Popular Pietersen bows out a winner

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AFTER FOUR years as the biggest name in the Big bash league Kevin Pietersen has lect the MCG fans on their feet, applauding, as he gave them a match-winnings to remember him by, says chief writer RON REED:

FITTINGLY ENOUGH, Kevin Pietersen was able to take his leave from the Big Bash League on a triumphant note – just. In his 33rd and last game for the Melbourne Stars over a roller-coaster four years, he provided the major contribution as the green team beat the Hobart Hurricanes with five balls to spare, only their second win of a hugely disappointing – if not disastrous – campaign.

As has often been the case with Pietersen, his spectacular innings didn’t last long enough to guarantee the win, and it could easily have gone the other way once he was out four overs from the finish with some poor captaincy by Hobart captain George Bailey contributing to the outcome, but it almost certainly wouldn’t have happened without his explosive 46 from 23 balls.

Kevin Pietersen during his last innings with the Stars. Pic: Pat Scala/Getty Images
Kevin Pietersen during his last innings with the Stars. Pic: Pat Scala/Getty Images

It has been said often enough that the controversial 37 year old South African-born Englishman is not everybody’s cup of tea, but there can be little doubt that his four years of entertaining the MCG crowd, as well as commentating on both TV cricket channels, 9 and 10, and engaging with fans, especially kids, away from the cricket grounds, has hugely enhanced his popularity and goodwill.

His time here has been very good for him, and he has had no compunction in saying so at every opportunity and offering to maintain the connection in some other shape or form. There is no reason to believe he will not be welcomed back.

He has also hit one in the middle of the bat with his passionate work in animal welfare in his native Africa, especially on behalf of rhinos which are in danger of being culled uncomfortably close to the point of extinction by big game poachers.  It is impossible not to admire and support him in that. His final match for the Stars was designated a rhino day with $1 a head from the crowd given to his cause. He did better than that, raising a reported $25,000 even though the crowd was only 19,671.

It was unfortunate on several levels that there weren’t more there on a late Saturday afternoon in perfect weather but it is a reflection of the reality that this year the Big Bash has run out of puff prematurely, especially the Stars. One of the reasons for this is the paucity of big name players, both Australian and overseas, with Pietersen clearly the biggest headline act, probably ahead of New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum.

As the Stars set out after the Hurricanes’ challenging 7-185, it began to look like there was a possibility that Pietersen – who missed the previous game with a back problem – might not be seen at all, or only in cameo fashion. He did not appear in his customary No 3 spot, or even No 4, eventually arriving with the score at 3-56 off 7.2 overs with 130 still required at a rate of more than 10 an over. The dynamics changed dramatically when Pietersen smashed three fours and a six off the first four balls of the 16th over, delivered by Tymil Mills, who bowls a lot quicker than he works out his game plans, before being caught and bowled off the next delivery. That left 38 to get off 25 balls, a decent ask for the lower order, who got there. By no means for the first time, Pietersen had got the job almost done, without quite ensuring his team would get across the line. But all’s well that ends well.

From his 33 games he finished with 1106 runs at an average of 37 and a strike-rate of nearly 140 with 10 fifties and a best of 76, plus two player of the year awards, which is certainly not to be sneezed at. But it wasn’t enough to win a title for the frustrated Stars, and although the blame for that can never be laid entirely at the doorstep of any individual it is fair to suggest that the big-money Project KP did not quite meet the hope and expectation invested in it. But it paid other dividends, with officials and team-mates adamant that their main man’s professionalism and character had benefited them all in intangible ways. The large membership –the Stars have about 10,000 members – seemed to agree. Those that came for a last glimpse offered a standing ovation as he walked off, some holding signs reading: “Thanks 4 everything.” In part, they were acknowledging one constant – with his rampant self-belief and unorthodox style he was never boring, on the field or off it.

There will, of course, still be those in England who have not forgotten the acrimonious manner in which Pietersen departed – or was ejected from – the England dressing in which he was a fixture for 104 Tests who will be bemused that he is now being applauded warmly for his positive contributions in a cultural context. Time does heal wounds, though, and there was a substantial supportive vibe on social media about his exit, which will not be complete until he plays in two T20 tournaments in Pakistan – Dubai, actually – and South Africa. England legend David Gower, for one, sent a warm message assuring him he would be regarded and remembered as one of the all-time greats.

Perhaps picking up on this mood, Pietersen has made a surprise pitch to return to the English fold, telling reporters on Friday that he would like to become involved in coaching the England one-day team, which is currently beating Australia but which will lose its coach, Australian Trevor Bayliss, before too long. “Of course, it would be nice to have a connection,” he said. “I have an incredible amount to offer the game. It is wasted that English cricketers do not benefit. They still come to me and ask for help. That is happening and I love that. To be involved with this young one-day set-up would be nice. I would like some involvement because I love the way they play. It is so, so good.”

As always, then, he remains on very good terms with himself, which might well be part of the problem with his many critics. After all that has gone before, it seems unlikely the welcome mat will be unrolled in any meaningful way any time soon, but when he says that his experience and know-how should not be wasted, Pietersen is indisputably correct. So he and we shall see.

This was also the last game for another Stars veteran, local batsman Rob Quiney, whose long career in red and white ball cricket included a couple of Test matches and a reputation as one of the most popular blokes in the game. He found himself batting with Pietersen at the end, with the romantics hoping they could see it through together –  Quiney’s former Victorian captain Darren Berry suggesting on radio that the ideal denouement would be for a tied match and a super over featuring the pair. Sadly, Quiney was run out by the proverbial bee’s dick just as he looked like he was getting going. “It was a shame to get out like that, I was having fun,” he said, admitting that it had been an emotional day. He, too, was given an ovation, and a few minutes after the match ended he walked around the boundary with his kids acknowledging the fans and stopping to give parts of his kit to other kids. By then, stats guru and astute observer Ric Finlay had tweeted a tribute suggesting that “the game would not exist without guys like him.” Hear, hear!

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Author: Ron Reed

RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.

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