Kevin Pietersen has criticised England captain Ben Stokes for his “reckless batting” following his dismissal against India on day three of the fifth Test.
Walking in to bat at 83-5 on the second evening, Stokes looked to bat aggressively the next day, quickly moving to 25 off 31 with the help of four fours. However, his stay at the crease was not short of drama, with the all-rounder dropped twice by the Indian fielders before he was out to an excellent catch by Jasprit Bumrah.
He received his first lifeline on the first ball of the 36th over, when Shardul Thakur dropped a sitter at cover. Stokes, looking to go for a big hit, came down the track but ended up miscuing it to Thakur, who failed to latch on. Two overs later, he tried to attempt another big hit, dancing down against a short ball, only to see Bumrah at mid-off let go of another chance.
However, he was unable to survive much longer. The very next ball, the England all-rounder slapped a Thakur delivery in the same area, but an alert Bumrah managed to dive to his left to dismiss his counterpart for a 36-ball 35. His departure left Pietersen, who was commentating on Sky Sports, frustrated, as the hosts were reduced to 149-6 after India scored 416 in their first essay.
“I was just watching Ben Stokes there for 10 minutes, and that little passage of play where he ran down the wicket and slogged one straight up in the air,” he said. “He ran down the wicket again and he slogged it straight to mid-off, dropped catch. This is reckless batting. This is not defending your wicket. This is not protecting what we call the value of your wicket as a batter, because Test match hundreds are valuable commodities. And when you get a Test match hundred it means a hell of a lot, because of the stress and the tension and the patience and the discipline that goes into it.
“I was watching Stokes there and thinking, ‘he’s the captain, he’s the leader. He’s talking about this new brand of cricket.’ Slog, Thakur drops him. Slog, straight to mid-off, drops him. Slog again, out. That’s not a brain fade. When I talk about hiding behind the statement, ‘that’s how I play,’ occasionally with aggressive players like Ben Stokes, and Jonny Bairstow, there will be a brain fade. Who’s to say that Jonny Bairstow is not going to hit one to deep square leg, and he can say ‘well I was going good, I saw it and I hit it.’ Those are three ‘brain fades’ from Ben Stokes in 10 minutes, and that’s where I think the devaluing of his Test wicket is something that I’m watching and thinking may not be a good thing.”
Since taking over the Test captaincy, Stokes’ attacking nature has reached a new level, with a strike-rate above 80 in six innings so far this summer. Pietersen also had a word of advice for the 31-year-old, saying that he need not be “ultra-aggressive” when batting.
“I would tell Ben Stokes that he doesn’t need to try and prove a point by being ultra-aggressive,” he said. “Ben Stokes has an aura that when he walks out to the wicket, the bowler knows he needs to be bowling his best deliveries in order to get him out, and sometimes their best deliveries, they know are going to get hit for four, and sometimes get hit for six. What I see at the moment with Ben Stokes is somebody who’s the captain, the leader, and he is trying to command some sort of authority by running at bowlers.
“Ben Stokes can stand still and do what Jonny Bairstow is doing here today. He doesn’t need to run at bowlers. He doesn’t need to lose his head. And he doesn’t need to slog balls straight up in the air when England are in all sorts of strife. And that’s the only thing I would tell him. I would not tell him at all to not go after the bowlers in the way that he goes after the bowlers. But please stand still and watch what Jonny Bairstow is doing at the moment, because he’s too good a player to slog one up in the air, slog it to mid-off, and slog himself out.”