One of the attractions of the Big Bash has been the calibre of international stars.
Kevin Pietersen played for the Melbourne Stars last summer, one of the many Twenty20 domestic competitions he’s involved in. Viewed by many as “The Walking Ego”, KP turned skeptical public opinion with on-field runs and off-field charm. He’s back for the 2015/16 Big Bash.
Flashback to November 2013 and the return leg of the 10-Test Ashes marathon. KP was haunted by an ongoing knee injury and repressed by a toxic, bullying dressing room led by coach Andy Flower. While England lost 5-0, KP was England’s highest run scorer with 294 at 29.40, narrowly behind Ben Stokes (34.87) in batting averages. The fact KP was such a high achiever with relatively mediocre figures said a lot about England’s horror campaign.
The Sydney Test was KP’s last, a public scapegoat for the massive loss. Graeme Swann –struggling with an elbow injury – quit Test cricket after the WACA loss as KP stuck around, delaying necessary knee surgery to tough it out for his adopted country. KP did everything to play for England, even going through the humiliating “reintegration” process in 2012.
Of course, there was no sympathy among Aussie fans. While Stuart Broad was the pantomime villain for the crowd, KP wasn’t far behind.
KP’s signing for the Melbourne Stars could have been viewed cynically, ‘Look, the Walking Ego’s strolling into our comp after the Poms dumped him. I betcha he fails!’
Right from the start, KP showed the controversy-plagued “Walking Ego” would be left in the tabloids. He made an immediate impact with the bat, scoring 66 against Adelaide in the tournament opener, albeit in a losing cause. He followed it up with 25 in the Melbourne derby in January, and 54 at the MCG two days later, helping the Stars reach 150 then win in the Super Over. He scored 49 in the second Melbourne derby and scored an unbeaten 67 in the eight wicket win over Sydney Thunder as the Stars finished third. He finished his time with 31 in the semi-final loss against Perth.
Overall, KP scored 293 runs at 41.85 in eight matches with a strike rate of 122.59, hitting 25 boundaries and eight sixes.
For all his on-field deeds, KP really impressed off-field. He gave a fascinating interview with Ricky Ponting in a Channel Ten commentary stint during the Melbourne Renegades v Brisbane Heat game.
This was the real KP. Not the KP we saw on Ashes tours, filtered through media channels out for blood or desperate to confirm previously held biases. Not the KP demonized for looking “disinterested” in the field or crucified for reckless shots.
KP squashed the arrogance rumours, instead saying he was confident in his ability and in the dedication to his training. If you read his book KP: The Autobiography, he identifies Swann, Matt Prior, Jimmy Anderson and Broad as the dressing room head honchos. What everyone loved about KP was his honesty, giving an insight into his world, the drama of Andy Flower’s England reign, his topsy-turvy relationship with Andrew Strauss, friendships with Australian players, his pure love of cricket, all topped with some fun banter. This was not a bitter ex-player taking pot shots at former teammates and opening old wounds for the sake of publicity, as some detractors may have hoped.
Yes, KP still isn’t afraid to make his views on world cricket heard (like his recent public defence of Ian Bell) but his greatest traits – his individuality and his confidence – made Big Bash fans fall in love with him. Strip away the Australia-England rivalry and the tabloid spin and the real KP comes through. Carrying the confidence of a man who’s made over 8,000 Test runs but not forgetting how he evolved from an off-spinner batting at number eight in South Africa.
This is the KP the cricket world deserves and the one it needs right now. Free to play as he feels, unencumbered by his controversial past and backed by a supportive crowd. Let’s hope we see more of it this summer.