Will the mandarins snuff out Pietersen?
Kevin Pietersen's latest comments, immediately after producing a super human performance in the Headingley Test against South Africa, is a cry for help against the faceless managers of the ECB, who appear hell bent on driving this flamboyant superstar away from English cricket. It appears that Pietersen, like so many illustrious sportsmen before him, appears poised to lose his battle against authority, and English cricket will have driven away another talent while the men in authority continue in their unrepentant ways.
This is a problem not peculiar to team sport and can be found in other areas of endeavour where functional specialists are considered mere commodities and are divorced from managerial decision making. This trend is definitely dominant in the National Health Service and in the education sector, where managers schooled on efficiency ideas interfere in the daily work of trained doctors and teachers.
So why does this problem arise? In this writer's view, the Pietersen problem has arisen because of the ECB's irrational and obsessive pursuit of standardisation of player contracts. Why can't the ECB offer a tailor-made contract to an England player who demands one? Pietersen today is a global brand that definitely deserves a separate contract and should be treated differently from say a Strauss or a Cook. It is high time the ECB recognised Pietersen as another Tendulkar and dealt with him the way the BCCI has done with the Indian maestro.
There is also a bit of the Little Englander culture affecting the treatment of Pietersen. Unlike the melting-pot culture in the US, the English media and selectors have reluctantly admitted but never truly accepted the 'outsider'. In an article on this site, Rob Steen talked about the unique pressures Mark Ramprakash, a player who did not live up to his potential, faced in the England dressing room. The same pressures may have also adversely hounded the performance of Hick, Panesar and Bopara.
Those who refute my Little Englander argument will readily point to the achievements of Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis. Fortunately for these athletes they excelled in sporting areas where individual endeavour was all important and so they were cocooned from the team pressures faced by 'outsider' cricketers like Ramps.
Pietersen's experience as team captain is an excellent example of a man who was not given a fair chance at the helm of the team. Pietersen's personality may be brash, cocky and arrogant, but he is an exciting batsman who draws in the crowds. Also, as a batsman, he realises that he is only three quick dismissals away from being ousted from the team. So he needs to make the maximum amount of money to help him lead the rest of his long life.
So I do not grudge him his mercenary attitude, instead I demand that the mandarins in the ECB should offer him an individual, tailor-made contract. He is a pleasure in full flow in a team that has to otherwise rely on Matt Prior to score quick runs. So power to you Pietersen!