There is very little that is new under the sun, but when Third Man first saw Kevin Pietersen stand up to drive, slap the ball and do so on one leg, ending the shot like a pink flamingo, he thought he was seeing originality.
The photograph of Victor Trumper – not the usually published one of the Australian stepping with a large reaching stride down the wicket, but the one shown above alongside Pietersen – suggests that Trumper was revelling in this same shot over one hundred years ago.
His fellow Australian and sometime captain, M.A. Noble in The Game’s the Thing describes how Trumper ‘would surprise the bowler by going across the wicket and ‘with a straight bat, hit the good length ball on the rise outside the off-stump with great force and along the ground between mid-on and square leg’.
Noble could be describing the surprise felt by England when they first met Pietersen in South Africa or the shock he produced in county bowlers meeting him for the first time for Nottinghamshire.
Significantly, Noble wrote that cricket in New South Wales was ‘languishing under a spell of orthodoxy and passive resistance … it was throttling the people’s appreciation of the game and destroying the allegiance of many of its devotees.’
Trumper then arrived in Noble’s words ‘to revolutionize the art of batting.’ And to start the ‘initial crumbling of erstwhile cricket convention in favour of a more versatile and virile comprehension of battling possibilities.’
Pietersen was, at least until now, a restless innovator of the Trumper mould even if their temperaments characters were very different.
Yesterday, during the rain break in the West Indies’ ICC T20 reply to England’s 191, the Sky commentariat of Atherton and Knight welcomed England’s dynamism but failed to see that England’s most dynamic batsman was actually far more static than we have ever seen him before.
It was noticeable that against the West Indian spinners’ his forward press – in fact all initial movement – had gone and the once considerable press followed by step-across to both spin and pace had all but disappeared.
These movements may have caused him to have to play across his pad to left arm spin, but in 2005 they were no handicap to him dominating the leg spin of Warne.
Third Man hopes that Pietersen’s recent trials especially against left arm finger spin are not leading him to forsake his ‘versatile and virile comprehension of batting possibilities’.
That road leads to orthodoxy and passivity.
In Pietersen cricket has had an inventor with the freedom and confidence to innovate, to move the game forward, to inspire young cricketers to copy and enjoy the thrill of his innovations, to know the immense satisfaction of creating possibilities. It would be tragic if the game was turning him into another manager.