Many people are still apoplectic about Kevin Pietersen’s sudden axing from the England team. “He was a scapegoat” they cry “he was our best batsman and the faceless suits murdered him”. Similar things were said about Jim Morrison when he was arrested in Miami for exposing himself on stage. “The establishment don’t like what he represents man” fans of The Doors said. “It’s a CIA conspiracy against individualism baby”. What they forget, of course, is that simulating fellatio in front of thousands of people is against the law. It was always going to get Jim arrested. The problem was, the Lizard King didn’t stop to think about the consequences of his actions.
I’ve now been through the contents of KP’s book with a fine-tooth comb. It’s not an autobiography; it’s an autopsy. What’s more, it’s brilliantly entertaining if you take the contents with a liberal pinch of salt. Although Matt Prior was a brilliant servant of English cricket, I loved all the Big Cheese stuff. “I knew the Big Cheese when he was just milk”. Take a bow David Walsh.
However, one of the things I cannot ignore is just how disturbed, just how contradictory, and just how, well, all over the place, Kevin Pietersen’s head is. Mike Atherton called KP an ‘unreliable witness’. He’s got a point. The bloke is a walking paradox: an incredibly insecure and sensitive man who always, in all circumstances, talks his mind in a direct and often brutal manner. If Kevin Pietersen ever met Kevin Pietersen they would immediately become best mates, fall out within a fortnight and then become sworn enemies for life.
The first thing that strikes me is KP’s failure to appreciate, or even tolerate, anyone who thinks in a different way to him. “I speak to people in the African way: direct, open, honest”. He can’t be doing with people who are more tactful, like Andrew Strauss for example. KP doesn’t like those with a different approach, and what’s more he can’t resist telling them where they’re going wrong: “if I feel you are the sort of person who enjoys the comfort-zone way of life, I tell you”. Thanks heavens you never shared a dressing room with Lord Gower, eh Kev. It’s your way or the highway.
Although Pietersen’s personality has its good points – his dedication, determination and honesty make it difficult not to empathise with him – one cannot help but feel sympathy for Andy Flower too. Here was a bloke, equally stubborn, dutifully trying to impose methods that his best batsman so unashamedly rejected. No wonder they fell out.
Whatever you think of Andy Flower – and I personally think he was a very good coach who simply stayed too long – it’s incredibly difficult to govern a team when one of your senior lieutenants is in open rebellion. Pietersen once refused to receive thrown downs from Flower in the nets. I find this remarkable. KP constantly moans about Flower trying to get rid of him, but it’s clear that Pietersen would have moved heaven and earth to vanquish the head coach too. The irony is obvious, yet never articulated in his book.
This is what gets me about KP: he seems like a good bloke, whose heart is in the right place, but I just found myself shaking my head and gasping at his testimony again and again. For example, he insists he didn’t give an ultimatum to Giles Clarke over Peter Moores’ future, yet he admits telling the ECB the current situation couldn’t carry on and something had to give. It’s basically the same thing: one of them had to go.
Pietersen also frequently switches from insecurity to outright paranoia. Some of his theories are far fetched, nonsensical and just plain irrational. He argues that Downton criticised his careless batting at the MCG purely to wind him up; he apparently wanted Pietersen to lose his cool in in front of Whitaker so they’d have an excuse to sack him. He also claims that Flower was ‘visibly upset’ when he complied with the reintegration process after textgate: KP says the coach had ‘wagered on me refusing’ as this would have handed ‘him a reason to drop me’. Pietersen also initially blamed Michael Vaughan for leaking his views about Peter Moores, although this rumour did appear in the press at the time.
Equally far fetched is his assertion that the ECB briefed the press that his infamous texts to the South Africans contained tactical information (when Hugh Morris knew they did not). Rather than blaming a sensationalist tabloid media, hardly known for the accuracy of their reporting, KP decides it’s part of a conspiracy by the ECB to get him sacked. If this was the case why, by Pietersen’s own admission, were the ECB desperate for him to tour India for political reasons?
The book also contains many contradictions. Pietersen is seething when Prior allegedly starts a media campaign to stop him from assuming the vice captaincy, yet a few pages later he insists he never had any desire whatsoever to be Alastair Cook’s deputy. Meanwhile, he constantly accuses Flower of trying to isolate him, yet admits that after the Headingley test the coach asked Prior to speak to KP, mend fences and bring him back into the fold.
Pietersen’s lack of forethought throughout the book is striking. He proudly declares that warm up games were irrelevant when it came to his batting, but he never considers their importance to the team: winning warm-up matches can create momentum, brings players together, and improves on-field chemistry for the challenges ahead. KP considers none of this.
What’s more, he delights in telling readers that he laughed out loud when Flower was giving a team talk about legacies. KP might have thought that the coach was waffling, but he doesn’t consider how this would have looked to the rest of the squad. It was incredibly disrespectful and more than a tad mutinous. Keeping one’s contempt to oneself is a necessary life-skill that KP obviously never learned.
Overall, Pietersen comes across as a man distracted by his own insecurities and squabbles. His problems stem not from arrogance but ignorance. As a result, he simply doesn’t think (either on the pitch or off it). When he talks about his batting, he admits he has no idea why he throws his wicket away with rash shots. He plays by instinct: see ball, hit ball. It’s the same in his dealings with people. He is critical of Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower for ‘managing upwards’, as if this is somehow dishonest, without realising that negotiation, compromise and accommodation are essential traits in any leader or manager.
What’s more, he seems largely incapable of analysing situations logically. Pietersen says he endured his humiliating reintegration after textgate, in which he was forced to say sorry to each of his teammates, because he didn’t want to give Flower the ammunition with which to sack him. Yet he throws this all away by arguing with the coach during their infamous spat in a Sydney hotel room. By confronting Flower so directly, rather than biting his tongue, he finally gave his coach all the ammunition he would ever need.
Pietersen’s attitude to this quarrel was naive at best. He walked out of the meeting proud and unrepentant. It doesn’t occur to him that shouting at the coach might have dire consequences. When Flower says to him ‘you’d better make some runs’ at the SCG, Pietersen seems genuinely surprised. Have you ever shouted at your boss but thought nothing of it?
At this point, you probably think you’re reading a Daily Mail or Guardian hatchet job rather than The Full Toss. “Hang on a sec, has Paul Newman kidnapped James while Mike Selvey hacks into TFT mainframe”? Thankfully not. Bear with me. Whilst Pietersen might have been a difficult character, brash and opinionated, his behaviour was also quite predictable. KP was not dishonest; he was not a manipulator; neither was he a snake in the grass. If someone is predictable, they can be figured out and managed.
KP’s narrative essentially revolves around the battle between Pietersen, the non-conformist, and Flower, the arch-conformist. The coach is desperate to assimilate KP into his military-style outfit. Pietersen, because he doesn’t like Flower or his methods, is desperate to rebel. At no point does one get the impression that Pietersen is treated like the maverick he is. He is treated the same as everyone else. Did Mike Brearley treat Ian Botham the same as everyone else? I think not.
It was Andy Flower’s job to manage different personalities. Shane Warne had nothing but contempt for John Buchanan, but Warne was never ostracised or sacked. What is more, Pietersen had a superb work ethic and was ultra-professional off the field. He was never in trouble for drugs or sending sleazy messages to women. He revelled in mentoring the young players, and other than being very opinionated he was an excellent role model in many ways.
Basically, there was plenty there for Flower to work with. As Michael Vaughan pointed out, KP was easy to manage: all it takes is the occasional “shut up, Kev”. One wonders how Pietersen would have fared under a coach like Darren Lehmann who appreciates individuality?
Furthermore, a great deal of Pietersen’s paranoia, something which shaped his behaviour perhaps more than any other factor, was created by the ECB. When Pietersen moaned about his schedule in private, it would appear in the newspapers the next day. Senior journalists even warned KP’s agent that the ECB were leaking to their colleagues. In these circumstances, Pietersen had every reason to be paranoid. Even Flower admitted leaking the details of private conversations to the media (the James Taylor incident, which was apparently embellished by some journalists, is one example).
The ECB also forfeited any trust when they sacked Pietersen at the same time as Peter Moores. What did KP actually do? He simply did what all strong captains would do in the circumstances: tell the board that the players neither liked nor rated the coach. The bottom line is that the ECB made a mistake in appointing Moores, but sacked Pietersen because they were worried about player power. Not for the last time in his career, KP was the fall guy for other people’s mistakes.
The ECB and the team management’s treatment of KP’s injuries was also, as KP might say, “horrendous”. Forcing him to limp home from a black cab after his Achilles injury was inexcusable. What’s more, Pietersen’s workload was ridiculous yet nobody seemed to care. Strauss was given a tour off. Other players were rested. Flower handed over the ODI reins to Giles. Yet Pietersen was denied the chance to quits ODIs without also forfeiting his T20 career. Nobody stopped to think that Pietersen was the only automatic pick in all three formats and was slowly becoming increasingly injury prone and jaded as a result. Talk about abusing one of the team’s most valuable assets.
One suspects that because Pietersen was a huge advocate of the IPL, the ECB saw him as a threat that must be neutralised. It wasn’t just his attitude; it was what he represented. As someone who championed the IPL, and asked for the same treatment as players from other countries (who were given time off to maximise their revenue), KP was the single biggest threat to the ECB’s control over centrally contracted players.
The ECB didn’t like the IPL, and therefore by extension they didn’t like Pietersen. Many came to think of him as a mercenary – even though the ECB themselves are primarily motivated by money (as evidenced by the stitch up at the ICC, selling exclusive TV rights to Sky, and the scheduling of more and more matches). Given this hypocrisy, is it any wonder KP became so belligerent? Pietersen was the thoroughly modern cricketer. The ECB was an anachronism that didn’t like the power shift in world cricket.
The IPL was also clearly a problem in the dressing room. I’m not talking about jealousy here (although this must have played at least a small role) I’m referring to how, as a result of his experiences in India, Pietersen adopted a different worldview to his teammates. He ended up on a completely different page.
Because players from around the world became friends at the IPL, test matches often became contests between friends battling for bragging rights. For Andrew Strauss, and the rest of the England team, this was an alien concept. They still saw the opposition as distant enemies, which is why they were so disturbed by KP’s friendships with the South Africans.
These two contrasting worldviews led directly to textgate – and after the @KPGenius scandal, which was not treated seriously enough by the ECB, is it any surprise that Pietersen felt closer to Morne Morkel than Bresnan, Swann and Broad? This is not to justify what Pietersen did, as he was extremely naïve, but it does at least provide a more holistic context.
Pietersen therefore, slowly but surely, developed more and more of a persecution complex. Some of his problems were of his own making, but plenty of them were not. A more cerebral individual might have manipulated events differently, thought harder about his predicament, and navigated a smoother course. However, this unfortunately proved beyond the means of this sensitive yet abrasive man.
So finally we come to the million-dollar question. Was it right for the ECB to sack Pietersen? This is, after all, the question that determines whether Pietersen should be seen a victim or perpetrator – although, if truth be told, he was probably both.
In my opinion, after reading the dodgy dossier and considering the evidence available in the public domain – by which I mean the first hand testimony available rather than all the nudges and winks from secondary sources – Pietersen was treated very harshly indeed.
Let’s look at things objectively. Those hanging Pietersen are certain cricket journalists who are close to the administrators (and rely on cordial relationships with these administrators to perform their duties as reporters effectively). Most importantly, however, they are not prepared to share with us the extra evidence they supposedly possess. Downton admitted long ago that there was no smoking gun, yet some journalists still tell us one exists.
On the other hand, there is plenty of testimony that Pietersen was not a problem in the dressing room: the initial evidence by Swann, the tweets by Tremlett and Carberry, plus the post-Ashes interviews by Stokes, Root and Bairstow who were all appreciative of the time they spent with KP in Australia.
What’s more, we also have evidence from Steve Harmison, Simon Jones, and most significantly of all, Michael Vaughan, testifying that Pietersen was straight-talking but essentially ‘a good bloke’. The comments by Flintoff on Sky’s A League of their Own, in which he was on good terms with Pietersen and expressed great sympathy for his predicament, echo these sentiments. Would all these people stand up for a disruptive pariah? Kevin Pietersen was not the devil.
The balance of evidence, therefore, suggests that KP was sacked unjustly. To argue otherwise is to rely on innuendo, subjective second hand testimony of journalists who were always closer to Flower than KP (and who hadn’t seen eye to eye with Pietersen long time), and the word of the ECB, that bastion of morality responsible for the stitch up at the ICC. If KP himself is an unreliable witness, what are this lot?
Ask yourself this: would a court of law condemn or acquit Pietersen? The evidence condemning him requires an enormous leap of faith. Consequently, the calm, mature, objective thing to do is to declare Pietersen innocent until further evidence emerges. And as we’ve already been waiting two weeks for the ECB to speak, I think it’s safe to assume they have nothing left to add. If the prosecution think their best bet is to maintain a dignified silence, they’ll convince absolutely nobody.
Furthermore, one must point out there was not a single practical reason for sacking KP. Yes, he was an unnecessarily belligerent character who clearly didn’t get on with the coach and some of the players, but the fact remains that the coach and the vast majority of these players (Swann, Strauss and Prior) were no longer in the team by the end of the Ashes. All the people he rebelled against were therefore gone.
What England were left with was a captain who had a decent relationship with Pietersen (a captain KP backed) who desperately needed help. England also had several young players who looked up to the team’s best batsman. As Vaughan observed at the time, the sensible thing to do would have been to make KP vice-captain, rather than sack him.
One of the most overused arguments against Pietersen was that he was no longer worth the hassle. In other words, when he was on top of the world, it was worth carrying this flawed genius … but then the runs dried up. What this fails to appreciate is that Pietersen was injured throughout the summer of 2013 and the Ashes winter. His chronic knee injury prevented him from firing on all cylinders. The management knew this. After having the surgery he so desperately needed, KP probably would have returned to top form. Instead they simply wrote him off.
The truth is that someone had to be blamed after the Ashes. The ECB decided it wasn’t going to be Cook. They also decided it wouldn’t be Flower. After a debriefing from his arch-nemesis, hardly the most objective person available, Paul Downton, who had been outside cricket for so many years, decided it would be Kevin Pietersen. Suddenly, all those concerns about the IPL, and making England players available for test matches in May, conveniently disappeared.
Kevin Pietersen committed many sins – many of which he admits to. However, those who deny he was also sinned against are living in a fantasy world. Many things went wrong in the Ashes. Our tactics were stale, we picked players who weren’t fully fit, the team was fatigued and buckled under pressure. To blame all these things on one man – while the captain, coach, selectors and board remained untouched – is ludicrous.
Fair minded people are not in the business of finding scapegoats. And I particularly dislike it when the ensuing controversy obscures the real problems at the heart of English cricket. That is why so many people refuse to shut up. The less the ECB say, the more people will talk.