After a proven cricketer is robbed of the privilege of donning national colours, is there a lure stronger than the pride of playing for the country?
Ten years ago, the question would have been deemed hypothetical. Not today. Not since the Indian Premier League (IPL) kicked off the trend of T20 leagues six years ago.
For an IPL player, an opportunity to display his prowess against some of the sport's best in front of a billion eyes is lucrative. The astronomical amount of money that can be earned was the reason why ‘the country versus club' debate came into play.
For those discarded by their countries, the league transforms into a quiet shelter. Sanath Jayasuriya and Chris Gayle have ridden the phenomenon called the IPL, and Kevin Pietersen is currently experiencing it.
Like the Sri Lankan marauder and Jamaican powerhouse, Pietersen was axed by the England and Wales Cricket Board after a disastrous Ashes campaign in Australia. The explosive batsman was the only Englishman to show a semblance of fight on the tour, but that did not matter. The management along with captain Alastair Cook considered it best to keep Pietersen away from the dressing room. Amidst a raging debate in England, the 33-year-old was told his country did not need his services anymore.
But times have changed. Pietersen was bought for a startling Rs. 12.5 crore by the Delhi Daredevils. If that was not enough, the Gary Kirsten-coached outfit appointed him captain, something that had been snatched away from him after a brief stint by his national board.
Thus, when a Pietersen-less England were reeling from the aftermath of a disastrous World T20 campaign in Bangladesh, the maverick batsman was flying towards an ‘exciting' new chapter. "The journey begins...leaving London for Delhi now! What an exciting new chapter!" he tweeted on Sunday.
On touchdown, Pietersen clarified that he would not take the field as a rebel. "What transpired in March has nothing to do with what I'm about to do now. I'm not out here to make any point and neither do I play cricket for that reason."
Pietersen would rather not devote much of this thought to a place where there are more critics than well wishers, especially when he is surrounded by people who will overwhelm him with adulation without worrying about his past. "KP is a terrific player, a crowd-puller. The opposition also always thinks about ways of dealing with him. So, it is great to have him at the Daredevils," TA Sekar, Daredevils mentor, told HT.
"It happens to players, when they are mentally not ready to retire. They have a couple of years left. That is when the IPL presents the perfect platform."
For Pietersen, the IPL will allow him to play top-level cricket despite being away from the international arena. "The IPL has most of the best domestic and international talent. Thus, Pietersen can test his skill and showcase it to big crowds while playing against them," explained Sekar. "In fact, it gives him the chance to play against players from all across the world as compared to say a series he would play for England against India."
Another factor that takes a hit when a player falls out of favour with the national board is the money. Once a player does not play for the country, it is difficult to attract advertisers. Thus, his income takes a hit apart from losing out on the board's contract money.
"Money also plays a big role. Nowhere in the world do you get the kind of money that the IPL can offer while playing against the best players in the world," said Sekar.
"Whatever money he loses by missing out on a central contract, which is very high for a player like KP, he can make up at the IPL. Also, in England you don't get sponsorships if you don't play Test cricket. So IPL helps monetarily as well."
For certain players, the hunger to play for the country remains. On his arrival in India, Pietersen had also expressed hope of being given the opportunity to play Tests again. "Maybe, I'll still get to 10,000 runs," he stated.
It was after eye-catching IPL performances that Jayasuriya and Gayle won back their national places. Retired from Tests, an ageing Jayasuriya won back his one-day place in 2008. Gayle was unstoppable for the Royal Challengers Bangalore after having come in as a replacement for Dirk Nannes in 2012, which meant his return to the national side was a formality.
A similarly productive IPL season may just swing the momentum back in Pietersen's favour, as far as national representation is concerned. "I had him in the team in 2012 and I did not see any problem. Every coach except the ones involved in what went wrong after his Australia tour would want KP in the side," added Sekar.
For now, Pietersen has an IPL to impress. If he manages an electrifying outing, he may have to put his 5000-mile commute between England and West Indies in July to take simultaneous part in the T20 leagues of both the countries on hold. After all, there is a history of players regaining national spots through the IPL.