It is always good to welcome an exciting talent back especially into a team that is heavy on solid players but light on cricketers who are supreme entertainers. England traditionally have had the kind of personnel who provide a lot of solidity to the batting but only now and then do they produce an Ian Botham or an Andrew Flintoff.
And ever since he made his international debut in his home country of South Africa in late 2004, Kevin Pietersen has been the kind of player who empties bars around the world thanks to his buccaneering batting skills, the kind of which win matches in any format. His game would appear to be tailor made for limited overs cricket but astonishingly the uncommonly gifted Pietersen has been remarkably successful in the sterner world of Test cricket too.
England coach Andy Flower has had his misunderstandings with Pietersen, notably last year when England dropped arguably their most talented batsman during the series against South Africa for allegedly sending provocative texts to some of the opposing players.
But the Zimbabwean, himself a world class batsman in his playing days, was in no doubt of Pietersen’s ability. "I am very happy to know he is back," Flower has said. "He is very important to our side. He is a superstar with the bat who can dominate and intimidate opposition. He is a big physical presence and a big personality, the kind who can influence sporting contests."
The return of Pietersen from injury just in time when England are preparing for an Ashes battle is the best news the team management as well as his innumerable fans can have. Without Pietersen, the Australians under their new coach Darren Lehmann might have had an outside chance of regaining the urn.
With Pietersen around, however, the odds are very much in England’s favour for he is a very special player and as I said the kind who can pulverize the opposition into submission in the manner that Virender Sehwag at his best has done all too frequently.
What will worry Lehmann and his boys is the fact that Pietersen has a special liking for Aussie bowling. In 17 Tests against the traditional opponents, he has scored 1476 runs with three hundreds with a best of 227 and an average of 52.71. This compares favourably with his career average of 49. But then that’s typical of Pietersen who raises the level of his game when the stakes are higher.
Pietersen who turned 33 a few days ago last played a Test against New Zealand at Wellington in March. Injury kept him out of the Test series against New Zealand as well as the ODIs though he was included in the side for the second T-20 international against the Kiwis at the Oval late last month. Rain reduced the match to just two deliveries which ruled out a Pietersen appearance at the crease.
But he had already announced a return to form with an imperious unbeaten 177 for Surrey against Yorkshire a few days prior to this. When he plays the first Test against Australia at Trent Bridge starting July 10, there could be banners that bring back memories of similar scenes in 1977. "Boycott returns, England rejoice" were the words then after the legendary opening batsman returned after a three-year self imposed exile.
Substitute Pietersen for Boycott and that’s what one could see at the ground next week. Perhaps Pietersen has not been out of the scene for such an extended period as Boycott but so badly has he been missed by the team as well as his fans that it seems that long!
As a person, KP as he is popularly known, is a rather complex personality dividing opinion sharply by his off field actions. He has also had his run-ins with those in authority since he has always believed in speaking out his mind on contentious issues. But there can only be unanimity on his greatness as a batsman, as a match winner and entertainer par excellence.
He has provided some of the most breathtaking moments in contemporary cricket with his big hitting, his willingness to play the lofted shots with aplomb and his unique capacity to play the reverse sweep and the switch hit at will.
Few batsmen can demoralize the bowlers as Pietersen can and his swagger as he walks to the crease brings back memories of Vivian Richards who could intimidate the bowlers even as he emerged from the pavilion, bat twirling in his hands.
With his swashbuckling batting approach, Pietersen has been remarkably consistent. It is not easy to average around 50 with batting that involves more than an element of risk. As many as 22 hundreds from 94 Tests is a handy proportion for one who indulges in pyrotechnics at the crease.
The fastest in terms of time to reach 7,000 runs, Pietersen has clearly stated his ambition to reach 10,000 Test runs, 30 hundreds and an average of 50. He is just 2500 runs and eight hundreds away from his goal and it is difficult to see a fiercely determined Pietersen not getting there. To start with, mark him out for a successful Ashes series.