The Antagonist - Rooney and Pietersen are battling the same demons

03 September 2010 08:13

At first glance, Wayne Rooney and Kevin Pietersen appear to have very little in common.

Rooney hailed from a traditional working class Liverpool family and attended the local comprehensive school, whereas Pietersen was the product of a relatively well- heeled family comprising an English mother and Afrikaans father, and spent his schooldays in one of South Africa's better known public schools.

Rooney could in no way be described as a 'flash Harry'. Pietersen, on the other hand, although less flamboyant now than when he first burst onto the scene with his highlights, piercings and extravagant batting style, could still justifiably be saddled with that epithet.

Whilst Rooney is the ultimate team player, sometimes being criticised for being a little too unselfish, Pietersen has often been accused of being just a little bit too concerned with his own performance, twice being dismissed just a few runs short of a century, attempting to gloriously slog the ball out of the ground.

Rooney tends to shun the media and is fairly circumspect with his comments. Pietersen courts it and his often forthright opinions have frequently worked against him. This was perhaps best exemplified when he was stripped of the England captaincy following his outspoken criticism of the then England management and, more recently, his unguarded tirade on Twitter, earlier this week, in response to his omission from the one day international squad.

- Joe Strange on Arteta / Will Tidey on England v Bulgaria / Follow it LIVE from 8pm / Bulgaria guide

Rooney is potato head. Pietersen is the new Brylcreem Boy.

I could go on.

What binds them together today, however, is the previously unencountered and enduring loss of form and confidence that both have experienced in recent months.

Despite Rooney's 'sympathy vote' penalty goal against West Ham on Saturday, he hasn't scored a goal from open play in a competitive match since his injury in March, endured a torrid World Cup and, despite a slight improvement in form on Saturday, must still be a real worry for Sir Alex Ferguson and Fabio Capello.

Pietersen has posted the occasional encouraging score since his return from an Achilles injury in the middle of the Ashes series last season but has struggled to find any consistency in his batting and was woeful against Pakistan in the recent series.

What both of these players did have in common (and, I am certain, still do) was huge natural talent and a strong belief in their own ability which was nourished by the consistently world class performances they turned in before injury halted both of them in their tracks.

The familiar swagger that comes from such self belief is now conspicuously absent from the pair of them and Rooney's desperation is front of goal and Pietersen's uncertain decision making in front of World class bowlers is tangible.

What was once second nature, an almost innate ability to hit the right ball or play the right shot, has now become a distant memory; the fear of failure taking the place of the unerring confidence that preceded it.

What had been so easy, so straightforward, for both of them in the past has suddenly become much more complicated.

It appears to be a case of the mind getting in the way, clogging the artistic arteries through which their genius once flowed.

It would, of course, be premature and extreme folly to assign either superstar to the sporting dustbin. A hat-trick for Rooney against Bulgaria tonight and a return to form for Surrey followed by selection for the Ashes tour for Pietersen could turn it all around for both of them.

In the meantime, what have we learned from the travails of two of our most beloved sports heroes?

It is abundantly clear that disparate personalities such as Rooney and Pietersen can suffer equally when the equilibrium of mind and body are thrown out of kilter. The cerebral and physiological elements are after all, in a sporting context, inextricably linked and both need to be in harmony for top performance to occur.

In both cases, the body has mended.

It remains to be seen whether they each have the mental fortitude to complete the healing process.

Source: DSG

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