Speaking at the annual MAK Pataudi Memorial Lecture in Bangalore on Tuesday evening, Kevin Pietersen reserved a lot – and much of his best – words for the Afghanistan Test team players, who were in attendance.
Afghanistan are getting ready to play their maiden Test match, against India in the same city from Thursday, and no one who has followed the game needs to be told what a momentous and historic occasion it will be when the 11 cricketers from the war-ravaged country walk out in their whites.
Two days before the Test, Pietersen spoke directly to the team, led by Asghar Stanikzai and starring the likes of Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi.
“I propose that as a man who understood this game’s power to unite and spread joy, he [Pataudi] would share my enormous sense of excitement and optimism in addressing these words to one particular group of people in this room,” started Pietersen, whose speech was otherwise focussed on the future of Test cricket.
“Yes, 11 of you. Eleven young men who, in less than two days, will walk into the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru to represent your country in its first ever Test match. There are many others infinitely better qualified to describe the social, political and cultural impact of that sporting leap. But I know what it means as a sportsman. Because, in my humble opinion a hard-fought five-day Test match remains the greatest all-round challenge in modern-day sport.
“A challenge as mentally demanding as it is physical. A challenge demanding the very highest levels of concentration of technique, of determination, of stamina, all, for the batsman at least, with no second chances. Because, having played every form of cricket in every corner of the cricketing globe, I remain 100% convinced that the five-day Test remains the supreme form of the game.”
That was towards the start of his time on the dais. Pietersen returned to the subject as he closed the lecture.
“The squad, the management, and all those who helped you get here. You guys are sitting on the very edge of history. The doom-mongers say this is a dying form of the game, but you have it within your grasp to keep it alive. You are representing a population of 36 million people.
“Your country has scaled the ladder across the shorter forms of the game but this is bigger and better. And I have every faith that at some stage during the game one of you will lift your bat – or the ball – up high. Not just to acknowledge the applause for your personal achievement but, more significantly, to pinpoint that moment when all your hard work, the sacrifices you have made and the expectations of others that you have carried on your shoulders have borne fruit.
“At that moment, you will feel a surge of adrenaline, a moment that trumps anything I have experienced in life because you know how difficult it is, how unlikely it was and, uniquely in your case, you will not only have succeeded as a Test cricketer but you will have done so as a pioneer. Someone who brought your nation into the Test-match arena, in which our heroes have been competing for 150 years and made your own piece of history.
“The headline writers around the globe are waiting! You are changing the perception of your country that has been in the news for the wrong reasons for far too long. Far from Test cricket dying, you are creating a new beginning. And my dearest hope is that the administrators of cricket around the world can do everything within their power to harness that momentum across India, the subcontinent and beyond.
“And last but most definitely not least, when you are at the crease; when you have played yourselves in; when you decide to take the attack to the bowlers, commit yourselves fully. Not just to attack. But to entertain. Play in the spirit of the great Tiger Pataudi. And if you take his values onto the square then whatever you achieve in this game and wherever it takes you, you will never regret a moment of it.”