What if Wednesday | What if Kevin Pietersen had decided to play for South Africa
What if Kevin Pietersen had decided to play for South Africa|
Born in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, Kevin Pietersen made the switch to England in the year of 2000 and the move, till date, is widely regarded as one of the most impactful yet controversial swaps in the history of cricket. But what if KP had decided to stick with his country of birth?
After making the switch from South Africa to England in the year 2000, Kevin Pietersen spent four years playing for Nottinghamshire, after which he made his international debut for the Three Lions against Zimbabwe in 2004. He had to wait for almost an entire year before he made his Test debut, but KP’s Test debut, which came at Lord’s against the mighty Aussies in the Ashes in 2005, became one of the most important plot points in England’s cricketing history, as he went on to immortalize himself as one of the greatest to have ever set foot on to a cricket field. But what if KP, instead of moving to England, decided to stay back in South Africa and fight for his place?
After breaking into the KwaZulu Natal first team in 1999, at just the age of 19, Pietersen finds it hard to sustain the consistency that he’d managed to strike with the KwaZulu Natal B team and has three barren seasons in a row, until 2002, averaging a paltry 27.95 across the three seasons with just two centuries to his name. However, a tweak to his technique prior the 2003 domestic season - with him adding the shuffle and a walk across the stumps to his game - sees him hit the notes he desired to strike, as he ends up scoring 489 runs at an average of 47.95 to finally find his feet at the domestic level. Pietersen’s consistency earns him a contract with the Dolphins the following season and in 2004, the 24-year-old ends up topping the batting charts in the Sunfoil Series to throw his name right into the mix for national selection.
Keen to integrate Pietersen into the international set-up as soon as they can, the South African selectors hand KP his maiden Protea cap in the ODI series at home against the Kiwis in October 2005, at the expense of 21-year-old AB de Villiers who, with his numbers - an average of 18.22 and a high score of 39 after 9 matches - had left the selectors frustrated and disappointed. De Villiers’ axing from ODIs also meant Herschelle Gibbs went back to opening, as he had been oscillating between the No.3 and the No.4 spots in the team in order to accommodate the youngster.
KP gets off to a promising start in his international career, scoring two fifties and a 35 in the three-match series against the Kiwis, and his good run of form sees the selectors finally pick him in the Test squad for the blockbuster series against Australia during the summer, away from home. This time, however, de Villiers is safe and the flamboyant right-hander KP’s inclusion in the team comes at the expense of Boeta Dippenaar, who’d averaged just 28.16 in the 10 Tests he’d played prior to the Australia tour.
South Africa put up a brave fight in the three-match series, but eventually go down to the brilliance of Brad Hodge and Ricky Ponting, as the home side end up convincingly winning the series 2-0. Pietersen emerges as a shining light for the Proteas, topping the run-charts for the visitors in the series thanks to a fine 195 at Perth, but there are more question marks raised about the calibre of de Villiers to succeed at the highest level, with the youngster scoring a total of just 152 runs across 6 innings in the series.
But while the youngster was primed to get an extended run in the Test team, thanks to the pretty formidable record he had in his first 14 Tests, averaging 46.62 with three hundreds to his name, the selectors drop a bombshell ahead of the home series versus Australia in March 2006 and announce that they have omitted de Villiers from the squad to accommodate another young batsman in the form of Alviro Petersen.
Being a supremely talented cricketer himself, mistreatment at the hands of the South African management irks de Villiers, who pulls off the ultimate betrayal and flies to England to finalize a Kolpak deal with Somerset, who are teetering in the second division of the County Championship. But while de Villiers shines on his arrival, scoring three tons in his maiden County season, his contributions, however, make little difference to Somerset, who end the 2006 County Division 2 at the bottom of the pile, with just 3 wins in 16 matches.
But it is not just Somerset who are teetering. Also in tatters are England, who are still mourning the 5-0 whitewash at the hands of Australia at home which occurred just over a year ago despite them recalling veterans Dale Benkenstein and Mark Ramprakash to the team to bring solidity to their batting. Thus in a bid to put up a strong performance at least in the 2007 World Cup, the Three Lions hand debuts to Michael Lumb and Nick Pothas, the standout batsmen from the 2006 Cheltenham & Gloucester Trophy, but that experiment, too, turns out to be a calamity as England crash out in the group stages of the 2007 World Cup after losing to both Kenya and New Zealand in the first round.
But Kenya’s upset-causing streak does not end there. They down yet another major team in the Super Eights in the form of Sri Lanka, thus disrupting a mouth-watering prospect of an Australia-South Africa final. This upset sets up a South Africa-Sri Lanka clash in the semi-finals, but a sublime 149 from the bat of Herschelle Gibbs puts an end to the bid of Sri Lanka and helps the Proteas win their first-ever knockout game in World Cup history, setting up the ‘Final’ clash that was always meant and destined to be - Australia vs South Africa.
Disaster strikes for the Proteas on the eve of the final, as Kevin Pietersen ruptures his knee ligaments in the warm-up, ruling him out of the biggest game in South Africa’s history. Right-hander Loots Bosman is drafted into the side as a last-minute replacement for KP, but that is to no avail as the night of the final ends in pain and agony for South Africa, who end up losing the game by a 53-run margin.
The knee injury rules KP out of action for 18 months - which results in him missing both the inaugural World T20 and the inaugural Indian Premier League - but after re-integrating himself into the side ahead of the 2009 World T20 in England, Pietersen suffers yet another tournament-ending injury - a hamstring tear - a week before the 2009 WT20, leaving him dejected and devastated. The Proteas squander yet another tournament, losing out in the semi-finals to eventual champions Pakistan, and all Pietersen could do for the third tournament running is sit on the sidelines and watch his team lose.
But while the situation is bad for KP, it is, however, unimaginable for England, who crashed out in the group stages in front of their home fans, after falling short against both the Netherlands and Pakistan. This was, in particular, a painful pill to swallow for the Three Lions, who had high hopes heading into the tournament after pinning their faith of the likes of Jim Allenby, Graham Napier, Peter Trego, Usman Afzaal, James Kirtley and Chris Nash, all of whom had excelled in the T20 Blast.
Pietersen finally makes his full-fledged comeback in the Test series against India in 2010, and the right-hander, now 30 years of age, doesn’t waste time to make a mark: His sublime 186 at the Eden Gardens helps the Proteas to a famous 2-0 series win over the Indians, making South Africa the first side in over six years to breach the Indian fortress. But despite KP finishing the year 2010 as the world’s number one ranked batsman and the highest run-getter, with 1324 runs and 7 tons to his name, the limelight, towards the end of the year, is hogged by another South African: AB de Villiers.
After spending four seasons with Somerset, helping the side get promoted to the first division and seeing himself be named the ‘Championship Player of the Year’ for four consecutive seasons - across divisions - AB de Villiers, on April 1, 2010, announces his desire to represent England in international cricket. The news creates a ripple in the world of cricket, which hadn’t witnessed a nation-switch of such magnitude since Kepler Wessels did the same back in the early 90s.
And with their Ashes record in the 21st century reading 2 wins and 18 losses, up until that point, England have no second thoughts in welcoming AB de Villiers to the Test side, instantly, for the 2010/11 Ashes in Australia. With 14 Tests for South Africa under his belt, Abraham Benjamin de Villiers makes his England debut in the first Test of the Ashes at the Gabba in 2010 but is hit bang on his arm on his very first ball by a speeding Mitchell Johnson delivery, which forces the South African to retire hurt. De Villiers retires hurt after just one ball but comes back 52 overs later with his side reeling at 197/6, priming to face birthday-boy Peter Siddle’s hat-trick ball.
Siddle entices de Villiers for a drive, by throwing the ball outside off-stump, in the hope of having him caught at slip, but the now-Englishman instead cracks the ball through the cover boundary, almost symbolically sending out a message that this de Villiers was no more the kid that was humiliated on Aussie soil half a decade ago. The boundary from de Villiers marks the beginning of the end of Australia’s dominance in the Ashes as England, propelled by a 785-run campaign from de Villiers and fine performances from Alastair Cook, Graeme Swann and Chris Tremlett, end up winning the series 3-1 to clinch the urn for the first time in the 21st century.
The year is 2012 and world cricket is bracing itself for the biggest series of the year, England vs South Africa, a series in which the No.1 Test ranking will be on the line. As the fans get ready to absorb an electric battle between the two best bowling sides in the world, a familiar sight ensues in the middle, ahead of the toss - Kevin Pietersen and AB de Villiers are embracing each other in the middle of the ground, fooling around before they get to business. Except here, though, they are foes - and not friends - who are bracing themselves to lead their respective countries in what will be the biggest challenge of their young careers.