Come to think of it: had the Indian spinners not inflicted upon England that 90-run hammering in the World Twenty20 in September, Kevin Pietersen’s impasse with the England and Wales Cricket Board would have lasted longer than 73 days. The humiliating loss at the Premadasa was more than an eye-opener for the English cricket establishment which was quick to begin the process of ‘reintegrating’ the mercurial right-hander. If only Harbhajan Singh and Piyush Chawla not turned that Group ‘A’ contest on its head...
Much as the cricketing world lauded Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann for annihilating India by picking up 19 of the 20 wickets on offer, it was Pietersen who walked away with the Man of the Match award. For, it was a game-changing knock in trying circumstances. In other words, it was equivalent to a five-wicket haul on a batting beauty. Yes, England’s spin twins beat us at our own game, but so did Pietersen.
Former skipper Dilip Vengsarkar, who Test best of 166 against Sri Lanka at Cuttack in 1987 is regarded one of the finest knocks played on a rank turner in India, watched Pietersen destroy the Indian attack. “The highlight of his knock was the freedom with which he played his shots,” Vengsarkar, a former chief selector, said. “It wasn’t a bad wicket; it aided turned, but Pietersen batted quite differently when compared to Alastair Cook and Cheteshwar Pujara, the other batsmen who got big runs.” True, Pujara’s (135 runs off 350 balls) strike rate was 38.57 and Cook’s (122 off 270) 45.18. KP scored his 186 off just 233 balls. That’s a strike rate of almost 80!
Vengsarkar, a technician par excellence, is of the opinion that one mustn’t “jab at the ball” on a spinning wicket. “You have to play in front of your front pad, never let bat-pad come into the picture. You must never reach for the ball, let it come to play. Always play on top of the ball. Look at the shots Pietersen played,” he added.
Kiran More, Vengsarkar’s predecessor on the selection panel, is of the opinion that Pietersen succeeded because he took his chances. “He just took on the bowlers, never allowed them to settle in. It was a classic knock on a spinning wicket. The Indian batsmen came and went. Most of them barely lasted 10 minutes.”
More has watched many a Vengsarkar classic, including the one in Cuttack. “We played together for 12-13 years. I have seen him bat in club cricket, first-class cricket and Tests. He is truly one of the greatest Indian batsmen. A true champion on turners. He used to read the length early; plus his soft hands...”
Hope India’s famed batting line-up has learnt from its mistakes. They only need to look upto their heroes. MS Dhoni & Co can certainly not afford a repeat of Mumbai in Kolkata.