David Warner and Kevin Pietersen both arrived on the international scene chock-full of bravado and evidently streaked with a mad sort of genius. Warner, the first Australian to play for the country without having ever played a first-class game since the 19th century, blasted 89 off 43 balls in his T20I debut against South Africa at the grand stage of the MCG. Fresh faced and essentially unknown, Warner almost exuded a joyful innocence, his inexperience and raw talent evoking reminisce of the age of amateur cricketers.
Pietersen made an even bigger statement upon his arrival to the international stage, ransacking three hundreds in an ODI series played to jeering crowds in his native South Africa. He then immediately announced himself on the Test stage, running down the wicket to a rampant McGrath and depositing him into the Lord’s Pavilion. In the last Test of that series, he proved he was no fluke with a scarcely believable 158, batting to save the match and the Ashes on the last day, hooking Brett Lee off his nose for six with a consistent arrogance.
Even though Warner had to wait to refine his game for two years before making the leap from one-day to Test match cricket, his career and reputation have come to draw what are now inevitable comparisons with Pietersen. Warner averages 48 to Pietersen’s 47, and has 21 hundreds to the latter’s 23. And while Warner rattles along at a strike rate of over 74, a degree higher than Pietersen’s 62, anybody who watched the Englishman’s 186 in Mumbai (as I was privileged enough to witness in the stadium), 149 at Headingly, or 151 in Colombo understands that there had been no more destructive match-winner playing the game since Virender Sehwag.
Warner and Pietersen draw off-field parallels as well. Both are enigmas- Warner for his metamorphosis, from T20 basher to Test match stalwart, and Pietersen for his roundabout journey from playing for Natal in South Africa to qualifying for England and becoming one of their greatest ever batsmen.
They also share famously abrasive personalities. Pietersen’s acrimonious relationship with the English board never truly recovered after he was forced to resign after only five months as captain, as a result of a troubled relationship with coach Peter Moores. His career continued to be tainted by scandal, ranging from a premature (and eventually reversed) retirement from one-day cricket, ostensibly to be able to play the IPL, to leaked derogatory text messages to the South African team in the midst of a Test series regarding his then captain, Andrew Strauss (who was later caught on mic calling Pietersen a ‘cunt’). His whirlwind spell as an English cricketer finally came to an end after the torrid tour of Australia in 2013-14, when it was decided by the powers that be that he was instrumental to a toxicity that had been created in the team culture.
Warner’s disciplinary difficulties have had more of a hostile nature about them than Pietersen’s. He has appeared as the regrettable stereotype of the brash, uneducated Australian bogan, and while that may be a symptom of his rough upbringing, his behavior at times has indeed come to beggar belief. He punched Joe Root at a bar before an Ashes series, feuded with journalists on Twitter, and spat at Rohit Sharma to “speak English” during a match. He has, however, reformed his behavior in recent years, something he attributed to his growing maturity as a family man. For some reason, Warner has oscillated back to his controversial worst, as teammates had to restrain him during a stairwell altercation with de Kock during the ongoing South Africa series, and was caught on camera exchanging heated words with a spectator following his dismissal. This was before the ball-tampering scandal.
Some would deem it unfair to Pietersen to compare him so closely to Warner when it comes to off-field demeanor. While a difficult individual himself, Pietersen never quite captured ridicule and the aura of sheer stupidity that Warner has. His crimes, even assuming all the allegations of are true, pale in the face of Warner’s role in the ball-tampering controversy. Reports have emerged that he was the main force behind the scheme and that he has now ‘gone rogue’, leaving the team Whatsapp group and reneging on his newfound teetotalism by drinking in the hotel bar after the controversy broke. It is understood that teammates are furious, and do not want to step onto the field with him again.
And so, as we await Cricket Australia’s disciplinary verdict, it is with regret that we must come to terms with the very real possibility of having another one of the game’s great entertainers having his career cut short. Many former players decry the decline of the cricketing persona, blaming professionalism and corporate interests for taking away much of the charm of the game. Warner and Pietersen, if nothing else, are personas through and through. They are larger than life and almost supersede reality with the videogame-esque scope of their talents when they are on song. Perhaps it is part of some sort of poetic bargain, for them to simultaneously be as troubled as they are brilliant,and we simply could have never had the showmanship without the inner turmoil.
In the words of Childish Gambino (who has no particular relevance here, but I was listening to earlier): You hate me but you will respect.