In terms of animals, if Paul Collingwood is a faithful spaniel then Kevin Pietersen is a peacock. It is stylish, elegant and looks brilliant but it is perhaps lacking in substance.
England started positively on the fourth evening of the Test match at Cape Town with Alistair Cook and Andrew Strauss putting on 101 for the first wicket. When they both fell England needed Pietersen to dig in and prove his worth but he fell for six, playing across a straight ball. While it was not the kind of dismissal that leaves one pulling his hair out – Cook’s was worse in terms of shot selection and execution – it came at a crucial time and had England gone into the second day with Pietersen at the crease nerves would have been far less frayed. His performance in this series has led to some suggesting he should be dropped, but is this really fair?
The old adage of “form is temporary but class is permanent” is often attributed to players when they’re suffering a dip, and there is no doubting that Pietersen is a class act. He has the highest average of the team at a touch under 50 and his record cannot really be questioned. Added to that his 81 at Centurion was a major reason why England came away with a draw in the first Test.
However, those suggesting Pietersen should face the drop are not really questioning his talent. It is obvious he is a fantastic batsman. Consider this though: Paul Collingwood’s average since being dropped during the home series against South Africa in 2008 is 49, Andrew Strauss’ average since losing his place in Sri Lanka is also 49 and Ian Bell averages 42 since his return in the Ashes. Being dropped is not just a punishment, it is a chance to go away, reassess your game and boost your confidence. It also serves as a reminder that you are not invincible, makes you focus, raise your game and concentrate on delivering for your team.
I think in an ideal world Pietersen should be dropped. Not because he’s not good enough, not because he’s not a team player but because he has, like others before him, stalled. He will continue to get scores because he is such a good cricketer but he will not be the Pietersen who is able of single handedly winning games for England unless he is given a break. Who knows, his mind may still be on the captaincy issue but whatever it is that is affecting Pietersen’s form a spell out of the side would do him no harm. It would make him fight for his place, no longer would he play foolish shots because he would no longer see himself as undroppable.
I imagine Pietersen will prove me wrong by making a big score at Johannesburg but, with England currently playing four bowlers, which batsman gets dropped if they decide to pick an extra bowler? Cook and Bell have rediscovered form, Trott has starred since his arrival into the team and Collingwood and Strauss are both in the form of their lives. If someone were to make way now it would be Pietersen. For his sake he needs to improve so that the swashbuckling, confident batsman that we first saw in the Ashes, with what appeared to be a skunk on his head, can return to the side firing on all cylinders.