Kevin Pietersen has hinted that the third Test against South Africa at Lord's later this month might be his last. If he does carry out his threat he has certainly given us something to remember him by, an innings that underlined why he is one of the great entertainers in world cricket in the new millennium and one who can hold his audience spellbound by the sheer razzle dazzle of his strokeplay, his audacity to bring off daring strokes and his innovativeness while playing the reverse sweep or the switch hit – shots that drive bowlers, fielders and captains to tearing their hair in frustration.
As he himself put it at the press conference at the conclusion of the second Test at Headingley, "the spectators just love watching me play" and even that was a gross understatement. The real loss will be felt when he calls it a day. It will be like the music has stopped.
As it is, because of circumstances that are well known he is out of limited overs cricket for which his game is ideally suited. Test cricket which is already under the scanner can ill afford to lose Pietersen who is clearly one of the biggest draws in the international game.
His 149 at Headingley was of course not the first time he has floored us with his big hitting, his bravado and his ability to counter attack as only he can. Not for the first time he was under pressure when the Test got underway but then Pietersen is his own man going by his words and deeds.
Against arguably the best bowling line-up in the contemporary game, there was never any question of Pietersen taking the less risky way out by defending for dear life. That has never been his style and the manner in which he picked Dale Steyn for special treatment speaks volumes about his capacity to demolish the best of bowlers.
As many as 12 of his 22 fours – besides the only six – were hit off Steyn. Even by Pietersen’s standards the six was a superlative stroke. Steyn was bowling with the second new ball and Pietersen had just crossed his hundred. He just stood there, waited for the delivery and then straight drove the No 1 fast bowler in the world straight back over his head for a stupendous six. It was breathtaking stuff. I can think of only one other batsman capable of such a disdainful attack on a bowler of Steyn’s reputation and that is Virender Sehwag.
There are other batsmen too who are known to carry the fight into the enemy camp with a thrilling counter attack. Adam Gilchrist was certainly one and Shahid Afridi another even if the latter’s tendency to hit out at anything and everything cost him dearly at times. But among those who are still on the Test scene perhaps only Chris Gayle can send shivers down the bowler’s spine while at the crease.
And yet the West Indian despite being one of the four batsmen in Test history to notch up two triple hundreds lacks the consistency that one associates with Sehwag and Pietersen. Consistency is not generally a quality coupled with swashbuckling batsmen but these two have been standout performers and this is underlined by their average besides the strike rate.
Indeed the stats associated with Sehwag and Pietersen are quite similar. Sehwag from 96 Tests has hit 22 hundreds and 32 half centuries whereas Pietersen from eight fewer matches has 21 hundreds and 27 half centuries. In strike rate Sehwag is superior – virtually 82 to KP’s 63. There is hardly any difference in the average with Sehwag at 50.79 and Pietersen 49.48.
The similarity extends to ODIs too with Pietersen having the better average (almost 42) to Sehwag’s (just over 35) and a better century ratio (nine hundreds from 116 innings to Sehwag’s 15 from 243). But again Sehwag has the superior strike rate (104.60 to KP’s 86.76).
The strike rate is Sehwag’s forte even in T20 internationals (152 to KP’s 141) even though the Indian has played just 16 such game as compared to Pietersen’s 36. Sehwag has just two half centuries to Pietersen’s seven while the Englishman is far ahead in the averages (almost 38 to Sehwag’s 22.66).
Amazingly the similarity extends to their first class careers too with Pietersen getting 44 hundreds from 189 matches while Sehwag has 36 from 160 matches. Even the averages are almost identical – KP’s 49.60 to Sehwag’s 49.15. Unfortunately strike rates are not maintained in first class cricket but one doubts whether there will be much difference.
Oh yes, whichever way one looks at it the buccaneering skills and pyrotechnics of Sehwag, almost two years older, and Pietersen are more than a cut above the rest. They are two batsmen who can drive bowlers to shaking their heads in disbelief just as Pietersen did to Steyn at Headingley the other day and just as Sehwag treated Shoaib Akhtar with utter disdain at Multan in 2004.
It would be the cricket follower’s sweetest dream – and the bowler’s worst nightmare – should they bat together but that sight will just be reserved for the IPL and not international cricket.