Once again, English cricket needs to talk about Kevin

As well as generating a media storm well in advance of its release date, the publication of former England cricketer Kevin Pietersen’s autobiography has also reignited the debate as to the rights and wrongs of the controversial batsman’s removal from consideration for the England cricket team across all three formats of the game.

The debate has mainly focused on the quality and suitability of the players whether the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) have chosen to attempt to plug the gap Pietersen’s exclusion has left in the England teams.

The initial priority has been the Test team, often seen as the flagship representative of the ECB’s competitive cricketing sides and not so long ago the world’s premier Test cricket team. With Pietersen an essential part of England’s rise to the top of the world Test rankings it has not proved easy for the ECB to find a suitable replacement.

Experiments with various combinations of opening and middle order batsmen had proved fruitless and as a result the England batting line-up lacked the intimidating presence of a Pietersen-esque player. The introduction of Lancashire wicketkeeper/batsman Jos Buttler, probably the closest English player – stylistically – to Pietersen, has added a new dimension to the England side giving a bit more flair to a batting order that had been more dependable than truly exciting. Another option to add a bit more dynamism to the English batting is Yorkshire opener Adam Lyth. After a fantastic county season Lyth finally looks ready to make the step up to international cricket and his aggressive free-flowing style at the top of the order could be the perfect foil for Alistair Cook’s grittier accumulative batting.

England’s 50 over side had also looked greatly diminished by the loss of Pietersen’s ability to create runs out of nothing with a combination of powerful batting and maverick strokeplay (fans of English cricket will remember his ‘switch-hit’ for six against New Zealand).

However, the emergence of exciting one-day cricketers such as Durham all-rounder Ben Stokes, whose blistering batting form and useful bowling were crucial in his county’s One-Day Cup win, and Nottinghamshire batsman James Taylor, whose remarkable form in the one-day format has seen him pressing for a long overdue England place, alongside a host of talented youngsters playing one-day cricket for their respective counties has given England hope for the future that they can once again challenge the world’s best one-day teams without Pietersen’s contribution. Jos Buttler is also deserving of a mention as, in addition to securing his Test place, he has consistently proven himself to be among the most destructive and thrilling batsmen in the shorter forms of the game.

The English Twenty20 (T20) team is possibly the most problematic of all three sides. The explosion of worldwide commercial and public interest in T20 has created a thriving global network of highly competitive leagues and this has driven the standard of international T20 cricket higher and higher. The differences between T20 and the longer forms of the game have led to a myriad of innovations, especially the development of a range of previously unimagined shots. Despite the surge in popularity of T20 and the formation of the ECB’s own domestic T20 league English cricketers appear to have fallen behind their international counterparts. In a form of the game where Pietersen has previously revelled in the freedom to play with his natural unconventional attacking style England’s options appear few and far between. The one player who has truly stood out as a world class T20 batsman is Nottinghamshire’s Alex Hales who highlighted his talent with an astonishing unbeaten century against Sri Lanka in the 2014 World T20. Hales’ natural timing of the ball and ability to find the boundary has drawn comparisons with West Indian superstar Chris Gayle and his continued rise could be the foundation England need to build a successful Twenty20 side.

It is obvious that the loss of Pietersen has affected England’s prospects across the three formats of the game and for observers of the game it is equally as obvious that a like-for-like replacement for Pietersen would be a once-in-a-generation cricketer. However, the promise shown by many of the talented young players in both the county leagues and in the England youth and Lions teams can only bode well for the future of English cricket post-KP.

 

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