Hate. It’s a strong word. We use it pretty often – we fucking hate Noel Edmonds and everything he stands for, for a start – without ever really thinking about what it actually means. Our latest Unlikely Lad has been reviled amongst our (un)remarkably small group of friends for what seems like his entire career. We’ll admit we’ve had a few pops at him as well (such as The Kieswetter Experiment, where we suggested that it wasn’t all his fault, and Craig Kieswetter: A Defence, where we suggested it definitely was). But can we really bring ourselves to actually admit, in public, that we hate a sportsman whose career was recently ended by a horrific eye injury?
Yes, we had to put a protective barrier up in front of the TV when he was batting and yes, his non-catching approach to wicket-keeping caused many a swear word to escape from our lips. But is that really enough? What about his remarkably square face?
My name is Nichael Bluth and I hate Craig Kieswetter.
The story of square-faced Craig is an atypical one in recent times: born in South Africa, he briefly looked like the missing link for England’s limited overs sides before ending up being a bit rubbish. And annoying an awful lot of people along the way.
But we’re pretty sure we didn’t hate Kieswetter back in 2010 when he and Michael Lumb accidentally revolutionised England’s approach to T20 while playing for England Lions, smacking the full side all over the park in a friendly match in Abu Dhabi. Had it not been for Kieswetter and Lumb’s fireworks, England would have gone into the following World Cup with Joe Denly and Jonathan Trott opening. Has there ever been a less electrifying combination in sports entertainment?
Driven by their new dynamic duo at the top of the order, England brought home the World T20 trophy from the Caribbean. Kieswetter was man of the match in the final, having spanked the Aussies attack around Barbados, making 63 from 49 balls. We definitely didn’t hate him at that point, even if he did get out in comedy fashion by leaving a perfectly straight delivery.
Shortly before that tournament, Kieswetter also made his ODI debut in Bangladesh, hitting a hundred from the top of the order in just his third match. Back then England ODI hundreds were rare things indeed. Wicket-keeper hundreds even more so: between them, Matt Prior, Chris Read and Geraint Jones played 141 ODIs without making a single century. Clearly, a star was born, even if he wasn’t actually wearing the gloves just yet.
My name is Nichael Bluth and I love Craig Kieswetter.
But from that wonderful start, things tailed off pretty quickly. Bowlers soon worked out that he only seemed to have two shots: the block and the wild swing. His inability to actually rotate the strike grew from a minor quibble to a major inconvenience to an all-consuming obsession. The start of England’s defence of their World T20 crown saw the defining Kieswetter innings, a six ball duck against Afghanistan. The first over dragged on for what felt like days; Shapoor Zadran pounding in, Craig Kieswetter unable or unwilling to hit it off the square. Dot ball after dot ball. The projected score of zero seemingly burned into the scoreboard. Kieswetter a rabbit in the Afghani headlights. The clink of the bails finally throwing themselves to the floor from the final ball of the over, unable to take the pressure for a second longer. Cheers from fans of both sides.
The following game – against India – followed a similar pattern. Three desperate dot balls to open the innings before a suicidal single and botched run-out saw Kieswetter finally get off the mark. He actually went on to make 35, the top score in a spectacularly dismal England effort, but followed it up with another duck against the West Indies and 4 from 14 balls against New Zealand before there came the sweet release of Jonny Bairstow taking the gloves against Sri Lanka as England crashed out.
My name is Nichael Bluth and I hate Craig Kieswetter.
Kieswetter drifted out of the international scene altogether shortly afterwards, with England finally settling on Jos Buttler as their long-term wicket-keeper in the shorter forms. He returned to county cricket, where he continued to do reasonably well for Somerset, every decent innings a reminder of what could have been, every rubbish block-block-slog innings a reminder of what had been.
However, with England finally embracing a modern approach to ODI cricket, the stage could now have been set for a triumphant Kieswetter return, leading the ODI and T20 sides from the front, fearlessly looking to hit over the top in the early overs (in the exact role that Jason Roy and Moeen Ali are currently fighting over). Instead a short ball from David Willey sneaked through the grille of his helmet (you can watch it here, if you’re that way inclined), smashing up his eye socket and – despite an attempt at a comeback – ending his career at the age of just 27.
Hence we’ll never know if Kieswetter could have made it back and become part of England’s latest fresh start. As a pinch-hitting opener, he had few equals in the English game, so we’ll have to assume that, as he approached his cricketing peak, he just might have made it back into the side. Maybe even all the way back into our hearts.
My name is Nichael Bluth and I could have loved Craig Kieswetter.