Thursday, 30 April 2009

Pietersen: From Good to Great

There’s no doubt that Kevin Pietersen is our best batsman. He has been born with an extraordinary talent that he has applied to leave him unchallenged as our top man in all forms of the game.

But as my children know, sport is about being the best you can be, whatever genetic inheritance you start with (bad luck kids!). And KP isn’t anywhere near his best.

Sure he is outstanding. Even having fallen from his highest point (his ICC batting rating is 10% off its peak two years ago), Pietersen averages 51 and is ranked six in the world. But it could all be so much better.

Like many, twice in the last 12 months I have seen him hole out in his 90s, sacrificing not just a personal milestone but creating openings that both South Africa and the West Indies took to win the series. Are these exceptional occurrences, or symptoms of a man who, when in total control, loses self-discipline and lets the opposition off the hook? He wouldn’t be the first to do so.

A few statistics may help answer this question (or they may put you to sleep).

  • When KP comes to the wicket he is 18% likely to score a hundred. This is an exceptional figure, ahead of Tendulkar and only marginally behind Ponting.

  • Once set KP is hard to shift. By the time he reaches 25 not out, he will convert to a century one in three innings. If he makes it to 45 this figure is 3 in 5; in other words he is 60% likely to make a ton.

  • And from 45 onwards his batting is extraordinary: he would expect to make a further 74 runs, on average, before getting out. I think this all fits with what we have seen: KP is cautious, even a little slow to get going. But get him towards a 50 and the runs seem inevitable, his bat twice the normal width.

  • And then come the nervous 90s. A disaster area for Pietersen and England, but not as bad as just after KP charges down the wicket celebrating his hundred. Between 100 and 109 he gets out one in three innings.

  • Which means that his batting average once he gets to 90 is just 38 – a sort of below par Ian Bell type performance.

Compare this to Sehwag, who shares a similar average to KP. A poor starter he may be, but once set he too scores for fun. Sehwag at 45 not out averages 75 more runs, just like Pietersen. But the big difference is once Sehwag gets to 90 – at that point he averages a further 87 runs (to KP’s 38).

The result is that Sehwag has two triple centuries and three doubles to KP’s one double. And bowlers around the world know it.

So a plea to Kevin this summer: try batting when you have scored 90 just as you did when you reached 45 – just pushing the ones and twos and not trying to force the pace beyond dispatching the bad ball to the boundary.

If you do that, a career average nearer 60, maybe as many as 50 test centuries, and a place as a true great will be yours (not to mention the Ashes!).

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