, and get players to actually go into those communities and build links with the clubs. It’s a two-way thing.” 
Progress has also been made in attracting more Muslim supporters to Premier League matches, Rehman added. Liverpool and Brighton and Hove Albion are among the clubs that have multi-faith prayer rooms to cater for their increasingly diverse fanbases, he said. 
“Some clubs sell halal food, too, so there’s something for everyone.
“It’s a worldwide game now. Mo Salah has reached out to a lot of people. I think Muslim communities themselves have to make an effort to go to matches. 
“It’s not an overnight success, but you do see different communities represented on match days, week in and week out.”