Pietersen wastes no time in working his magic
Posted in England v South Africa - 2008
The legend of King Midas is well known in Greek mythology, but Kevin Pietersen’s early captaincy forays suggest he is on the way to making a similar entry into the annals of English cricket.
His reign as England captain is barely three weeks old and encompasses just three matches, but there is a mounting body of evidence to support the theory that Pietersen, like Midas, possesses the golden touch.
From the convincing six-wicket win over South Africa in the final npower Test, to the opening NatWest Series triumph at Headingley Carnegie and Tuesday’s demolition of the second best one-day team in the world at Trent Bridge, it is nigh on impossible to find fault with anything Pietersen has done.
The England fans who complained to the ECB that the game in Nottingham finished too early would surely come up with something, but the opinions of those not content with witnessing one of the finest limited-overs performances in living memory are worth as little as a Zimbabwean banknote.
Pietersen’s impact since taking charge has been nothing short of remarkable, so stunning in fact that even the man himself - for all his renowned bullishness - could not have foreseen it.
There were no shortage of dissenting voices when Pietersen was unveiled as the successor to Michael Vaughan and Paul Collingwood in Test and one-day cricket respectively, but England’s exceptional displays have served as the most eloquent response to the doubters.
It is noticeable that the mitigating circumstances cited for South Africa’s sudden reversal in fortunes have dwindled with each passing game, and England are beginning to receive the credit they deserve for completely transforming the complexion of the second half of the international summer.
South Africa, already confirmed as series winners, had nothing to play for in the fourth Test at the Brit Oval, the naysayers pointed out.
Churlish observers noted that the weather deprived the tourists of crucial net practice ahead of the first ODI at Headingley, when they were missing the Morkel brothers, two key players in their line-up.
Yet England’s display at Trent Bridge was as near to faultless as you are likely to see in the international arena, and all the more impressive given that Morne Morkel was the only absentee from South Africa’s first-choice side, and captain Graeme Smith won the toss.
Much has been made of Pietersen’s touchy-feely approach and eagerness to shower praise on team-mates, with “Big Steve” Harmison, “superstar” Andrew Flintoff, and Matt Prior - “one hell of a batsman” - all singled out.
But if the art of captaincy is as simple as dishing out superlatives, Mike Brearley’s publishers could have saved themselves a lot of paper.
Indeed, these are grown-ups we are talking about, intelligent players all, who would surely see past any empty platitudes that came their way if they suspected there was any shortage of feeling behind them.
So when Pietersen places an arm around Harmison’s shoulder at the end of his run-up, or envelopes Flintoff in a mighty bear hug, it is with genuine affection and implicit trust.
There is also the not inconsiderable factor of players wanting to impress the new regime, with their places inevitably under greater threat following a change at the top.
Throw in the effect of the exacting standards set by Pietersen and, by extension, demanded of the rest of the team, and it all adds up to an exciting blend of talented cricketers, imbued with confidence and playing with freedom, who are hungry for success on an individual and team level.
Flintoff is back to somewhere approaching his best with bat and ball; Harmison - welcomed back into the one-day fold with open arms - brings menace to the middle overs of the innings; Prior has sparkled briefly on his return to the England fold; and Stuart Broad appears to be coming of age as a world-class seamer.
As well as inspiring his players to greater heights, Pietersen's own form shows no sign of slipping - witness a century and an unbeaten 90 in just three innings since his appointment.
Tactically, he has excelled too, the most obvious examples of which are the number of bowling changes that have reaped immediate dividends.
Harmison, Samit Patel and Pietersen himself claimed a wicket in their first over at Headingley, and Harmison did so with his first delivery on Tuesday.
Every player who has captained his club or school side will know that such decisions owe a huge part to luck, but there remains more than a nagging suspicion that Pietersen might just know what he is doing after all.