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By Gulu Ezekiel
India had their first glimpse of Kevin Pietersen - whose controversial England career appears to have come to an end—when he toured with the England A (now England Lions) side in early 2004 as part of the BCCI’s short-lived experiment to have one foreign team compete in the domestic Duleep Trophy tournament.
Within four years he had returned to India as captain of England, but that reign was short-lived. And his Indian connection continued with the IPL for which he has been a vocal advocate, representing three different franchises since its launch in 2008.
Back in 2004, England A had two Test players (Ed Smith and Simon Jones) in their ranks and a few others apart from Pietersen who would shortly make their international debuts including wicket-keeper Matt Prior.
The tour was a disaster for the tourists but Pietersen, on the cusp of international cricket, was the one shining exception. While the tourists lost seven out of their eight matches, including both their Duleep Trophy matches and a 3-0 whitewash in the one-day games at the hands of India A, Pietersen left a lasting impression with four century knocks marked by striking strokeplay.
Controversy has never been far from Pietersen and even ten years back he was being shielded from the press by the English team management as he was on the verge of leaving English county Nottinghamshire after a stormy season. So infuriated were his teammates by his attitude back then that Notts captain Jason Gallian at one stage flung Pietersen’s kit bag out of the dressing room window!
The South African-born batsman joined Hampshire the next year but here too he ruffled feathers before moving on to Surrey in 2010. As a teenager he had abandoned South African cricket, claiming he was being denied chances by the racial quota system in place there and joined Notts in 2000.
England A were beaten in their opening Duleep Trophy match at Gurgaon by South Zone who sensationally chased a record 503 to win with six wickets in hand. Pietersen’s centuries in both innings went in vain but he left a lasting impression and immediately drew comparisons with another South African-born English cricketer from the past, Tony Greig. Both were blonde, tall, possessed exaggeratedly high backlifts and were aggressive on and off the field. He also scored 94 in another losing cause against East Zone at Amritsar in the next match which saw England A dumped from the tournament. Both teams did the tourist route—the Attari/Wagah border, the Golden Temple and the Jallianwalla Bagh memorial.
It was in the Amritsar hotel that I witnessed an amusing incident when Pietersen excitedly approached a hotel guard with a ‘durban’ lapel on his coat. Born in Durban (South Africa), Kevin was obviously missing his hometown and accosted the befuddled guard, asking him: “Durban, Durban, are you from Durban? I’m from Durban!” I had to pull him away and explain that durban in Hindi means guard.
Less than 12 months later he would make a sensational return to South Africa where - despite the hostility of the crowds towards him - he smashed three centuries for his adopted country in the seven-match ODI series. But just as with the late Tony Greig, Pietersen’s South African roots were always held against him and led to numerous conflicts.
What lies ahead for England’s highest run scorer combined in all three formats remains the subject of conjecture. But surely controversy will never be far behind.
This article originally appeared in the Mid Day on February 6, 2014.