Beware the KP factor
Sport24 columnist Colin Bryden (File)
The Proteas had full exposure to the Kevin Pietersen factor at Headingley. He played one of the great innings of modern times – then gave the England management a huge headache at an extraordinary press conference when he said the final Test at Lord’s might be his last.
Named man of the match, Pietersen dropped the bombshell in a radio interview – then walked into a crowded press conference on his own. “I’ve got to get home. I wasn’t waiting for Strauss,” he said.
It was hardly the most polite reference to Andrew Strauss, his captain.
Pietersen confirmed his comment about an uncertain future then, after saying that he wasn’t going to make any further comment, he hinted at a litany of grievances, not least that he had been cast as the villain in leaked reports of negotiations with the England board. Pietersen was clearly angry that he had been portrayed as wanting the best of all worlds – being released to play a full Indian Premier League programme, while playing for England on his own terms.
The IPL and his availability for the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka were “just two of many points” that he needed to sort out.
It seemed a remarkable display of brinkmanship and he has put England on the spot. That he is an exceptional player is beyond doubt. Without his brilliant 149 at Headingley South Africa might well have wrapped up the series with a match to play.
Pietersen’s astonishing innings gave England a slight chance of winning themselves, although the time lost to rain during the match was always likely to be a decisive factor.
South Africa were then themselves put under pressure on an extended last afternoon, with Stuart Broad taking five wickets in a fiery spell that finally gave England hope that they might be able to bowl out South Africa twice, a minimum requirement if they are to turn the tables at Lord’s.
Graeme Smith pointed out that South Africa lost wickets in trying to force the pace, because they wanted to have a crack at the England batsmen in the second innings, which was a fair point.
South Africa’s outstanding record at Lord’s – with Smith himself having played two of his most important innings there – and their form so far in the series will give them great confidence. But they had some anxious moments, not least caused by injuries to Alviro Petersen, Jacques Kallis and Smith himself. They will all hopefully be fully fit for Lord’s.
England have the greater problems. They will have to make the running – and they will have to deal with Pietersen, who presents an age-old dilemma, that of balancing team unity with the individual ego of a player who played an innings which Allan Donald rated in the “genius” category.
Colin Bryden will be covering the England-South Africa series. He has reported on all four of South Africa’s previous tours of England since 1994.
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