Genius tramples on orthodoxy and rewrites the rule-book.
Paul Edwards reflects on a remarkable afternoon at Guildford
As I watched Kevin Pietersen destroy the virtually blameless Lancashire attack in making 234 not out this afternoon I reflected on an email I received in the middle of the winter of 2004-5. It came from my closest friend and it concerned the one-day series then taking place in South Africa. "You really need to see this bloke Pietersen," was the gist of it. "He's something else."
At that time, needing and doing were different things for me. I didn't have satellite TV and so I had to wait until the first Ashes Test of 2005 to see Pietersen for myself. As I recall it England's debutant made 57 and 65 not out in Australia's comfortable victory. More to my point, though, he hit Glenn McGrath back over his head for six. I admired McGrath very much, largely for the way he disciplined himself to bowl almost every delivery at the top of off stump. He didn't get hit for six, especially in the fashion Pietersen had just managed. It wasn't done; then Pietersen did it.
Since that Friday morning in my lounge I have watched Pietersen bat many times. I have seen him play the flamingo shot, the reverse sweep, the switch-hit, the scoop, the ramp. That's another thing about genius: it forces us to change our language; it spawns neologisms. Journalists were scouring their minds for adjectives to describe Pietersen's batting this afternoon, while in Guildford's beer tent men were racking their brains for explanations as to why they would be late home. The simple truth would have sufficed for both groups of people.
And yet it would be a gross injustice to describe the Surrey and England batsman as undisciplined. People closer to the England camp than I tell me that he works as hard as anyone and one of the most impressive things about his batting today was the way he left the unhittable balls alone and blocked the good, straight ones. He faced 190 balls, yet hit "only" 38 of them to or over the boundary. He played himself in, and at the end of the day he batted for the morrow. In between, there were backfoot cover-drives, hooks, sweeps and punches through midwicket, the whole galaxy begun by a siege-gun straight six off Simon Kerrigan. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that genius chooses the rules it needs to obey.
Something like 72 hours ago I wrote about how I had, that evening, walked around the boundary at Guildford, reflecting on the four days that were to come. I little imagined that I would see Pietersen play an innings which diminished all that went before it, or that he would pull balls into Dapdune Wharf, which runs alongside the ground.
"It's character-building," said Kyle Hogg as he came back to the boundary after doing his share of the heavy lifting. "You either laugh or cry." Well it may be a while before Glen Chapple's players can do much laughing about today's cricket, but I saw no crying either. And at the end of the day, I saw a team applaud a fellow professional who had just played an innings of coruscating brilliance.
Cricket people while away their winters talking about great performances of the past. Viv Richards, Old Trafford, 1984; Ian Botham, Headingley 1981; Stan McCabe, Trent Bridge 1938; Gilbert Jessop, The Oval, 1902. To these famous vintages can be added many innings in county cricket, and to these can now be added: Kevin Pietersen, Guildford, 2012.
For it is important to call genius by its name when one can.
Photo (c) Nigel French/EMPICS Sport
Article (c) Lancashire CCC Ltd