Player of the Month - May
06 Jun 2007
By: Richard Dickinson
To some - nay, most - a winter spent compiling 490 runs at 54.44 in a five-Test series against the world's best side (who were in the process of dissecting virtually all team-mates), as well as 525 at 65.63 in 9 innings against serious ODI opposition, would be considered a pretty good one. Yet still, people found a way to be dissatisfied with Kevin Pietersen. If it wasn't that he wasn't attending the team's Christmas dinner (along, it should be remembered, with several other members of the England squad), it was that he was fielding in the deep (where he has caught everything that has come his way so far in his international career) when he should have been in close (where he dropped half-a-dozen Test catches before taking one). If it wasn't that, it was that he was being stubborn to refuse to move up from five to four. If not that, then that he was playing for not-outs instead of throwing away his wicket when a game was already long-lost. If not that, it was that he was too happy with the role of the lone warrior. And if not that it was that he was too keen to go home after cracking a rib.
Some cricketers, it seems, can never make everyone happy. Pietersen, let us remember, started the summer of 2006 in fairly sensational style, too. His innings at Edgbaston - a chanceless 142 out of 295, one of only three batsmen to pass 34 in the game - was as good a demonstration of how to deal with a difficult pitch and an attack featuring two or three world-class bowlers as anyone could wish to see. This was to follow-up a rather more precarious 158 on a Lord's featherbed.
But his start to 2007 has put even that in the shade. After scoring 26 while four team-mates made centuries in the first-innings of the summer's opening Test, he answered England's second-innings need for first solidity then acceleration with a brutal 138-ball 109. In the following game, he went better still by making Chris Gayle pay dearly for an inexplicable no-ball, from which he would have been stumped on 20. For the next 206 runs, he never gave another sniff of an opportunity.
Whether the winter - content tinged with discontent, maybe - has increased Pietersen's hunger (the 226 was his first Test double, after a three-times best of 158) or whether it's simply that he's finally hit top form at the same time as coming-up, for only the second time in his Test career (Pakistan in 2006 being the first), against a seriously average attack, can perhaps not be known for certain. Nor can he be confident the whispers about a self-centred and arrogant attitude have been banished for good - they will always resurface whenever his team is losing, for they are a useful distraction from that fact. But his batting in May 2007 has been more prolific than ever before. After returning from the World Cup he had just two games for Hampshire, both one-day Friends Provident matches, but did not disappoint, scoring 66* and 39. And against West Indies he has pillaged 361 runs at 120.33.
He is not alone in starting the season well. Alastair Cook, who did not play in the World Cup and so had the chance to play from the start of the season, averaged 48 in the Friends Provident, scored 136 and 37 in his only Championship game of the month, and followed-up with 105 and 65 in the First Test. Michael Vaughan scored 72 and 16* in the Championship, broke his finger, then returned to Test cricket for the first time in over 18 months with a century that put to bed many misconceptions. Ryan Sidebottom, 6 years out of Test cricket, returned to take eight for eighty-six and transform a shambolic attack into a potent one. 5000 miles away, Sachin Tendulkar was ransacking 254 runs at 127 against Bangladesh.
Pietersen, however, stood above all. After West Indies had denied England victory from a strong position at Lord's, his Edgbaston innings visibly deflated them. At 329 for 5 with a long tail, England were in an uncertain position. Pietersen, more even than Sidebottom, brokered a record victory. He is now second behind Sir Donald Bradman for runs scored in a player's first 25 Tests. This, of course, is not an entirely fair equation, and when number of innings (Pietersen has played 47 to date) are considered instead he moves down slightly. Only, however, to 10th place, and the two names immediately above him, Brian Lara and Vivian Richards, put him in esteemed company.
Cricket Web Player of the Month