DUBAI // It is not often that the new England cricket captain Kevin Pietersen is happy to finish second, but you feel that he might be delighted at this one. "Kevin is a fantastic player," said the former Australian wicketkeeper Rod Marsh. "He is the second best player to come through any of the academies I have had. He is only second to Ricky Ponting."
Marsh rates the Australian captain Ponting the best teenage cricketer he has seen, so Pietersen is in exulted company, especially as Marsh was academy boss of both of them. And Marsh, who is the director of coaching at the ICC's new Global Cricket Academy in Dubai, believes England have made a wise decision in appointing Pietersen in succession to both Michael Vaughan (Tests) and Paul Collingwood (one-day/Twenty20) as captain. "He was a pretty obvious choice as England had to go down the road of picking the best player as captain.
"It is a road Australia go down. And when you look at the alternatives there weren't that many. "[Andrew] Strauss doesn't play all the forms of the game and is Ian Bell in good enough form? "They must have had him in mind when they made him captain in New Zealand. "He will be judged on how well he plays as a player. As a captain, they win games he will be the hero, if he loses them he probably won't last very long in the job. That's the way it is," Marsh said.
The flamboyant Pietersen irritates as many people as love him. He has been accused of flightiness and "playing for himself". He faces a battle to win over the dressing room, but Marsh doesn't feel it will be a problem. "He will have to work out how to get the respect of the players," he said. "If he thinks he can do it by continuing to play as he does, then he should just carry on. If he doesn't then he will probably have to change his ways."
There is much turmoil surrounding the game at the moment, with drug scandals, internal strife over Twenty20 and arguments about staging the Champions Trophy in Pakistan. But Marsh tries to take the positives from the negatives, particularly the emergence of a young spinner. "At least the game is being spoken about. If everything was running smoothly, then cricket probably wouldn't make the papers.
"But you look at the series between Sri Lanka and India and it is a fantastic one. Ajantha Mendis is a breath of fresh air and great for the game. "He's got 18 wickets in his first two Test matches against India [traditionally good players of spin]. I shudder to think how many he would have got against England, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa [who are not]. He would probably have got all 40. Although Murali might have had something to say about that."
But Marsh is worried about the growing influence Twenty20 is having on the game. "It stands to reason that the more you play the more you get paid," he said. "I see Twenty 20 as a danger in that respect with guys getting huge contracts for playing very little cricket. "Then something comes up like the Champions Trophy and they think: 'Do I want to go? Is it going to change my life drastically?' "There's going to be some tough decisions made by players. Do they want to play for their countries or take the money and run?"
Pietersen turned down the chance to join the Indian Premier League revolution, despite being offered huge sums, and is set to reap his reward with the lucrative benefits to be found as England captain. And Marsh added: "If you want to be judged by your peers, and most professional sportsmen do, you will never be judged on Twenty20, you will always be judged by Test match cricket." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org