England cricketing great Kevin Pietersen has likened the controversial LIV Golf International Series to the formation of the Indian Premier League and hopes golf can soon settle its differences.

Pietersen was no stranger to controversy as a talented multi-format player, with his commitment to England questioned after the inaugural IPL, when lucrative T20 franchise cricket was born.

The South Africa-born batter captained England for just three Tests and 12 ODIs before his resignation and ultimately announced his international retirement in 2012 after scheduling disagreements – only to soon return.

Pietersen reportedly took issue with the strain put on players by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), with their involvement in franchise cricket around the world limited.

The 42-year-old, who suggested English players were jealous of those offered lucrative IPL contracts, spent the latter stages of his career in various domestic leagues, appearing in tournaments across India, Australia, Pakistan and the Caribbean.

Having been bought for a whopping £1.1million by Royal Challengers Bangalore for the second edition of the then-controversial IPL in 2009, Pietersen remains aware of the potential for differences of opinion when it comes to new beginnings in sport.

LIV Golf has come under intense scrutiny, with vocal opponents criticising the Saudi-backed breakaway league, which offers lucrative prize funds that the PGA Tour is yet to compete with.

Ten major champions have defected to LIV Golf, leaving a cloud hanging over the final major of the year, The Open Championship, where the R&A has allowed breakaway players to feature despite their PGA Tour bans.

Pietersen, speaking after playing the Old Course, St Andrews ahead of The 150th Open on Monday, hopes the issues between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour will soon be resolved.

"I don't really have a take on it because it doesn't matter what I think," he said. 

"But having been part of the Indian Premier League and franchise cricket around the world, I think eventually – and I hope – that everything just merges and everybody lives as one happy family in the future.

"Sport is such a unifying thing. It unifies people, it unifies countries, unifies teams, and the ability to make it into something great is important.

"So, I just hope that for the greater good of the sport, things happen in the next few years. Clearly, there was going to be an outcry at the start by certain people in certain countries. 

"But let's hope that in two, three years' time, golf is celebrated for the great game that it is."

Pietersen has been offered the chance to play at St Andrews before the major starts and believes the short distance of the course may offer the injury-hampered Tiger Woods a chance of success.

"These guys are just so special. I mean, they are quite something when they perform to the calibre of performances that we see these kinds of freak shows," he added.

"[Xander] Schauffele comes in with great form, having won three times in the last three weeks or so. Louis [Oosthuizen] as well, he won, and then he got a runner-up.

"I think you come in here with experience and – you can relate it back to cricket – there are certain grounds in the world that you go to [where] you think, 'Okay, I have a real good chance here because I know this place. I love this place and I know how to bat here.'

"So I think, in terms of golf, there will be a few players that say, 'Yep, I know this place. I like this place'. 

"Maybe even Tiger, this is not a hard walk; we walked it yesterday, this is a very easy walk. For him to be able to turn up here, show that dedication and commitment months ago towards this tournament... you never know.

"We played next to him yesterday, and he played in front of us. There's a crazy sound that comes off the back when he hits, it's very special."

Ben Stokes has taken Test cricket by storm with his attacking approach to captaining England, but the all-rounder must value his wicket more.

That is the message from former England batter Kevin Pietersen, who hailed the start Stokes has made as skipper, winning each of his first four Tests.

Stokes and Brendon McCullum have restored interest in the five-day game, with their aggressive intent in the longest format resulting in a series whitewash of New Zealand and victory over India.

In each of those victories, England have chased down scores of more than 275 runs and they saved their best until last with a seven-wicket win over India, completing their highest Test chase of 378 with ease.

Yorkshire duo Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root have been the standout performers for McCullum's side, and Pietersen believes the attitude of Stokes is refreshing for the England set-up and cricket in general.

"They're doing something incredible. The last few run chases, pretty much record-breaking. I have been watching it in astonishment," Pietersen said after playing the Old Course, St Andrews ahead of the 150th Open Championship.

"We were all astonished by Ben Stokes winning the toss and saying, 'we'll chase'. I mean, I'd never heard of that in my life. I was standing with Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussain, and we were like, 'did he just say that?'

"No one's ever said that before and, fair play, if you're going to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. The wickets have been very good, so they've been able to do that.

"Can you do that in India on day three, day four of a Test match? I'm not so sure but I think these guys are good enough.

"And if they play with that freedom, of spirit and mind, they can achieve some cool things. I'm all in to watch how it goes."

Stokes has courted criticism for embodying England's approach too excessively after somewhat cheap dismissals against New Zealand and India, though, and Pietersen urged for caution from the captain.

"The only thing I do see and want to see is that he does value his wicket a little more than then what I saw in Birmingham, he's too good a player to slog it straight in the air," he added.

"He's too good a player to do that. Just have a look at how Bairstow played has played with freedom of spirit, freedom of mind.

"He accessed all areas of the ground and he puts so much pressure on the opposition. I just think Ben is better than that, and I'm sure he'll accept that, and he'll know that I just want to see him flourishing."

Bairstow has set the benchmark for 'Bazball', an endearing term for McCullum's attacking approach that the New Zealand legend is not too great a fan of.

The 32-year-old scored the second-fastest Test hundred for England at Trent Bridge before reaching three figures in three of his next four innings, the only exception being a rapid 71 not out at Headingley.

His unbeaten 114 against India marked his sixth century of 2022, which is the most by a player while batting at number five or lower in a calendar year and joint-most by an England batter in the same time period (level with Root), and Pietersen backed Bairstow to continue playing freely.

"There's no real pressure because he's not being frowned upon by the powers that be, he is being asked by the senior management to play that way," he continued.

"I think it's a privilege to be able to go out there and just express yourself. The balls up, just give it a smack and everybody says instead of smacking it that hard, I want you to smack it harder – awesome, no pressure."

Former England captain turned cricket analyst Kevin Pietersen has expressed surprise at the decision by Punjab Kings XI to legendary West Indian batsman Chris Gayle out of the line-up on his birthday.

The iconic ball-beater turned 42 on Tuesday but could only watch from the bench as the team fell to a 2 runs loss to Rajasthan Royals.  The West Indian has managed 178 runs in 8 matches, with an average of 25.42.  The average is the fourth-best on the team, but on Tuesday the Kings opted for Aiden Markham at the third place in the line-up, which Gayle has been occupying since last season.

Pietersen admits he found the situation to be an unusual one.

   "There will be some questions asked. I don’t understand why you would leave Chris Gayle out on his birthday,” Pietersen said on Star Sports.

“If there was one game you were going to play him, it was this one. If he failed then you say ‘ok, you can have a bit of rest’. So, I can’t understand the thinking at all," he added.

Gayle has been selected for the West Indies T20 squad for next month’s ICC World T20, the appearance will mark his 7th at the global tournament.

Kumar Sangakkara believes pandemic cricket is taking an increasing toll on cricket's leading starts after Ben Stokes decided to take an indefinite break from the game.

England vice-captain Stokes made an ahead-of-schedule return from a finger injury to lead a reserve squad to a 3-0 ODI series win over earlier this month after a coronavirus outbreak saw the initial party stood down en masse.

It was the latest demonstration of the particular challenges these times bring for elite cricketers, with all-rounder Stokes an all-format player who has spent large chunks of the past year in bio-secure bubbles on home soil and away in Sri Lanka and India.

The T20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates precedes a December-January Ashes series in Australia and Stokes, who featured in the inaugural Hundred for the Northern Superchargers has elected to take a step back ahead the forthcoming five-match home Test series against India.

A statement from the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) said the 30-year-old would "prioritise his mental wellbeing and rest his left index finger", with managing director of England men's cricket Ashley Giles acknowledging "the ongoing pandemic has acutely compounded" the pressures of top-level cricket.

Speaking to Sky Sports, former Sri Lanka captain Sangakkara suggested such occurrences were likely to become more commonplace the longer sport has to coexist with the global health crisis.

"It all adds up. A lot of time away from home, a lot of time in bubbles, restrictions in terms of freedom of movement, a lot of protocols in place. Then the added pressure of performing at such an intensely high level in the public eye," he said.

"It's very difficult to pinpoint what could be different. Individuals deal with things differently and, over time, you can reach a point where you need a breather and a break.

"He needs support and good people around him and hopefully he's back as soon as possible.

"In the news, we've had a host of athletes who've spoken about mental well-being, the effects of COVID and the pressure around it."

Kevin Pietersen, the former England batsman, also gave the star his best wishes, noting the pain Stokes endured when his father died in December last year after a battle with cancer.

"I hope he's okay. He's a fabulous cricketer, one of the best in the world at the moment," Pietersen told Sky Sports.

“He obviously lost his dad, there are a lot of things that have happened to Ben Stokes in the last couple of years.

"I don't want to comment too much on it because we don't know what the issue is. All I know is I want him to be okay."

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