Opinion: Learn the right lessons and pray for KP-X

Blog Opinion

Kevin Pietersen's x-factor may be England's only remaining card. But the signs are not favourable – because Mitchell Johnson knows it's fun to swing at the W-A-C-A, writes Scott Oliver.

Looking back over the wreckage in Adelaide, it all now seems so utterly inevitable. All the signs were there, were they not? Ah, how hindsight bestows its gifts of wisdom. But it also just as assuredly confers its stupidity, its blindness.

The worst thing to do in any analysis is start with the result and work 'logically' backward, for the shortcut-seeking human brain is almost bound to alight upon the seemingly irrefutable linear march of cause and effect. But of course cricket is a nonlinear game of successive moments, each pregnant with possibility, each one a potential turning point, a bifurcation in destiny – or rather, a possible future lost forever.

The moment goes against you, the game starts to slip away; the team dwells on the turning point and, lo and behold, a self-fulfilling prophecy takes shape. (Perhaps rugby players are the most stoical of all sportsmen in the face of 'destiny', since their matches, seasons, entire careers can turn on the random bounce of the ball.)

So, just as it would have been easy for Australia to have drawn erroneous conclusions about the "gulf" between the sides from the three-nil defeat in the English summer – a few sessions here, a moment or two there, and the brute self-evidence of history is oh so different – so it is vital that England follow the precise path of the game, isolate its crucial moments, and from their draw succour.

Clearly – clearly looking back, that is – England were again blown away by the Mitchell Johnson heavy artillery, yet the game started to slip away with Michael Carberry's crucial drop late on day one. How different it might all have been. But the Sliding Doors had closed. Thereafter, a punishing partnership by two aggressive and already confident batsmen demoralised England further until, after some salty blows from Harris, it was Johnson time, a whole lot of stored-up vengeance in his 150kph thunderbolts.

Nice time to bowl, too: 550 on the board, coming off Man of the Match, against a team with zero form. Very different to 350 all out, when a couple of wayward spells puts the opponent's nose in front of the game, and from there you can smell the win.

Of course, this is not the whole of England's woes, but it is a significant factor in the train-wreck that set off across the Nullabor for the historically ill winds of Perth (little curative there about 'The Doctor'). It is Cook and Flower's urgent job to remind their troops of the lost possibilities, those pregnant moments. And they must do it in a way that is both convincing – that is, not puffed-up rhetoric and ad-slogan optimism – and not castigatory or scapegoat-finding. A delicate affair.

Sure, England need to ask why they didn't create more opportunities, why they weren't more resilient; but more than anything else they need genuine cause for optimism. Little surprise, then, that Flower's rallying call in the press conference was for the experienced players to step up. Privately, he might have been thinking (although he couldn't say it publically, for a number of reasons) about one player in particular.

What Johnson's bowling has demonstrated so palpably is the inestimable value of cricketers with x-factor (previously, some felt that the major Mitch mystery had been a selectorial 'why?-factor'). Glenn McGrath has recently said as much and, as has been seen intermittently, the left-arm slinger has always had it in him.

As for England, their establishment as a cricketing power under Flower has by and large been based on solid, no-frills cricket performed excellently. Trott, Cook, Bell, even Anderson, so devastating in home conditions – all are steady, remorseless, rather than explosive. What doses of x-factor there has been have invariably been provided by Kevin Pietersen – witness the staggering hundreds in Colombo, Leeds, and Mumbai.

Essentially, the x-factor player is akin to Richard the Lionheart in Ridley Scott's Robin Hood: first into the breach, roaring with focused aggression as he bursts through the citadel doors, sundering the self-assurance of the opposition, emboldening his own men. The technocrats then come in and administrate the take-over.

But there's also a flipside to the x-factor player: so thoroughly does he regulate the feelings of potency in a team, so habitually do his teammates look for him to lead the way, that when these players don't show up it can be deflating, and in a manner inordinate with their potency defined statistically. It's like having a rocket launcher that doesn't go off – and only discovering it in the middle of the battle. (This deflation defined Ricky Ponting's final years as skipper, constantly having his fingers crossed for next time as he talked up his bellwether, Johnson.)

It is no exaggeration to say that an hour or so of Pietersen spanking Johnson – not to mention his nemesis, Siddle – around Perth could change the course of the series. It could bring steel where there's fragility, create Baggy Green doubt where there's certainty.

It may be England's only remaining card. But the signs are not propitious. This is Mitch's patch. And he knows it's fun to swing at the W-A-C-A. As for England: you do know this is village, people?

<b>Scott Oliver</b>

Latest