Kevin Pietersen stamped his authority in only his fifth Test © Getty Images
Kevin Pietersen stamped his authority in only his fifth Test © Getty Images

Kevin Pietersen is the highest run-scorer for England in all forms of cricket, yet the way the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has treated him is baffling to say the least. Nikhil Popat pours his heart out not in defence of the maverick batsman but to just show how good Pietersen has been for England!

England are on cusp of something historic. They had never won the Ashes in 28 years. They are leading the series 2-1 but on Day Five of the fifth Test at The Oval, they find themselves in a spot of bother. They are 67 for 3, effectively 60 for 3 ahead in the game. Glenn McGrath has just taken two in two to roar Australia back in the game. They know they can still retain the Ashes. England know they can lose this, and it will all be over. England need a messiah, a hero.

Enter Kevin Pietersen. He is hit on his shoulder by a short ball he does not expect. A loud appeal ensues but nothing from the umpire. England are alive just by the fine thread. Pietersen, a newbie then, known for his aggressive cricket, knows he had to do something special. So he hits a brilliant 158 in just 187 balls with 15 ferocious hits to the fence and seven towering sixes.

England save the Test. They regain the Ashes after 26 years of abject humiliation and ridicule. They are saved by a man who took on the Australians at their own game, the game where they talk but back it up with the bat.

Almost a decade has passed since that day in South London. A lot has changed over the course of time — but Kevin Pietersen has not stopped scoring runs. England struggled in Ashes 2006-07 Down Under. They were blanked 0-5 but they came back magnificently to win the next three Ashes contest.

Pietersen was made captain in 2008, but he had a fallout with Peter Moores. Both were off for a while but Pietersen did what he knew the best, scoring runs. He was the Man of the Series in the only silverware England have won till date, the ICC World Twenty 20 in West Indies. He was also hailed a hero in India after he braved a return to the country almost immediately after the 26/11 atrocities in Mumbai.

Pietersen had issues off the field, fights with colleagues. He has acted immature during the Textgate incident with Andrew Strauss. It led to his ouster. Admitted, he was at fault. But England never cared to stretch a helping hand to him — the most talented batsman they have had in ages.

Instead, like always, they turned out to the ones who protect their image more than anything else. They dropped a man who had just scored a belligerent 148. A punishment for the crime? Fine. He serves his sentence. He is left out for a crucial Test. But why do you leave have to leave him out for good? Australia had allowed Shane Warne a comeback after the 2003 drug ban. Mohammad Aamer is fighting his way back after the spot-fixing incident. Surely ECB could have handled it better?

Then came the process of the integration, the orthodox approach of England, stuck in the medieval era. They brought Pietersen back when Strauss was no more the captain. It worked. England were down in the series, 0-1 by an embarrassing loss at Ahmedabad. England needed someone to score big. Alastair Cook was in good form (yes, you have read it correct). Pietersen joined Cook. They added 206 runs for the third wicket and put England on top. Those 186 runs are still the best runs I have ever seen live at Wankhede. Also being someone who always enjoyed watching, the way he played Pragyan Ojha and Ravichandran Ashwin was pleasing to the eye. England won the series 2-1. They had found their hero back. Or did they?

Cometh the Ashes 2013-14. England went down badly again. They lost 0-5, and a lot more respect after that with the way they handled Pietersen. England played abysmally. Changes were expected.

They did find a scapegoat. It had to be Kevin Pietersen — the highest score for England in that series with 294 runs from five Tests. He whistled, they said. He looked out of the windows during team meetings, he said. He disrupted team culture, they said. So they dropped him.

The following table is the list of highest run-scorers in Test cricket since KP made his debut. He is third on the list, but England still managed to drop him for naive, stupid, illogical and most importantly, suicidal for English cricket.

Player

M

I

Runs

HS

Ave

SR

100s

50s

Kumar Sangakkara

83

147

8703

319

64.94

54.26

31

33

Alastair Cook

112

200

8691

294

46.22

46.59

26

40

Kevin Pietersen

104

181

8181

227

47.28

61.72

23

35

Michael Clarke

96

169

7763

329*

51.75

56.12

26

25

Ian Bell

105

183

7014

235

43.03

49.26

21

40

He was told to not play in Indian Premier League (IPL) 2015. He obliged. Colin Graves, incoming ECB chairman, asked him to play County Cricket. Kevin Pietersen did, and scored his maiden first-class triple ton. He scored 355 not out, of which 291 were scored in a day. He always knew it would be hard for him to come back to the national team, but he did what he was asked to, what more did they wish from him?

It was Strauss’ first day at work as the Director of England cricket. All he did was to keep personal animosity for the Textgate incident alive instead of focusing on taking English cricket to the next level. Pietersen was informed that he did not ‘fit in’ the English cricket schemes.

This baffles me to no end: WHY does KP not fit in? He scores runs. He scores them at a breakneck pace. He sets up and wins matches. Is that his fault? Is it about his approach of going for runs, as opposed to defend even a short and a wide one outside off? Is it because he refuses to play by the MCC manual?

How hard is it to think for the team and not from a personal viewpoint? If one has a batsman as good as Pietersen, would you not handle him better? There have been many who needed to be handled since they brought something special to the game. Ian Botham and Shane Warne are perfect examples.

Let us even ignore the fact that he came from South Africa (which is nothing new to English cricket), embraced this country as his motherland and played his natural game that brought so much success, both to him and England.

ECB, can we  pause for a moment here? Do we stop working with people we don’t get along? Given how good your colleague is at his work, wouldn’t you just sit down to have a mutual ground? You may argue that life goes on without ones who have changed your world. Going ahead in life is all fine, but if you are letting your most valuable asset go ahead of a testing summer, you have got your priorities wrong.

But what pains the most is the 355 runs came at The Oval, the same ground where Kevin hit his first Test ton. Life has and has not come a full cycle for Pietersen. We may not see him bat for England again, but it is ironic that his dream run and his beginning towards a futile effort at a comeback came on the same ground.

For someone who has served English cricket a lot, he deserved better. The way he has been handled by the orthodox authorities, it is naive and not benefitting the country. He’s the hero England need but do not deserve!

(Nikhil Popat is a cricket lover and a PotterHead. He can be followed on Twitter @CricCrazyNIKS)