By David de Winter – Sports Editor
The fallout from Kevin Pietersen’s imminent autobiography is unlike anything I have previously experienced. The absolute childishness and pettiness of ex-England cricketer Pietersen, the ECB, Graeme Swann and other players connected to the controversy is staggering. Accusations, name-calling, bullying – it has all the hallmarks of an argument in the school playground. The situation has got wildly out of hand. All this airing of dirty laundry in public is no good for anyone and is making the England cricket team a bit of a laughing stock.
It is clear that Pietersen feels that he has a lot about which to be aggrieved. From the demand that then-coach Peter Moores be sacked in 2008/09, which ended up creating a divide between KP and coach Andy Flower, to the text-gate and Twitter parody scandal of 2012, Pietersen was never far away from controversy. One has to question why these disagreements and arguments kept following him around. KP clearly was a divisive figure. Evidently it wasn’t just enough for him to do his talking on the cricket field.
Equally, if KP had made Flower aware of this ‘bullying’ clique (apparently made up mainly of bowlers James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann) why wasn’t something done about it? It shows a distinct lack of leadership from Flower and captains Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook that this issue wasn’t dealt with straight away and, indeed, allowed to continue.
If truth be told, whatever went on between Pietersen and his teammates is largely irrelevant. Instead questions must be asked of the management. Why couldn’t they (Flower, Cook, Strauss) manage Pietersen and the other egos in the squad in a way that still got them playing at peak performance? In football there is plenty of talk about coaches having good ‘man-management’ skills. Jose Mourinho and Alex Ferguson are two such examples of managers who could mould a group of superstars and egos into a coherent and ultimately successful team. Why wasn’t this the case with Pietersen? There is no doubt that he was a difficult character to manage, but, as the team’s best player, why wasn’t he treated in a way that would maximise his performance instead of making him feel marginalised?
Interestingly, the problems only reared their head when the England team was losing. When the team is winning, players put up with certain things because, as long as the team wins, personal issues are of little importance. When the team loses, these petty gripes, vendettas etc. suddenly bubble to the surface because players often want to blame someone/something for a poor performance. The most obvious example of this was the eventual ‘sacking’ of Pietersen after the calamitous 2013/14 Ashes tour. The whole team underperformed and it was pretty low of the ECB to put KP up as the fall guy. In sacking Pietersen, the ECB and the rest of the England team were diverting attention from their terrible showing in Australia and, rather conveniently, getting rid of a player who was constantly at odds with the management. This was a player who had been England’s leading run-scorer in the series and was clearly worth his place in the side. It was a decision that stank of hierarchical politics, not cricketing merit.
What is most sad about this whole episode is that the focus is very much on Pietersen the villan, not Pietersen the batsman. This man played some of the greatest innings ever witnessed on a cricket field (watch his 186 v India in 2012, his 149 v South Africa also in 2012, and his 158 v Australia from 2005) yet there is no discussion about his achievements on the field. Yes, when his ego got the better of him and he got out to a rash shot it could be immensely frustrating, but the entertainment he provided when on song will never be forgotten. There is also a nagging feeling that Pietersen didn’t quite make full use of his extraordinary talent. 8000 test runs at an average of 47 are very good statistics, but not great ones, and that is why he still feels he has unfinished business at international level. Unfortunately for Pietersen the book has painted him to be a rather bitter, egotistical and difficult individual. He is in danger of being remembered as such instead of the outrageously skilled batsman that he was. That would indeed be a shame.