England's Pietersen dilemma

The Pietersen subtext

Does Kevin Pietersen's contact with members of the South Africa squad betray a longing for what might have been?

Firdose Moonda

August 11, 2012

Comments: 41 | Text size: A | A

Kevin Pietersen removed Jacques Rudolph with his second ball, England v South Africa, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 2nd day, August 3, 2012
Kevin Pietersen is congratulated by his England team-mates - but relationships have become strained © PA Photos

It is a normal and perfectly understandable feeling to miss home. But first you have to know where that is. For Kevin Pietersen, home for the last four years has been a swanky abode in Chelsea, southwest London. Home for the last eleven years has been the UK but home, real home, may have always been Kwa-Zulu Natal.

It showed as much in the week where Pietersen's isolation with England led him to text former team-mates in the South Africa squad in search of comfort. Pietersen is reported to have confided in his former countrymen, perhaps revealing a deep-seated longing for a place he left behind more than a decade ago.

His abrupt about turn on Saturday evening, when he again swore undying allegiance to England, only served to emphasie the fact that his sense of belonging had never been more insecure.

You can't blame him for being conflicted or to be dismissive about his confused sense of identity - now officially and perhaps conveniently explained as a temporary aberration.

Who wouldn't be a Durban-dreamer, knowing that the ocean always greets you with a warm embrace, the Golden Mile has been revamped to look like something worthy of its name and the sun always shines, not just on television, but in the actual city? Durban, unlike Johannesburg where the rat race can seem as grey and soulless as it sounds or Cape Town, which can appear too uppity, Durban is welcoming, friendly and real.

Pietersen seems to crave some of that reality. Lost, partly in the allure of making the kind of cricketing money that footballers have been able to command for years and partly in his own sense of self and how difficult he is finding it being part of the England team, Pietersen has spent much of the worst week of his career caught between the Johannesburg and Cape Town of life and it is not difficult to understand why he may crave the third way: Durban.

Durban has now come to him, in the form of the South Africa squad. Although only two of them, Hashim Amla and Imran Tahir, have played in the city and only Amla would have been around when Pietersen was there, the squad, by its nature, is Durban-esque.

One could even go as far as to say they are Pietermaritzburg-esque, with the same simple, wholesome attitudes that define the town where Pietersen grew up in. Sunny, calm and without a cloud of doubt to darken their skies, South Africa appear to be the most problem-free side in world cricket.

South African cricket has not always been this way, of course. Having to contend with underachievement in all formats, particularly major tournaments, and the lack of inclusion bred a variety of issues.

Pietersen remembers one of them as the quota system, which he cited as the reason he left. In reality, the plan to fast-track players from previously disadvantaged backgrounds did not marginalise white players as much as Pietersen would have people believe.

Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and AB de Villiers all managed to come through. Marchant de Lange and Richard Levi are examples of young white players who continue to get recognised while Makhaya Ntini, Amla and Vernon Philander may never have come to the fore without some push to find and nurture players of colour. Race is barely a discussion point at higher levels any more as players of all skin colours come through the system. It would be naïve to say all things are equal in South Africa, but efforts are being made to get there.

The 'chokers' tag; the perennial Test underachievement (in terms of ranking); rumours of a clique that controlled the dressing room: all of those issues have shrunk as Gary Kirsten and his management team brought with them a recipe of togetherness, serenity and - depending on how things go in the Lord's Test - a culture of winning.

"Pietersen will never know what it means to be on the other side of the crease when Kallis is playing the textbook cover drive or in the field when Steyn is steaming in"

For someone like Pietersen, who has persistently been seen as an outsider in his adopted country, the bond between the members of the team he could have played for must have struck a chord. The "could" is a big word in that sentence, because when Pietersen left South Africa he was nowhere near contention for the national side. He was considered mediocre and although it may well have been a case of his talent not being spotted and nurtured, he did not register on the radar of those to watch.

That does not mean he did not want to be part of that set-up or look it up to it. In fact, the opposite is true. He has previously called Hansie Cronje his childhood idol and named Jacques Kallis as the "greatest allrounder ever". He did not hesitate to say Allan Donald was one of his heroes, after he heard Donald's praise of his innings at Headingley. He was generous in his assessment of the South Africa attack, labelling them "fighters", and said they "never, ever stop".

Unless Pietersen is up to another four-year qualification period, which is what he will need to be put through if he wants to represent another Test-playing nation, he will never know what it feels like to be part of the South Africa side. He will never know what it means to be on the other side of the crease when Kallis is playing the textbook cover drive or in the field when Steyn is steaming in, with nothing but blood on the mind.

Until this week, it has looked as though he has never wanted to know that. Playing for England was his ultimate, and has now been restated as his ultimate again. He tattooed the Three Lions on his arm, he has captained the side, he has won matches and tournaments for them. He has emphasised his commitment to them as often as he has been given the opportunity to, especially when coming up against the country of his birth.

Recently, that seemed to have wavered. Once, in jest with Ed Cowan over his inability to recognise bread and butter pudding, Pietersen quipped that he was "not English, I just work there". When he was looking for form after a slump in 2009, he went back to Kwa-Zulu Natal's Dolphins, who accepted him with open arms.

The first thing he did after controversially retiring from one-day cricket in May was take a holiday in Durban, the town he left with a chip on his shoulder but returned to when looking for comfort. Then as England played their first ODI after his retirement, against West Indies, he extravagantly flew to South Africa for the weekend to watch South Africa meet England and joked about his mixed allegiance by saying that he had a foot in each half.

He has been seen in conversation with the South African players, reportedly speaking in Afrikaans, sending them text messages that their team manager maintains are only "friendly banter". It may be that Pietersen is longing for home and a cricketing environment he gave up - but has discovered it is too late to go back.

7.30pm GMT: This piece was adjusted to reflect Kevin Pietersen's statement on Saturday evening restating his commitment to England in all forms of the game.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by spas on (August 14, 2012, 16:30 GMT)

I find each and every fidrose moonda's article funny. However, this is the funniest. This type of reporting is not suitable for this great sport.

recent England team was one of the greatest ever. May be someone is trying to target the "team spirit" which will end their successful run. KP is sort of victim then.

Posted by A_Vacant_Slip on (August 12, 2012, 19:00 GMT)

This is a silly article about a silly player who has "let it all come to this". KP has brought this ALL on himself. It all completely ridiculous. What a way to end your own international career!?!

Posted by mahjut on (August 12, 2012, 17:31 GMT)

@nutcutlet ... :) your post is like someone laughing at a person falling over while his own foot hovers above a banana skin!!

Posted by   on (August 12, 2012, 17:08 GMT)

First the "Bodyline",then "Muralitharan's issue",then "ICL saga" ,then "match-fixing controversy".NOW "KP issue"..go cricket..go!!!!!

Posted by mahjut on (August 12, 2012, 14:55 GMT)

@luks ... no, not a ludicrous conclusion to draw considering some of KPs actions in the past and also some comments on his conversations with those back home when he expressed his ambiguity about his decision to leave SA (a completely normal reaction obviously). texting the saffers in good humour while at complete odds with his own!!?? not hard to speculate that he's a bit more at 'home' with his boets than his chums/mates/pals

Posted by mahjut on (August 12, 2012, 14:52 GMT)

@ Peter Thomas ... "seemed", "looked as though", "could have" are hardly language of absolute fact! this is a speculative conclusion based on actual quotes and events.

Posted by luks on (August 12, 2012, 11:05 GMT)

It would actually be strange if he did not feel a longing for South Africa where he spent his childhood. There's nothing wrong with that. What is being said in this article, is not revealing, its to be expected. And, it doesn't mean that he doesn't prefer England over SA at the moment, or that he isn't committed to English cricket. This article is too much of a stretch. The writer is trying to imagine things that are not there - it is ludicrous to say that praising your opponent, or texting them in their local language, is a sign for wanting to be in that team.

Posted by   on (August 12, 2012, 11:04 GMT)

An article based on speculation, surmise and cod-psychology, but unfortunately presented as indisputable fact. Poor journalism IMO, whatever you think about the wrongs and rights of the situation. Peter

Posted by bobmartin on (August 12, 2012, 10:21 GMT)

If being made Captainof England wasn't enough acceptance for KP.. then nothing ever will be. He could still have been Captain had he not decided that he wanted to run the team instead of Moores. It all went downhill from there. Now he realises that he needs England more than they need him and he hasn't enough time left in the game to qualify for another country, if one would have him carrying that amount of baggage. If he was just a Mickey Mouse cricketer his fame would soon wear thin outside of India and that would leave him even more disatisfied than he presently seems to be.. So he's obviously decided to try and cut his loses. We shall see when the test and T20WC squads are announced this afternoon whether or not the ECB have forgiven him.

Posted by Supa_SAFFA on (August 12, 2012, 9:23 GMT)

We Cape Town folk can be lekker uppity if we want to be. I'll drink some papsak to that.

Posted by   on (August 12, 2012, 8:33 GMT)

Its is clear he (KP) was not good enough to be on the south african side then

Posted by Nutcutlet on (August 12, 2012, 7:52 GMT)

Well, Firdose, you waz wrong-footed & no mistake;)! You write a perfectly thoughtful article & then WHAM! It's all history in no time! The subsequent doctoring of your piece doesn't pull it together, but never mind. I am sure that you wish KP well & are relieved like the rest of us that we can look forward once again to enjoying his outrageous talent being strutted across the cricket grounds of the world, and not just within the confines of the IPL circus. The conclusion of this rumpus shows three major plusses that reflect well on the characters concerned (1) the anonymous confidante that helped KP get a true idea of who he really is; (2) KP himself, for being man enough to admit to his mistake; & (3) Andy Flower for sticking to his guns whilst extending his open hand to KP.

Posted by   on (August 12, 2012, 6:19 GMT)

KP is a mercenary. He decided at an early age that his fortune laid in England and he set about obtaining it. He has made an excellent attempt in doing so and sometimes in contravening but most times in very entertaining fashion. England must use his talent and make the most of the skills he sells. He is howerer not English and he never will be. I don't pity him I just love to see him bat.

Posted by landl47 on (August 12, 2012, 4:40 GMT)

Since I have changed countries not once but twice (UK to Canada, then Canada to the US) I can state from personal knowledge that this writer is not correct in her assessment. Of course the country in which you were brought up is always special to you, but there's a a world of difference between that and wanting to go back to live there. I visit the UK on vacations, but doing so makes me more conscious, not less, of the fact that I am no longer British. Pietersen has spent practically all of his adult life in the UK and has made his home and is bringing up his family there. He's played practically all his senior cricket for England and English counties. He'd be a fish out of water in SA. As for not being accepted, he has been embraced by England. It's when he started trying to put his interests above those of the team that he drew criticism. That would be the same for anyone, no matter where they were born. Firdose has created a fantasy, not based on anything factual at all.

Posted by   on (August 12, 2012, 4:01 GMT)

So you wrote a whole article trying to guess what Pietersen is feeling? Looks more like a classic case of "sour graphes" to me. One thing's for sure - he's a once-in-a-lifetime batsman, and a national selector in his right mind would give an arm and a leg for Kevin Pietersen.

Posted by Cpt.Meanster on (August 12, 2012, 3:41 GMT)

I think KP is childish. I respect him and admire him as a wonderful batsman BUT there are lines which I wouldn't cross as a professional athlete. Sadly, KP craves mass attention. This is not good for him or the English cricket team in the long run. I still cannot believe the guy has somersaulted and is back 'committed' to England in all formats. Something is fishy here. Either the ECB or KP are hiding something. OR, they both are hiding something from the public. This is not over yet folks.

Posted by WalterHP on (August 12, 2012, 3:15 GMT)

Angelheart you seem bitter that cricket has shifted awaw from colonial England to India. Chill out man cuz this is just the beginning. Check out David dobbs do ....just the tip of the iceberg.

Posted by   on (August 12, 2012, 1:12 GMT)

What an opening paragraph. No wonder this got so many comments short period of time... I think we should just stop talking about this.. KP chose ENG. He wouldnt have if he didnt believe it was the right thing for him.. He will never play for SA.. 4 years is too long a time to wait and im not sure CSA would take him back really

Posted by rony1008 on (August 12, 2012, 0:43 GMT)

Good decision by KP. Hope he sticks to his decision this time and proves my cynic mind wrong and continues to play in all formats after the T20 world cup.

Posted by saijayanth89 on (August 11, 2012, 20:52 GMT)

The author seems to have borrowed Graeme Smith's brain as she wrote down this piece of article - A so called 'loyal' SouthAfrican with an excess amount of disgust for the 'Run Away' guy. Things aren't going okay for the champion psychologically/mentally but on cricketing terms, forget not, he is the MoM the last time around. And the things about his life- He spent his free time in SA, so he's come to his real home. If he would've spent a holiday in, say, Mumbai( or some other Indian City), it would've been rumored as its where his mind is - IPL. To conclude such allegations by mere coincidences is outrageous. Please give us some break !

Posted by crindo77 on (August 11, 2012, 20:43 GMT)

All over now; lets play some Test cricket! Lords here we go......

Posted by MAK123 on (August 11, 2012, 20:35 GMT)

Seems like a very passionate, emotional and insecure man. He certainly needs emotional counceling and ECB would be better off handling him with compassion. The man is starved for love. He decided to leave the England set up and just like a man who resigns from a job only to regret while going to bed in the night, has gone back to correct the wrong. One hopes the ECB gives him another chance; and one certainly hopes that his dressing room colleagues embrace him as if nothing happened. Let bygones be bygones. The english selectors and players must reassure him that he is wanted and welcome, for all he is craving for is reassurance and a sense of being wanted. The man is probably feeling the loneliest person on earth at the moment

Posted by duncanmoo on (August 11, 2012, 20:32 GMT)

I have always revelled in any of Pieterson's failures, my dislike for the English team is purely due to his presence in the side. Now however I am starting to feel sorry for him, the guy seems lost and hellbent on destroying his career. Not sure if I can keep hating s pitiful creature.

Posted by bumsonseats on (August 11, 2012, 19:30 GMT)

just have no time for this guy now, his lack of nous and saying the most stupid of comments. what a way to be going into the last test of a series which will end with one of them been #1 in test cricket, it beggars belief. for all his bravado a few words have hurt his feelings the poor lamb. if hes not selected i feel his cricketing career in england including his county level cricket will also end, as i feel the paying public of the uk will not forgive him.

Posted by   on (August 11, 2012, 19:29 GMT)

Some years ago, when KP had indelibly inked his name onto the England score sheet, an article-written by a black South African journalist- warned him about the ENGLISH. Kevin was warned, that he would only be 'accepted' as English by them, when he was performing great feats for them, then they would turn a blind eye to him not being a native. He was warned that his 'warm South African-ism', his wearing his heart on his sleeve, would one day all stand against him, and he would miss being South African. Even Graeme Hick, said he was not welcomed into the England fold, and felt an outsider in the dressing room. KP will find that the senses of humour are totally different, the only 'common thread', is the language, English, but even so, 'Every time an Englishman opens his mouth, there is another one looking down upon him' KP needed love, when he was a junior player he was always amongst all the wicket celebrations. KP needed senior players to pat him on the back, he needed accep

Posted by AdrianVanDenStael on (August 11, 2012, 19:07 GMT)

Glad to read the sound perspective being put forward here about the quota system and its supposed relation to Pietersen's leaving South Africa. However, I think the author is being a bit diplomatic in not drawing attention to how badly the ECB has managed KP.

Posted by angelheart1 on (August 11, 2012, 18:16 GMT)

Nice attempt to read Kev's mind. But honestly, I think what he would like the most to do now is to become an Indian citizen. Play for all the 20-20 sides that eant his services for the next four years, make all the money he ever wanted. Imagine, Kev available for a full season of IPL will command 5 million dollars or more in the next auction. If his current team Delhi cannot pay, Mumbai Indians will. Then, when eligible, play Tests for India for a few years. He will be only 36 when he will start his India test career. Who knows, Tendulkar may still be in the team, aiming for his 150th international hundred. Kev can try his hand at opening the innings, and Gambhir can drop down the order. Imagine, Sehwag and Kev opening the innings. Even the English will pay to watch.

Posted by wikkey-pedia on (August 11, 2012, 18:10 GMT)

It is a testament to the strength of South Africa's school and junior club cricket systems that year after year promising young cricketers leave our shores to exercise their talents and use our historical and familial ties to the UK to do so. KP is just the most high-profile member of an ever increasing list of promising South African sportsmen to do so. No matter how diligent scouts or coaches are at youth level some great talents often go unrecognized (as did the relative late bloomer Kevin Pietersen). Over the last few years I have loved to hate KP - as most diehard Proteas fans do, but I believe this is not due to his change in nationality, but rather to the public/cricket personality he projects - which most times appears to be so contrary to the ethos/personality/image of most South African cricketers.

Posted by   on (August 11, 2012, 18:06 GMT)

What a terrible article; the whole piece focuses on assumptions. Its written as if he is a personal friend of Pietersen's, seemingly knowing everything about his thought process. The media need to back off and stop assuming, wait until the facts are revealed.

Posted by Narkovian on (August 11, 2012, 17:52 GMT)

A couple of seasons playing hit and giggle cricket should buy him a nice seafront estate in Durban. Then we can forget all about him. In the words of the song ( you need to be old!) "Ta ta tatto forever !

Posted by djdrastic on (August 11, 2012, 17:43 GMT)

As talented as Pietersen is I'm glad he never got a protea cap.The disruption and mistrust he injects into a team far outweighs his contribution.Keith Ford I'm sure also noticed his poor attitude when KP was trying to make it into the Dolphins XI when he was at the franchise.

Posted by peter4135 on (August 11, 2012, 17:24 GMT)

Its strange that Pietersen is more comfortable with the SA players than his own teammates... I hope he stays away from SA,we dont need players like him around

Posted by   on (August 11, 2012, 17:24 GMT)

Sad really....my advice to Pieterson is to be a man and have an ego free session with England management and come to a compromise. There is always room for that...he is wealthy and will in the modern era always have that or of security so its time that he looks to leave a legacy on test cricket. Be a legend ..

But i've realised that as soon as an England player get close to any of the establish records of the English cricketing legends things start to go wrong.

Posted by R_U_4_REAL_NICK on (August 11, 2012, 17:22 GMT)

http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/content/story/145622.html [Pietersen says abuse is 'water off a duck's back'] Suggest everyone go read.

Posted by bttarius on (August 11, 2012, 17:16 GMT)

When ever Pietersen plays the innings of his life, he always makes it a point to rub it into the face of E.C.B. What a guy, I just love his guts.

Posted by InnocentGuy on (August 11, 2012, 16:59 GMT)

Yet another piece of speculation. What KP says is true, the media cannot stop speculating on his life. Maybe what you say here is true Moonda, but why write a piece about it? And why now? Why not just stay quiet and wait to see at the end of Lord's what KP decides to do? Maybe the text messages really were "friendly banter". Maybe not. But let's keep these thoughts to ourselves and not write articles that the general public then reads. How would you feel if someone wrote a public piece on what you are texting your friends/family? Would you want that known to the entire world, even if it was something trivial?

Posted by SurlyCynic on (August 11, 2012, 16:58 GMT)

If you've lived in Chelsea, London I don't think you'd find Cape town 'uppity'. I've lived in both places so am very certain on this!

Posted by R_U_4_REAL_NICK on (August 11, 2012, 16:43 GMT)

Are you absolutely certain those texts came from Pietersen himself, or just another alias? He didn't seem to be missing home too much when he belted a few hundreds against SA in older series, and articles claimed he had "no regrets..."

Posted by Robster1 on (August 11, 2012, 16:30 GMT)

Message to Pietersen - it really would be better for everybody if you now returned to play full time in South Africa and then for rest of the year play purely big bucks franchise cricket. Who knows, you might still be good enough to play represent SA in four years time. Enough is enough etc, it's time to move on.

Posted by   on (August 11, 2012, 16:24 GMT)

Without knowing what happened to Peterson in the Dressing room with his mates we can't come to a decision..We are waiting to see what the issues are.. Until then we hate blaming Peterson and finding his personal emotions as reason for his updates.

Posted by unregisteredalien on (August 11, 2012, 16:18 GMT)

Interesting piece. It's good to hear a South African perspective on this. Shows up many of the English write-ups as being parochial, high on drama and low on insight.

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