August 8, 2012

KP's not bigger than England, but he's the biggest thing in the team

Take away the saga-meister and what do Flower and Co have left?

In recent months, ESPNcricinfo has provided us with some compelling video footage. But the highlights of Monday's post-Test grilling with Kevin Pietersen were a bit of a disappointment. Actually, grilling doesn't really describe it. It was more like watching a group of chimpanzees with sticks repeatedly hitting a rock in the hope that it might turn into a banana.

"I know you said you aren't going to talk about it, Kevin, but could you just put it into words for us, the thing that you said you aren't going to talk about."

"I'm not going to talk about it."

"Kevin, it's Dwayne here, from the Daily Drivel, my readers are anxious to know about the thing you're not going to talk about, so can you relate it to us orally?"

"I'm not going to talk about it."

"Is it true that there's something you would like to talk about, but that you aren't prepared to discuss it verbally?"

"I'm not going to talk about it."

And so on. It was like a slow-motion replay of a police interview conducted by slightly dim detectives on their first day of active duty. If the new film version of the Sweeney is anything like this, I'll be walking out and taking my popcorn with me. Had the assembled gentleman of the press been permitted to hold KP for questioning for the rest of the month, I doubt they'd get him to crack. Of course, that won't stop them from pressing charges.

Top of the chargesheet seems to be "Conspiracy to earn a living". The ECB are playing hardball but they don't seem to realise that the bases are loaded and they're 10-0 down at the bottom of the eighth. The day is fast approaching when central contracts will be for rookies and second-raters. The world's best players will decide when they're available. It's already happening in the West Indies and New Zealand, and when Andy Flower has had enough and England's Test ranking begins to slide back to earth like the exhausted winner of a 24-hour greasy-pole-climbing competition, it will happen here too.

The other offence to be taken into consideration is "aggravating egotism". Alec Stewart, who keeps a supply of clichés by his telephone specifically for occasions like these, has informed the BBC that KP is not, and I quote, "bigger than the team". Like all clichés, this contains some truth. The combined body-mass index of Stuart Broad and Steven Finn alone would tip the scales against KP without the need to pile Tim Bresnan on top.

And even if you only take it a little bit literally, it's still true. Team England would be perfectly capable of fulfilling their Test fixtures without KP, whilst Team KP would find itself slightly outnumbered (although opening the bowling and the batting would no doubt appeal to him).

But that isn't the point. KP isn't bigger than the England team. But he is the biggest thing in the England team. Without him, what have you got? A couple of dour grinders, a bit of useful swishing from Prior, some steady seam bowling, and Swann, assuming that his arm still works after the surgeons have finished poking about in it.

There is no one in the England team, nor in the sleepy English counties, nor for that matter in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Falklands, British Antarctica or the Pitcairn Islands, who could have scored the century that KP scored at Headingley, in the manner that he did, at the time that he did it. He is the leading man in a team full of supporting actors and extras. Despite what some journalists seem to think, England 2012 are not like Australia 2000. There is not a queue of Pietersens waiting for their chance, just a collection of Has-beens, Never-will-bes and Maybes. Can they really afford to let him walk?

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England