KP's Big Cheese meltdown
Kevin Pietersen's autobiography was always set to make a big stink but it quickly became clear from the fevered early readings that one person in particular was in for a grilling. Matt Prior, The Man Who Called KP in the aftermath of text-gate, is ridiculed throughout as the "Big Cheese"; the target of so many pot shots that he might by now be reckoned to look more like a block of Emmenthal.
The devil, of course, gets the best lines - although perhaps in this case the credit should go to Pietersen's ghost writer, David Walsh. Prior, the subject of a chapter entitled "Le Grand Fromage", is flambéed in a manner rarely seen in the tepid world of sports publication. A humble diary product is raised to the level of obloquy, the repetition of "Cheese" ringing out with loaded meaning, like Antony persistently damning Brutus as an "honourable man" in Julius Caesar.
"The Big Cheese had matured and grown too large for his little box" ending up as "an empty vessel who made a lot of noise". As a senior player, Prior "turned up the volume and made himself the main man in the dressing room, an endless foghorn booming about his perfect life". Pietersen even belittles Prior's late-found love of lycra.
"The Big Cheese made himself unpopular by insisting on bringing his bicycle out to New Zealand," he writes. "Here's a thing about playing cricket at the other end of the world: you don't need to take your bike with you. They have bikes in New Zealand.
"Who the hell takes their bike? You rent a bike like any normal person ... If Cheese wasn't a top genius cricketer Cheese would have been a world-class cyclist ... he'd get into his full-on Team Sky uniform like Clark Kent turning into Superman and go out on his bicycle, looking like a prat. Le Grand Fromage getting ready for the Le Tour de France."
The news of Prior getting a Big Bash contract (having criticised Pietersen for going on about the IPL) is worth several extra slices: "The Big Cheese down under - exactly what the world wanted… Cheese is talking about how Cheese's sponsor is going to change the colour of Cheese's equipment to match Cheese's Big Bash team colours."
His acolytes, meanwhile, are "Baby Cheeses" (surely Mini Babybel?), exempt from the criticism Pietersen says Prior vented at those outside his clique. Perhaps most damning, depending on your palate, Prior became "a Dairylea triangle thinking he was Brie". As brilliant as the rhetoric is, there is a strong whiff of something sour here.
Prior has long been known as "Cheese", from his time at Sussex "when I used to strut around a bit", as he puts it in his own autobiography, a less pungent tome published last year. "I didn't think I was 'the Big Cheese', but others obviously did believe that was how I saw myself." Ironically, in his defence of players "who have a bit of a strut", he cites as an example one Kevin Pietersen.
The "aura" Prior also refers to may have now dimmed. Prior was the man who rang Pietersen after his Headingley outburst in 2012 - "It wasn't a useful phone call," Pietersen writes - and the man who tweeted "Reintegration complete" after his triumphant comeback on the tour of India. Forget cheese, now he is a chalk outline.
As a device, the "Big Cheese", referred to constantly in the third person - "the Big Cheese has earned some beer" - is devastating. But Prior is essentially the most obvious MacGuffin in the wider plot of KP's revenge on English cricket. In some way, Prior's perceived sins - a superabundance of ego, a misapprehension of his importance to the team, an abrasive manner, accusations of favouritism - elide into those qualities of which Pietersen has already been found guilty by ECB trial without jury. The hypocrisy vendetta is part self-defence mechanism. Not so much "Why always me?" as "Why not him as well?"
Prior has already indicated that he will be exercising his "right of reply", while Twitter immediately went into meltdown over cheese puns. At least the ECB might be able to have a fondue party at the end of it all.
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick