Just how much will the retirement of Ricky Ponting inspire Kevin Pietersen to yet greater deeds, yet more adventurous innings like his electric effort in Mumbai in the second Test against India.
Ponting’s departure after the Perth Test leaves a space near the top of the world rankings. When you add in the pressure on Sachin Tendulkar — urged to announce a date for his retirement in almost every edition of every paper in the land — and consider that Jacques Kallis is near the end of the road there must be an incentive.
I mention this strange time for multiple quitting because Pietersen played one of the finest innings in any modern memory last weekend. “Beyond genius” someone said. I’ll second that.
It was not just that he had been in the middle of an enormous row with the whole England dressing room, the management and as many layers of authority as England cricket can muster.
He had also batted fitfully at Ahmedabad in the first Test and must have known that there were plenty of critics waiting for him to fail again. Yet from the start it was clear he had gone out there to create a memorable innings.
It is true that he began slowly, but his rhythm grew steadily rather than in fits and starts as he sometimes does. Then suddenly — after a rather anxious wave to the pavilion as he celebrated fifty — he saw a century in his line of vision and picked up his run rate.
He even reverse-swept to pass 100 and from that moment majestic was not too strong an adjective for his innings. Two fielders at deep square leg and mid-wicket but he hit the ball over their heads deep into the crowd.
Gesture of the day
A poor ball was driven high over square point, a leisurely off-drive carved its way across the grass; one daring shot followed another. “Even the ranks of Tuscany could scarce forebear to cheer,” the poet (Thomas Babington Macaulay) said of three brave Roman soldiers and afterwards we saw Graham Gooch, who rarely admires a rebel, stalk towards KP and shake his hand.
That may have been the gesture of the day. A former batsman who did it all in a long career could not help but acknowledge the greatness he had just witnessed.
Now that Ponting has gone there is nothing to stop Pietersen climbing to the top, He is 32 but many men — and Gooch was one — mature like fine wine. I expect Pietersen to break many of the long-established England batting records and if he does, you should stick around for he does not score ordinary centuries.
His size makes him look arrogant yet I suspect there is a vulnerable man inside that over-tattooed skin but no matter his inner worries, his strength, timing and technical skills mean he can overcome most bowlers in the world.
Of course other players seem to find it difficult to like him but he is not unique. I am told on good authority that Wally Hammond, leading batsman in the 1920 and 1930s and later England captain was unpleasant. A son of a man who played with Hammond told me: “Dad said he didn’t enjoy his cricket when Hammond was captain” but it takes all sorts to fill a dressing room.
If you have a Ponting, a Tendulkar, a Brian Lara, a Kallis a Pietersen or a Hammond in your team and they make winning Test matches easier you have to accept whatever comes with them, good or bad.
A handshake at the right time is probably all that it needs to bring the best out of Pietersen, the most extraordinary cricketer.