Peter Robinson

Not a victim of transformation

2005-02-15 08:00

Kevin Pietersen finally earned himself an ovation from the crowd at SuperSport Park. Considering the impact he had on the one-day series, it was hard to begrudge him the applause, whatever you might think of the man, the mouth or the haircut.

Pietersen's first visit to the country of his birth as an England player generated a veritable host of conflicting opinions and emotions.

His arrivals at the crease tended to be greeted with either jeering or dead silence. Like him or not, though, Pietersen's impact on the one-dayers was indelible.

Even so, there's no gainsaying the obvious fact that Pietersen went out of his way to provoke South Africans. This was most obviously so shortly after his arrival and during the early stages of the one-day series.

As time went on he seemed to calm down, giving rise to the suspicion that much of the baiting he indulged him was designed to both get himself up for the matches and to endear himself to his new countrymen.

If so, he unquestionable succeeded in the first aim, but whether he will gain full acceptance as a true Englishman remains to be seen.

It's important to remember, though, that Pietersen is not the first South African to switch allegiance in the hope of playing international cricket.

Basil D'Oliveira and Tony Greig went off to play for England in the 1960s followed, in no particular order, by Allan Lamb, Chris and Robin Smith, Neal Radford and Ian Greig while Kepler Wessels became an Australian for a few years.

Obvious distinction

All of these players had in common the belief that they would not have been able to play international cricket had they stayed in South Africa.

This is not to ignore the obvious distinction between D'Oliveira and those white South Africans who swapped countries. All left South Africa for political reasons, but only D'Oliveira left because the South African government of the time refused to allow him to play international cricket either for or in South Africa.

Pietersen has said the quota system in Kwa-Zulu Natal persuaded him that he would not make it as an international player in South Africa.

This may or not be the case. In his earlier days he was regarded as a spinner who batted a bit down the order. He is clearly a late developer as a batsman, as the South African bowlers spent two weeks discovering to their cost.

It would be a mistake, though, to cast Pietersen as a victim of transformation. Like Lance Klusener before him, Pietersen's technique, at once powerful and rudimentary, would have caused a number of coaches to overlook him.

Not immediately loveable

He's got something, they might have thought to themselves, but it needs a lot of correction. Like Klusener, though, Pietersen has worked out what works for him and at this stage of his career, it seems to work particularly well.

Pietersen is not, however, immediately loveable. A previous captain of his at Nottinghamshire once threw his kit off the balcony in the hope, it has been suggested, that its owner might follow it.

His attempts to prove his loyalty to England have, at times, been embarrassing and he might yet find that it will take many more centuries before he gains full acceptance.

But if this is the case, it will be his problem to solve and not one that should concern South African cricket.

It is, after all, a professional sport and in time to come we may well see more, not less, movement of players between countries as they seek the best deals for themselves.

In the meantime, whatever any South African says about Pietersen, his efforts against Australia this year will be closely watched.

We may not like him very much, but, mark my words, if he does well, the urge to claim him as one of ours will be closely watched.

Send Peter your thoughts on this column.

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