Marcuss Deane | 12:44pm gmt 06 Apr 2010
The man, Kevin Pietersen.
60 Test matches, 5074 runs at an average of 49.26 are statistics that should not be sniffed at. Yet statistics rarely tell the whole story and this is certainly the case for Kevin Pietersen.
Undoubtedly one of the true talents of the last 10 years, Pietersen has frequently divided opinion. Whilst some are prepared to rank him alongside the very best batsman since the turn of the millennium, others feel a sense of disappointment in Pietersen's performances - a sense that he is underachieving. It is a bold call to make when only one player has scored more runs than Pietersen since he made his debut in 2005. That man being a certain Ricky Ponting. However, there is some merit in questioning Pietersen's performances; prior to his most recent series against Bangladesh his Test average was the lowest it had been since July 2006.
It is often argued that what sets Pietersen apart from his peers is his ability to score runs against all attacks in all conditions, this appears to be true with Pietersen only averaging less than 30 in three of the seventeen Test series he has played in since making his debut in that Ashes series. What will worry some fans is that two of these series have come in the last 12 months with Pietersen failing to contribute against the West Indies at home and, more recently, South Africa away.
Though some excuses can be made for Pietersen's performances in recent times, including the Moores debacle, an Achilles tendon injury and then rustiness after returning from the aforementioned injury, the question over Pietersen's rank alongside the modern greats has gained momentum over the last few years.
A popular comparison to draw is between Pietersen and Australia's Michael Clarke, both players having played the same number of Test matches with Clarke averaging a touch over 50. Their career records are definitely comparable but since 2007 Pietersen's record has been much more similar to that of a different player; New Zealand's Ross Taylor.
Taylor is often spoken of as a batsman with massive talent and potential but rarely, if ever, as one of the best in the world. Since making his debut in September 2007, Taylor - 43.13 has averaged nearly as much as Pietersen - 45.33 in Test matches (Taylor actually averages 2.45 more than Pietersen when matches against Bangladesh are removed from their records), without sounding disrespectful to Taylor, and even Vettori who has a comparable record to Pietersen in recent years, are these the sorts of players that a batsman, who has openly stated he wishes to become the best in the world, wants to be compared against?
Though Pietersen succeeded in his most recent two Test matches against Bangladesh, compiling 250 runs in four innings, those runs will not have answered all the questions surrounding Pietersen's form over the last twelve months. It is still a widely held belief in cricketing circles that runs against Bangladesh don't reveal much about a batsman's ability; due to the comparative weakness of the Bangladesh bowling attack to those of other nations. People will point to the fact that despite succeeding in the two Bangladesh Test matches Pietersen did not actually exceed expectation and that a player of his quality should succeed in such situations. Nonetheless the runs made in that series showed promising signs of Pietersen returning to form. Despite the fact he didn't manage to make a century (though he did come close with a sparkling 99) Kevin Pietersen looked as composed, at the crease, as he had for a long time.
The fact that Pietersen has not managed to make a century in the last 13 months has not gone unnoticed but despite that fact he will be one of two players, along with captain Andrew Strauss, expected to lead England's batting line up through a testing summer against Bangladesh and Pakistan before, arguably the most challenging series of them all, the Ashes in Australia.
Despite all his struggles over the last year or so, why is it that the hopes of England's batting line-up, still, so often fall on Pietersen's shoulders? Why do opposition captains single out Pietersen as the danger man, the prized scalp for any bowler?
The answer is that because Kevin Pietersen is capable of not only scoring runs against the best attacks in the world but doing so with a confidence and class that few players are blessed with. It takes a special player to make his debut in the biggest series in International cricket and top score for his side in both innings. It is for these same reasons that when Pietersen is dismissed so many England fans are left feeling deflated, regardless of what the scoreboard may read. There are innings where Pietersen never looks like getting out; playing every delivery he faces with consummate ease. Whether it is through a commanding flick through midwicket from a ball pitched half a yard outside off stump or a slightly more extravagant reverse sweep to the boundary, at times Pietersen seems to have the bowlers at his mercy, scoring runs all around the wicket and simply placing it wherever he feels like hitting it.
In the Test series against South Africa, where he began his comeback from injury, Pietersen struggled for form yet there was still an expectation that he would score runs when he walked to the crease. Regardless of the number of times he disappointed or the fact that Pietersen had played very little cricket since an operation on his troublesome Achilles tendon, there was never a sense that he was an easy wicket. Like a wounded lion, there was a feeling he could return to form at any moment with a mind-blowing century. Whether the two Test series against Bangladesh is a sign of Pietersen's return to form is yet to be seen but it was the most natural Pietersen innings for some time and it is only a matter of time before we see Pietersen stood tall on one leg in position for his trademark "flamingo" shot once again.