Kevin Pietersen should be given the chance to work his way into the Proteas squad, when he becomes eligible to play for them next year.
Before the ill-fated World T20 campaign, South African captain Faf du Plessis scoffed at the prospect of Pietersen ever playing for the country of his birth. ‘He is English,’ Du Plessis said bluntly, seemingly ending the debate there and then.
Pietersen, who turns 36 in June, played 177 times for England between 2005 and 2015 and became one of the most destructive batsmen of the modern era. He was also destructive off the field, numerous documented incidents splitting opinion right down the middle. You either loved ‘KP’ or you loathed him.
What you couldn’t do however, was ignore him. Finally, a fallout in the wake of a second book of his, led to him being cast out of the England dressingroom and there appears no likelihood of a return.
Recently, Pietersen spoke his mind, as he always does, when he was asked about playing for South Africa when he is eligible at the end of next year, when he’ll already be 37. ‘Yes, it is a thought in my head.
‘If it happens, it happens, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Obviously, playing international is something I have done for a very long time. Do I miss playing international cricket? Do I miss batting in international cricket? Yes I do, very much, so you never know.
‘The eligibility for South Africa is still [over] a year away. So we will have to wait and see.’
It did appear that Du Plessis had closed the door before it had even been unlocked, but perhaps wider discussion is needed. Having given it much thought, I reckon Pietersen playing for South Africa would do wonders for the sport in this country. Obviously, he wouldn’t walk into the national side, and it would have to be on merit. But, if he’s good enough then age wouldn’t enter the equation and nor would the fact that he’s got the three English lions inked on his body.
There can be no doubting that 2015 and the start of 2016 has not been South Africa’s finest hour. Some dismal performances on the field, which saw them knocked off the top spot of the world rankings, another ICC tournament failure, and the spot-fixing scandal have not warmed fans’ hearts.
Selection issues that included allegations of political interference have also dampened fans’ enthusiasm for the game and the emergence of Kagiso Rabada has been the only true cause for wide celebration.
Bringing Pietersen back into the South African fold would immediately change the atmosphere. There would be a huge injection of media interest, not only locally, but internationally. Pietersen is big news, wherever he goes and plays.
That publicity, in turn, excites fans and sponsors. Those forking out plenty of money to have their logos and names associated with the Proteas need the exposure. Pietersen delivers that in buckets.
Pietersen is a cricketing rock star, a celebrity footballer trapped in a professional cricketer’s body.
But, he is A-list when it comes to cricket and the thought of him and AB de Villiers in the South African middle-order from the end of 2017 – even it if is just until their career swansongs at the 2019 World Cup – would be enough to send shivers running through every opposition dressingroom.
Throw in the likes of Quinton de Kock, Rabada, perhaps Hashim Amla and a couple of others and you’ll see South Africa walk onto that field with a swagger, confident and dangerous. That’s what Pietersen’s presence brings to a side.
He has also mellowed from the days of being a divisive dressingroom figure. South Africa remains close to his heart and his friends include the likes of Graeme Smith, Ernie Els, Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher.
Perhaps Du Plessis was being a bit short-sighted when he dismissed any chance for Pietersen to return when he is eligible. Plenty people have represented two countries at sport, and it’s all within the rules, so that shouldn’t be an issue at all.
Obviously, it would depend on Cricket SA to welcome him back into the fold and that is something that might be easier said than done. Certainly, Pietersen’s presence and aura would be too much for coach Russell Domingo to handle, as he, in difficult times, has often come across as an honourable man who is “too nice” for the job to inspire his troops and make the hard choices.
Pietersen talks the talk but then he backs it up with his bat. He remains at the top of his game and intimidates the opposition. De Villiers, when in form, is similar and both will win a Test match in a session. Fans would come to watch Pietersen, interest would be global and everyone would be talking about Pietersen and the Proteas and not cricketing politics.
And, which country in the world, England included, can afford to not select a hungry man who has 32 international hundreds under his belt and nearly 14 000 runs?
This column featured in the Weekend Argus and the Sunday Tribune.