Cricinfo has a fairly devastating take on Kevin Pietersen, who dropped out of the World Cup despite the apparent wishes of the team Godfather Andy Flower:
When he began his England career, he looked to be their most talented player in a generation, and six years on, it looks like he’ll end up being the most fascinating. Gifted an indecent wealth of talent, he was also one of the most fastidiously prepared cricketers in the world…Up until the last two years he never doubted his ability to reach those levels, but since the captaincy debacle… Pietersen has been unable to capture the insatiable drive for excellence that was once his hallmark.
The piece, by Sahil Dutta, indulges a bit too much pop psychology for my taste, highlighting Pietersen’s desire to belong (as a South African in England) as one of his driving forces. Those who remember Pietersen when he first burst on the scene — crazy skunk hair and all — would probably say the man didn’t care much where he was as long as he was the best in show (and he was).
One of the greatest things about cricket is that it affords many of its players extended careers that often span past a decade (Pietersen is already into his sixth year, though it seems much more than that). That means we get to watch players evolve as their team position changes and, more often, their bodies start to fail them (e.g., Yuvraj Singh). This can be fascinating — e.g., Shahid Afridi transforming himself from a pinch-hitter to an extraordinary bowler; M.S. Dhoni becoming a patient accumulator rather than out-and-out attacker, and so on.
When I first saw Pietersen, I was shocked — the brash confidence, that ridiculous step from leg to middle before a bowler’s delivery, the manic need to get off the mark (no matter what the occasion). Watching him now, I feel much like Dutta — this guy could sniff greatness if he wanted, but he seems lost and without direction. He’s no longer invincible, and it’s no longer clear to me he’s even England’s best (Ian Bell is easier on the eyes and Strauss more commanding). Maybe Dutta’s psychology is right in one sense: rather than maturing his game, Pietersen — like all 20-somethings — is maturing himself. And if he prefers fatherhood to chasing a white ball, then more power to him. It’s rare we see athletes make that choice, but somehow, I don’t think it’s all that odd for a cricketer.