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In sports, like in the movies, there are performers and then there are stars. Talent they might both possess in equal measure, but what separates one from the other is an intangible quality – an aura. The performers, acclaimed for their clinical display of skills, slip under the radar when the job’s done. But the star is born to take centre-stage and remain there.
Kevin Pietersen, a star ever since he appeared on the scene, seems to be accompanied by a spotlight whether on the field or off it. Everything about him – the swagger in his walk, the punch in his batting and the loudness of his tattoos – spells stardom.
In India, a country that adores its superstars, KP is a blockbuster hit. He’ll be back here soon, with the promise of a brilliant season of IPL. In a freewheeling chat with www.iplt20.com, KP says he cannot wait.
Pietersen’s IPL journey began in South Africa, the country of his birth, in 2009. He regaled Royal Challengers Bangalore fans for two seasons, 2009 and 2010, but didn’t play a match for the Deccan Chargers in 2011. Now he’s set to return, in the Delhi Daredevils’ jersey. What’s it like to start a new IPL innings?
KP:I’m excited. The concept of the IPL is a magnificent one. Something very special was started four years back and it’s reached a different high. It’s a free-spirited entertainment package that we all enjoy. The franchises now have their group of supporters. The players love it and I certainly love it.
The top four of Delhi’s batting for IPL 2012 reads thus: Virender Sehwag, David Warner, Kevin Pietersen, Mahela Jayawardene. Has he ever been part of such an intimidating line-up?
KP:No. Never ever. It is a formidable line-up and hopefully, a one that fires. Viru is a superstar. Warner won’t be there for most of the tournament that I’m there [for] and Jayawardene flies off with me as we play each other in a Test series in Sri Lanka. Yes, it is a very strong line-up but you’ve still got to do the basics, see and hit the ball.
Pietersen’s been doing that pretty well of late, scoring 393 runs in the UAE in four ODIs and three T20Is against Pakistan.
KP:Luckily, I’ve come into some form and hopefully, will carry it into the IPL. I’ve got a very good record in India and I topped the run-getters’ chart [for RCB] in the 2010 IPL season. I love playing in India; I enjoy the wickets here and boundaries are not very big. Stroke of genius
One fine day, Pietersen, the star batsman, was bored. And he decided to invent a new shot – the switch hit. He deployed the weapon on June 15, 2008, in an ODI against New Zealand.
Bowler Scott Styris was left shell-shocked as the right-handed Pietersen switched to a left-hand stance and hoicked the ball over deep cover – which was now deep square-leg – for a six. Pietersen, the Indophile, calls it the ‘palti-hit.’
KP:It was in the 2006-07 Ashes tour in Australia. I tend to get bored pretty easily; it happened once during a net session and I started messing around with this shot. I was actually hitting it pretty well and I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I can potentially play this shot in a game’. So I kept practicing it and did that for a good six to nine months and eventually decided to play it in the ODI against New Zealand. Luckily, it came off.
Here are some switch-hit lessons from the man himself.
When to play it:
KP:You’ve got to practice it and see if you’re comfortable playing it. There’s no point playing it if you have no chance of hitting the ball. It’s a shot that can get you runs with a certain field setting. It’s probably not the best shot to play in Twenty20 cricket because you’ve generally got a 5-4 leg-side or off-side field. I’d recommend that shot in Tests when you’ve got a leg-side dominated field with the off-side pretty open. I too have played it more in Tests than in the shorter formats of the game.
How to play it:
KP: You’ve got to keep your head high and still. You have to be very quick with your movements to get ready for the switch on time.
Like most innovators, Pietersen cannot explain how he manages to generate that kind of power into the shot batting with his wrong hand.
KP: It’s just one of those things I cannot explain. I can try and explain it to you, but I’d be lying. I can just do it. It feels comfortable and easy; doesn’t feel like a tough thing to do.
The shot has captured the imagination of many youngsters and Pietersen’s Delhi team-mate David Warner seems to have got the hang of it better than most. The idea of two switch-hitters batting together is mouth-watering, isn’t it?
KP:It will be fun if that happens.
Striking the cricket ball is second nature to KP. He can do it with his eyes closed. Literally. Here’s evidence on the blindfold cricket video. But is it real or just a set-up? KP:Of course it was real (he says indignantly), though it took a long time to film it. It wasn’t just the first six balls. I batted against a bowling machine, which meant the ball pitched in pretty much the same area [every time]. I just heard the ball [shoot off the machine], visualised it coming my way, and hit it. Bang!
Shades of the King
KP is among those batsmen who walk out to the middle with an authoritative look and an air of superiority. His commanding presence, nonchalance and disdainful attitude towards the ball brings back memories of a certain Sir Vivian Richards. KP acknowledges the compliment with humility.
KP:There are a lot of similarities with Sir Viv that people have kindly attributed to me. I think it’s the leg-side play; like him, I too score my runs predominantly on the leg-side. He’s a great player and to be mentioned in the same breath with him is quite flattering. I haven’t really watched him much, just watched bits and pieces of his batting. I don’t want to say that I resemble someone; I just want to be myself and enjoy my career, get the best out of my talent and at the end look back at it with proud and fun memories.
However, for KP, the hardest and cleanest hitter of the cricket ball today is Chris Gayle. “By a country mile”. Rivals-turned-mates
Captain Warne took KP under his wing at Hampshire, but the allies turned rivals at the 2005 Ashes. Now, with Warne out of competitive cricket, KP hosts dinners for the spin wizard, who in turn arranges Lamborghini drives for the England dasher.
KP:I love Warnie. He’s a superstar. I’ve always loved facing Warne and seeing the way he looks at the moment, the new Warne could be better than the old one. But he’s finished his career, although he could be with the Rajasthan Royals in some capacity. He’s done it all, had his time and had an amazing career.
Time was when Pietersen antagonised Yuvraj calling him a ‘pie-chucker’ and Yuvraj returned the favour by making KP his bunny in ODIs. Beyond the banter on Twitter, a friendship remains. Yuvraj, being treated for cancer, will miss IPL 2012. Pietersen, clued into Yuvraj’s life more than most, speaks to him at least once a week.
KP: It’s tragic what’s happened to Yuvi. He’s going through a tough time and it’s not fair to talk about him in terms of cricket at the moment. Right now the only important thing is for him to get back to full fitness as soon as possible. We all care for him and we don’t like to see a fellow professional suffer from an illness like this. He’s a strong bloke. In the past he’s fought back into the Test team after being dropped. He was the hero of the 2011 World Cup. The man’s a fighter; and he’s one of the most talented cricketers that India has produced. I look forward to renewing my friendship on the field with him in the not-too-distant future. I’m in touch with him regularly. He’ll be okay.
Big-hitting all-rounder Yusuf Pathan, who had impressed with a power-packed performance in the first edition of the IPL for Rajasthan Royals, will be a player to watch out for as Kolkata Knight Riders make a bid for the IPL 2012 trophy. Practicing at the Wankhede stadium before the Inter State One-Day League game against Mumbai, the Baroda cricketer issued a warning to his opponents by frequently sending the fielders off on a leather hunt.
Excerpts from his chat with iplt20.com:
IPL 2011 was KKR’s best season. What is the way forward for the side?
We played very good cricket last year in the IPL. The team was very confident. Our match against Mumbai [Indians] here hurt us the most because it brought us down on the points table. If we had won that game, we would have finished at No. 1 or 2 on the points table and got one more opportunity to reach the semifinals. But that’s in the past now. We played good cricket and will draw confidence from that. We’ll try and see that we don’t repeat the mistakes. We have the same team.
Brendon McCullum is back with KKR. What impact will he have at the top of the order?
Brendon McCullum has come into the team which means that we have one more batsman to open the innings and play the new ball. We will draw confidence from last year and play well. You played an important role in the Rajasthan Royals side that won the inaugural IPL. What will your role be as a more experienced player for KKR?
All players have their own role. My role is to play my natural, aggressive game. The team has faith in me, especially the captain. I have spoken to the new coach and he too has faith in me. I will play the same role for KKR that I did for Rajasthan [Royals]. How do you balance your natural attacking instincts with the need to adapt to the situation of the match?
I have been able to adapt to different situations well for a long time now. When the team needs me to score in ones and twos, when wickets have fallen quickly, I have played [accordingly] in those situations. I have played my aggressive game, protected my wicket and won the game for my team too. My team expects me to play my natural game. There are very few occasions where I have to adapt to a situation [and curb the aggressive instinct] but I have done that too [as per the need]. I also practice in the nets for situations like that.
Whenever you come out to bat, people expect you to win the match. How do you handle the pressure?
Yes, fans do expect that from me. I feel good [about it]. But when I am on the ground I only think, ‘I will play the ball that is in my area; I will play my natural game and score as quickly as I can for the team.’
Do you feel the IPL will help you make your way back to the national side?
IPL is a very big tournament with a lot of international players playing and some of the best Indian players too. I’m waiting for it to begin. There are a few domestic games before that and I have to perform there as well. If I do well in IPL too, I will make a comeback soon.