Cook is the record maker, but Pietersen should be just as revered
In a video tribute featuring the players who lined up alongside Alastair Cook during his 161 England Tests, conspicuous by his absence was someone for whom there must always be regret when it comes to the record-maker’s career.
Kevin Pietersen was one of just four players not to pay tribute of the 74 who played with Cook, in a video organised by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), which in full lasted around 40 minutes.
The others were one-cap Darren Pattinson, who now lives in Australia, Andrew Flintoff, who was on holiday, and Michael Carberry – one of many who failed to take his chance to replace Andrew Strauss as Cook’s long-term opening partner. Carberry is somewhat in exile following his departure from Leicestershire earlier this season.
Pietersen has been criticised for allegedly ignoring the overtures of the ECB. It’s a telling sign of the strained relations between Pietersen and Cook. Indeed, Cook revealed they haven’t spoken in four years. This is despite almost Test 100 appearances together during some of England’s greatest ever days.
It must be said, though, that despite Cook not using social media himself, Pietersen has twice tweeted about his former captain in recent days – wishing him a happy retirement before the start of Cook’s final Test match and subsequently offering congratulations as he exited with a remarkable century.
Richly deserved having had to face a brand new Duke's ball for 12yrs!
They are, and always will be, two of England’s finest ever batsmen. But how different they are. And, sadly, how different their respective departures.
Whatever the role Cook played in the end of Pietersen’s often controversial England career, it should sadden the former that he wasn’t able to play with the flamboyant middle-order star for longer. There is little doubt it would have enabled more success for his side during difficult times in Cook’s captaincy.
Having ended his Test career in fitting style by going out with a stunning century in his final Test, Cook’s statistics are sure to stand the test of time – and rightly so. He has been an outstanding cricketer for England, the like of which there will be a struggle to find ever again. He leaves a gaping hole.
He not only made more runs than any other Englishman – 12,472 – but is the fifth highest run-scorer of all time, has the most runs of any left-hander, played in more consecutive Tests than anyone else – 159 – and provided 15 second-innings centuries. Again, that is more than anyone else has ever managed in world cricket.
Cook departs the Test arena with 33 hundreds and an average of 45.35.
But Pietersen may well have got close to those statistics himself. And while Cook departs deserving every single accolade he gets, there has to be some regret in the way Pietersen’s career ended under his watch.
While Cook was the archetypal English Test opener, Pietersen was the one you’d pay to watch out of the two every day of the week. He could play in any format, in any era. When the South African scored his first century on the biggest of stages, to secure England the 2005 Ashes series, it was the just the start of many memorable and match-winning knocks.
The excitement felt by all spectators whenever Pietersen came to the crease wasn’t quite the same for someone like Cook. All eyes would be on Pietersen. He was the box office star in a way no England player – despite the star talents of Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler today – has quite been able to follow since. Huge sixes, switch-hits, booming drives, flamboyant strokeplay and a unique arrogance/confidence – Pietersen made watching cricket entertaining again.
At the time of his forced retirement – and it must also be said that Pietersen in no way helped himself with his conduct during the text-messaging scandal of 2012 in particular – he was neck and neck with Cook in the race for most England hundreds. Pietersen was made to finish on 23 – still the second best by an Englishman – while Cook has made eight in the years since he has played without Pietersen alongside him. Given the amount of Tests England have played in that time, even taking into account Pietersen is the older man, it is not far-fetched to suggest Pietersen would have bettered that.
Pietersen also finishes with the greater average of the two men, with 47.28. He is fifth in the run-making list for England on 8,181.
But above all else it is the nagging thought that England – and world – spectators have been denied Pietersen’s exciting exploits in the middle. Cook got a remarkable sending off, and rightly so, but it’s cruel that Pietersen was denied the same. He is a man who should be revered and remembered, just as Cook now be too.