It is staging a bit of a revival, this cricket thing.
It’s found, in Twenty20, a format that suits the spirit of the age. It’s short and full of action. It can be played when nobody is working and completed in a time that people can afford to give it. Under lights, as the pioneers of Parker’s World Cricket found, it becomes a magical almost hallucinogenic, Kool Aid, experience, as a blue sky turns Prussian and finally black in a perfect contrast with the radioactivity of the emerald green sward. It has become a spectacle.
Last night 29,000 people made their way to Lord’s to watch bottom-of-some-competition’s ‘table’ Middlesex, in Dusky Pink, play the Brown Caps of neighbouring Surrey. There would be the vim and needle of an ancient derby between the North of the River tribe and the Southlings. But of course, also, there would be Kevin Pietersen, or the prospect of Pietersen; the itinerant now strutting his stuff under the ancient ammorial of the Black Prince; “Ich Dien.”
Close your eyes and dream a little and you may just hear an echo reaching you down Time’s Tunnel from a quarter of a millennium ago. If so, it is the applause of a crowd watching Hambledon v Slindon, up on Broadhalfpenny Down.
Or do you feel a tremor from the Nineteen Eighties? As cricket recovers its mojo, is it possible that so too are the personal economic fortunes of that packed crowd; eager to be entertained, enjoying the sunshine and the lingering warmth of a successful day?
There were actually young and beautiful people in the seats in front of the pavilion. Other similarly beautiful people perched on the steeply raked seats of Getty’s still wonderful Mound Stand – you know, those seats just below the sail-cloth-covered top deck, the ones to which you finally retreat when you’ve had your fill of sweet cool colourful drinks and when the action on the field seems strangely magnetic. Debenture holders and box owners enjoyed the economic rent from the unexpected turn the game has taken.
Home side, Middlesex made a below par score of 135-ish. The visitors were eager to win to secure home advantage in the knock-out stage of the competition and now it was almost time for Pietersen to entertain them all.
TM has long been an admirer of this batsman and, because he is one of the few real innovators that the game has produced, will forgive him his human frailties. In the modern game Tendulka and Lara stand out. But if you could chose to watch just one single innings again, surely you’d select three or four of Pietersen’s before turning to one of theirs however classical.
Yesterday he disappointed. That too can be forgiven. His partner, Roy, briefly provided a taste of the kind of raw batting that energizes a crowd, but he could promise this only because he is has inherited a legacy of Pietersen’s seminal disruption of the age old contest between bat and ball.
Cricket is close to perfectly competitive – each cricketer is his or her own firm. There are few barriers to entry. There is no way to monopolize technological advances. “That guy does something utterly different. And it works. How does he do it? Hey, could someone come and bowl a few down at me in the net?” Batsmen are almost all now derivatives of Pietersen who thus has the almost impossible task of endeavouring to do more if he is not to be just a museum piece. That is tough for any vulnerable ego, let alone Pietersen’s.
But he disappointed in a much more fundamental way.
Pietersen is one of (at least) three [extra] paid hands working for Surrey. With this should come a special responsibility that has been recognised and accepted by the “Pro” throughout cricket. The “Pro’s Job” is to win the match. If he can entertain too, that is a bonus. The ‘Pro’ may not succeed every time – cricket is a zero sum game and there’s a ‘Pro’ among the opponents – but this commitment to serve those who pay him in this way, is paramount. Getting his side over the line is a DUTY that links the ‘Pro’ with paid cricketers throughout the ages. Ich Dien – I serve.
Last night he shirked that responsibility in contrast with the ultra-pro, Azhar Mahmood, who although out before the task was completed, knuckled down and reassured in a way that Pietersen did not. The public is used to seeing their heroes literally go to fat, leeching on the sentimentality of the loyalty of the paying public. With Pietersen, the fat is largely mental. If he is to remain of any real use to the game that has given him so much, he needs a few sessions in some mental gym.
The match was won by Surrey off the final ball. The product fulfilled its T and Cs. Pietersen’s innings was reported as a “cameo if unconvincing”. That is too forgiving. It was the sunshine and the surface talking. Deeper down: if Pietersen can’t any longer, or won’t, commit himself to the straightforward duty of the “Pro”, what use is he?
Did the England management ask the right question: What’s the Point of Pietersen?