No sooner had Kevin Pietersen climbed aboard the jet liner to head back to England for an operation on his knee, eight weeks’ recovery and an uncertain future than the doubters questioned his intentions.
First they wondered just how much he would pick up by way of insurance for missing IPL and then whether he was ever fully committed to the New Zealand tour. Even when Alastair Cook said: “He put his body on the line for England” they still raised their eyebrows.
It is astonishing to me that he has been constantly questioned about his wish to play for England. He has proved it repeatedly by coming to this country from his home in South Africa, by his commitment before he gained a Test place and by his sheer weight of runs since.
Just ask yourselves: Where would England have been without KP? Besides, would you rather watch him play for England or South Africa?
Without him England would not be around the top of the world rankings, ready to hammer the wretched Australian side and certainly not drawing the crowds and winning trophies.
Ask yourselves again. Would you rather buy tickets to watch Cook, Compton and Trott grind out the runs or Pietersen play his extravagant shots — not always reliable but always exciting and potentially match-winning.
Who would you rather came to the wicket: Pietersen or the mixed-up Ian Bell; Pietersen or the raw Jonny Bairstow and the young hopeful Joe Root?
There is no question about the answer. KP is a winner and he has proved it. His final innings in 2005 won back the Ashes and — if he is fit, if he is ready and, the nay-sayers will add, if he is willing — he will be a powerful force this summer as he strives to keep the Ashes.
Most of all — who would you rather watch in world cricket?
I take nothing away from the other five men in the England batting line-up but they are made worthwhile by the violent stroke play, the adroit footwork, the delicate hands and the canny batting brain of KP.
A work in progress
He is the finest England player since David Gower. Better than Graham Gooch, better than Graham Thorpe and — although I did not see them at their best — Peter May, Ken Barrington and Colin Cowdrey. Of course he loses out to some of them in consistency, he has not gone near breaking the individual world record and, for all his runs, his 22 centuries and the danger signs which appear whenever he goes in to bat, he is still a work in progress.
Like many a sporting genius — and the little girl in the children’s poem — when he is good he is very, very good and when he is bad he is horrid; but on his day there is no-one from the Caribbean to the southern tip of New Zealand who can bring joy to a crowd, silence the fielders and send everyone watching from spectators to the umpires into a tizz as they try to work out what he will do next.
He has his faults, bless him, but aren’t they worth a little patience. If you want a true measure of his greatness see the smiles among the fielders when he is out; no-one puts on that level of pleasure when some of his team-mates head back to the pavilion.
Now as he faces another crisis in a career that has been littered with problems from the moment he left South Africa for Nottinghamshire to the day he flew from Auckland airport this week not knowing where he might finish. We should wish him well.