February 7, 2014

Rebel with a cause

Pietersen has always been an outsider of sorts and the fringe artist was best on display when he was taking on some establishment or the other

Ultimately this was a battle between Utilitarian Boss and Oddball Worker © AFP

Aristotle is supposed to have said that there were only two ways to treat an exceptional man: send him into exile or make him king. The English cricket administration, having tried the king option with Kevin Pietersen and witnessed its failure, have now settled on the banishment-into-exile option.

Kevin Pietersen will no longer sport the Three Lions. He will have to rest content with being a mere Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire and will have to forego any ambitions of becoming an Officer, a Commander, a Knight Commander or a Knight Grand Cross of that same Most Excellent Order. As a Scottish friend of mine put it - with perhaps more irreverence than was appropriate or required - no German lady will be tapping him on the shoulder with a sword any time soon.

Pietersen should not be too unhappy, though. His eviction from the confines of the English dressing room - while undeniably a severe personal loss in that it deprives him of the pleasurable company of Stuart Broad's measured gravitas and Alastair Cook's risqué humour - should come as a long-awaited confirmation of an image he has assiduously cultivated for a while now: that of rebel, outcast, loner, and yes, exile.

From his early days as a brave champion of the white cricketer, struggling gallantly against racial quotas in post-apartheid South Africa, to his pioneering advancement of the cricketing free agent plying his wares in global T20 leagues, free of the constraints of national board and nation, and indeed, financial prudence, Pietersen has always been an outsider of sorts. Skunk haircuts, sleeve tattoos and flamingo shots were merely the most overt expression of his outlier tendencies; the real fringe artist was best on display when he was taking on some establishment or the other.

Those conflicts remind us that cricket fans the world over should be grateful to Kevin Pietersen for having dared lock horns with an entity that is alarmingly becoming a little too exalted in the sport: the coach. This mystical and mythical creature, one assessed as possessing the tactical and strategic nous of Sun Tzu, the management skills of Jack Welch, and the diplomatic finesse of Desmond Tutu, has rapidly appointed itself the global arbiter of cricketing excellence and performance; an overly pompous, self-important attitude has unsurprisingly followed. Pietersen's clashes with the Cult of the Coach, even if unsuccessful, have at least earned him the admiration of all those who have suffered one pie-chart- and concentric-circle-laden presentation too many from a mumbo-jumbo spouting management consultant.

Ultimately, long after we have forgotten the particulars and the result of this away encounter between South Africa and Zimbabwe, it will be the conflict between the Utilitarian Boss and the Oddball Worker that will be remembered. Sadly, for now, corporate imperatives have triumphed. The boss remains in power, the workers are still lining up hats in hand, eyes kept low, ready to slap the line-breakers back into the ranks.

But the memory of Kevin Pietersen will live on. With apologies to Joan Baez and Joe Hill, here's a little verse that might be thought appropriate:

From KwaZulu Natal to Hampshire,

on every pitch and field,
Where cricketing men defend their rights,

it's there you'll find KP,

it's there you'll find KP!

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here