The flamboyant, stylish Kevin Pietersen may on first thought seem to have little in common with the effective but ungainly Australian Steve Smith; but they each started their cricket as spinners who could ‘bat a bit’ and became the batsman that their international opposition most feared. Along the way, their spin talents waned and they were called upon mostly when other options had failed.
It is also the case that both Smith and Pietersen lost the captaincy of their country in circumstances that left their reputations somewhat tarnished.
The young Kevin Pietersen – he was born to an English mother and an Afrikaner father in Pietermartizburg on 27 June 1980 – impressed Clive Rice who signed both Pietersen and Greg Smith for Notts in 2001. Through their family roots both were eligible to appear for the county and not considered as ‘overseas’ cricketers.
Both had outstanding initial summers in England. Pietersen topped the batting averages by a large margin - along the way claiming the record as the youngest Notts player, at 21years and 33 days, to make a double hundred - while Smith achieved the same measure of success in the bowling table. Pietersen was immediately being spoken of as a possible England cricketer as soon as he was qualified – in the autumn of 2004.
One of the more curious stats from KP's time at Trent Bridge is that he played one game in the Nottinghamshire Premier League, a perhaps unlikely place for a future world star. Gareth Jones of Bridon Cricket Club had asked Mick Newell if Notts had any young player that might like to play for them, and Mick suggested the brash all-rounder from South Africa. Thus in July 2001, Kevin Pietersen went in first wicket down for Bridon against Clifton Village in a match played at the All Hallows Street ground in Ordsall. Jones recalls: "Kevin rang me asking for a game on the Saturday...he really enjoyed himself. I was our captain and found him to be a good team member, keen for a bat and bowl when asked. His innings - he made 127no off 86 balls - will never be forgotten at our club. After a hesitant start when Bobby Chapman beat him twice in his first three deliveries, he settled down to play magnificently and finished the game with a six over cover."
In 2002, Pietersen had a poor first half of the year, but then blossomed, runs coming at will. He missed reaching the 1,000 run mark only because injury meant he was absent for the final four games. Although on paper his record for 2003 was impressive the season was not a happy one and conflicts in the dressing room split over into the public domain.
Matters were resolved and as the team results suggest that the atmosphere was more amicable. Though Pietersen was pipped by Hussey at the top of the batting table, he did more than enough to win a place in the England side which toured Zimbabwe. It therefore came as a disappointment that, his contract with Notts at an end, he declined a new one at Trent Bridge and chose to move to Hampshire for 2005.
For Notts, he had played 58 First-Class games, scoring 4,719 runs with a top score of 254no – against Middlesex – 16 hundreds and 21 fifties at an impressive average of 55.51; he also took 60 catches in the field, which is a decent total for a player whose early fielding was, to put it kindly, unreliable. He took 32 wickets at 55.81 with his off spin, with a best return of 4-31, against Durham UCCE.
In 80 List-A games for the county, Pietersen scored 2,488 runs at 42.89 with a highest of 147, one of four centuries at that level; he took 27 wickets 51.70 with 3-14 his best tally. He played relatively few T20 fixtures for The Outlaws, he had moved on before the format really took off, but in his 10 appearances scored 256 runs at 25.60 with a best of 67; his six T20 wickets cost just 22.66 with a very creditable best of 2-9 v Lancashire and an economy rate at 7.55.
Given his achievements in that great Ashes summer of 2005 – and for more than ten years thereafter – it is surprising to recall that his selection for England was not universally welcomed. Despite his valid qualification, his South African upbringing raised doubts in some quarters and he was chosen for the squad ahead of Graham Thorpe, a player with a terrific test record who was popular with players and fans. By the end of the summer, with the famous urn back in English hands after what is by common consent the greatest Ashes series, Pietersen was an England fixture. In the crucial final test at The Oval, he reached his maiden test century with a driven four off the bowling of Tait before making 158, including seven sixes, breaking Ian Botham's record for the most sixes by an English player in an Ashes innings. Pietersen was named Man of the Match for his efforts and finished the series as top scorer, with 473 runs over the five Tests, at an average of 52.55, which also was the highest in the series.
Consistency was not his strength but invention – he is credited (if that’s the right word) with introducing the ‘switch hit’ to the game – and flair certainly were. Having stood in for Paul Collingwood in an ODI, Pietersen was a strong candidate to take over from Michael Vaughan as England captain in 2008; he was appointed skipper of both the Test and ODI teams with Collingwood also standing down. Following a disappointing tour of India, rumours of a rift between Pietersen and England coach Peter Moores – now, of course, head coach at Trent Bridge – arose and in January 2009 Pietersen unexpectedly resigned the England captaincy and Moores was dismissed by the ECB.
Pietersen continued to play for England in all three formats until 2014, though his central contract that for Hampshire and for Surrey, which he joined in 2010, he played almost no domestic cricket. He was Man of the Series when England won their first-ever ICC trophy in the 2010 World T20 and finished his Test career with 22 centuries, second only to Alastair Cook. His test average of 47.28 from 8,181 runs with 35 further half-centuries underlines his importance to the team. He also scored 4,440 runs at 40.73 in ODIs and 1,176 runs in T20Is, at 37.93.
Away from cricket, Pietersen is a prominent advocate for the welfare and conservation of endangered animals; in 2018, he opened Umganu Lodge, a luxury resort at the edge of Kruger National Park that serves as both a retreat centre and as a means to foster greater awareness of endangered species in South Africa. He also established Saving Our Rhinos Africa & India (SORAI), an Australian charity supporting rhinoceros conservation.