Pietersen, Compton and the life less ordinary
Whether it's making a magnificent century while making the world's finest fast bowler look pedestrian, or analysing his peers while sitting in the studio in a sharp beige suit, Kevin Pietersen epitomises a life less ordinary.
You just can't keep him away from the spotlight. Whether it's making a magnificent century while making the world's finest fast bowler look pedestrian, or analysing his peers while sitting in the studio in a sharp beige suit, Kevin Pietersen epitomises a life less ordinary.
For viewers of cricket in Asia, he's nothing short of a blessing. Over the past two decades, cricket commentary in the region has largely come to mean one thing - inarticulate ex-pros reciting one tired cliche after another, adding nothing whatsoever to the watching experience. For every Richie Benaud, Ian Chappell or Michael Holding, there are ten former internationals who make a living from peddling the sponsors' line or telling us what we already knew, in the most banal way.
Pietersen on television is anything but mundane. Whether it's talking about the exposure that Associate and Affiliate teams need, or explaining why stillness and head-position are so important when it came to playing the drive, he does so with a sureness that comes naturally to very few. There was even a self-deprecatory note as he pointed that he wasn't the best person to judge Afghanistan's fielding display, having dropped six catches in his first Ashes series.
Do I really want to see Pietersen in a suit inside a studio though? Not really. He belongs out in the middle, as part of an elite group of cricketers that can quicken the pulse of even a jaded journalist. When you've watched hundreds of matches down the years, there really aren't too many players that you'd pay to watch. When Pietersen's in prime form, you can't get out the currency quick enough.
From the spectators' viewpoint, it's nothing short of a shame that he won't be in India in November and December. The Indian team will welcome his absence, having suffered to the tune of five centuries in the 12 Tests that he has played against them. With Pietersen out of the picture, they will also know that they now face a side without a single batsman that can wrest a match away in a session.
What the England squad picked earlier in the week does have is a batsman with a strong Indian connection. Nick Compton nearly scored 1000 runs before May, and his performances will be keenly followed by those curious about the history of the game in this country.
During the Second World War, a certain Denis Compton was stationed in India. He had scored his first century against Bradman's Australians when just 20 (1938) but had earned just eight caps by the time conflict intervened. In India, he first caught the eye on Kolkata's maidans, as a left winger for the Royal Fusiliers in the monsoon rain.
Soon after, he was posted to Mhow, not far from Indore. At the time, Holkar were one of Indian cricket's storied sides, and they enlisted his services for the Ranji Trophy in 1944-45. In the final against Bombay, which lasted six days, he made an unbeaten 249 in the fourth innings. Unfortunately for him, Holkar lost by 374 runs, having had to chase 867.
Compton never toured India, missing the 1951-52 trip that saw Allan Watkins and Tom Graveney top the batting averages. In five Tests spread over the home series of 1946 and 1952, his highest score against the Indians was an unbeaten 71.
There's another reason I'll be curious to see how Nick Compton does in India. His uncle, Patrick, is a friend from previous trips to Durban. Both Patrick and Richard, Nick's father, played briefly for Natal in the Apartheid era, but in a country feeling the cold chill of isolation - rebel tours notwithstanding - there was never any chance of emulating the father who finished his England career with 17 hundreds.
It would be quite a story if Compton were to make a mark in India. But the bigger one is on the sidelines. Pietersen won't be easily replaced. On their last three tours, going back to 2001-02, five English batsmen have made hundreds. Andrew Strauss, Paul Collingwood and Craig White have retired. Alastair Cook is the current captain.
The fifth man made 144 from just 201 balls at Mohali in 2008. If R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha succeed in establishing a spin stranglehold, expect a few wistful glances in the direction of the studio, or Australia's Big Bash.