Monday 11 November 2019

Refreshed Pietersen to take Caribbean by storm

Great batsman has CPL action firmly in his sights after spell in exile, writes Dion Fanning

Kevin Pietersen: ‘Come on, what’s not to enjoy about cricket in the Caribbean?’
Kevin Pietersen: ‘Come on, what’s not to enjoy about cricket in the Caribbean?’

Dion Fanning

The life of the modern cricketer has ensured that Kevin Pietersen's exile has taken place while he has been, for the most part, at home in London.

The England cricket team move around the world, still in search of the sustained success which would justify the jettisoning of their best player.

Pietersen, meanwhile, prepares to return to cricket. His departure from the England team in February shocked the country and the explanations put forward have satisfied few.

Last week, Pietersen headed to nets for his county Surrey and tweeted that "it can't be a bad thing being this excited to get back playing again". On Friday, he had another avenue for his adrenaline when it was announced he would be taking part in the Caribbean Premier League in the summer.

Pietersen has adapted easily to life as a cricketer who must make his own arrangements. His popularity around the world was based on his daring as a batsman and he has been admired in the Caribbean for his adventure. This week he will be part of the draft for this summer's Twenty20 competition on the island.

The first tournament took place last summer and Pietersen's decision to sign is a coup for the Irishman Damien O'Donohoe, CEO of the CPL, whose friendship with Pietersen ensured the deal was done.

"I've known Damien for a while and clearly when I became available for certain tournaments we started chatting and it just happened to fall into place. It's a case of an opportunity arising and grabbing the opportunity," Pietersen said on Friday.

He talked about his decision to sign up for the CPL, even if the events that gave him the opportunity to do so are something he is reluctant to open up about at this stage.

Pietersen has had some of his finest moments in the Caribbean, being part of the England side that won the World Twenty20 in the islands four years ago when he was named man of the series.

"It's one of my favourite places to play. I love the Caribbean people and I'm not just saying that because it's the Caribbean league. What's not to like? Turning up and having spectators who are so passionate about the game. You've got the beach, you've got the food, you've got the rum. Come on, what's not to enjoy about cricket in the Caribbean? It's a very entertaining, relaxing, enjoyable environment and that's the kind of environment I think I perform best in."

The environment he was asked to perform in during his final days for England was something different, even if he scored more runs in his final Ashes series than any of his teammates.

What the enforced break has done has reaffirmed his love for the game. "Absolutely. At the end of the day I love cricket, I love performing, I love playing on the big stage, I love entertaining and it's just a case of enjoying the opportunity to do what I love doing. I love batting."

Pietersen may offer plenty of reminders over the summer in India, England and the Caribbean why so many people love his batting.

"This is the longest break I think I've ever had since I started playing international cricket in 2004. To be playing again and to have the opportunity to go again in a couple of weeks is exciting. I can't wait to start playing again."

Before then, he has been preparing. If some senior players in the England team had a problem with Pietersen, he was always available to help young players and his own training routine has always been disciplined. "I pride myself on my training. I think my training is what has given me all the success that I've had in my career. I don't take training for granted and every training session I do, I do properly."

Pietersen will play in the Caribbean once he has fulfilled his Twenty20 obligations with Surrey. "I'll be playing for Surrey until the end of the T20 competition and then I'll be flying straight over to the Caribbean and playing in the Caribbean for the rest of the Caribbean tournament."

At the CPL he will be mixing with West Indian greats like Viv Richards and Gordon Greenidge. Richards condemned England's decision to exclude Pietersen, saying he had been made a "scapegoat". Richards was a coach in last year's CPL and will be involved this year.

"I get on really, really well with Viv, he's a good guy. They're absolute superstars. And you sometimes pinch yourself as a cricketer or a spectator or a fan of the sport when you actually think that you can share dressing rooms with these guys."

Pietersen, who will shortly head to India to play in the IPL, hopes the CPL can have the same impact on West Indian cricket. The CPL, sponsored by Denis O'Brien's Digicel, may offer the best hope of reviving West Indian cricket which has slumped since the days of Richards and Greenidge. Pietersen hopes he can play a part.

"I hope so. What has made the IPL is the quality of the international players and having spoken to Denis about it and having spoken to some others, you need to attract foreigners with good credentials which will make the league more recognised from around the rest of the world and you want viewers from around the rest of the world. You can only do that by getting international players."

Pietersen's arrival is a sign of the CPL's ambitions. He will be part of the draft this Thursday in Chris Gayle's bar along with others like Gayle himself, Darren Sammy and Ireland's Kevin O'Brien, who made a big impact in last year's competition.

Pietersen could make the biggest impact of all. "I don't see myself as a great cricketer or anything. I see myself as Kevin who plays cricket and enjoys doing what he does and I do it to the best of my ability." The Caribbean Premier League know they have signed a great cricketer.

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