KP: The Autobiography October 6, 2014

Pietersen's end a catalogue of failures

Although angry and full of bombast, Kevin Pietersen's book should unsettle English cricket. If even some of his claims are true, the culture within the England camp has been destructive for a long time
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It's the truth as Kevin sees it - Butcher

Like watching the bitter divorce of friends, the overwhelming reaction to Kevin Pietersen's autobiography is regret.

It no longer matters who is right or wrong. In such a fight, we all lose. It doesn't matter who gets the toaster.

It shouldn't have ended like this. The finest England batsman of his generation and the finest England team in a lifetime should not have drifted apart to such an extent that they are sniping at each other in a way that does nobody any good.

Of course Pietersen deserves his right of reply. Of course he deserves his chance to clarify the events that appear to have ended his international career. Of course this is a must-read book. It is riveting. It is illuminating. It is audacious. It is outrageous.

But most of all it is sad.

Because talents like Pietersen come along all too rarely. Because cricket, in the UK in particular, is crying out for entertaining, box-office players to win back supporters and inspire the next generation. Because, with a bit more imagination, a bit more humility, a bit more carrot and a bit less stick, Pietersen could still be playing for England.

Instead he is, as he would put it, settling scores, correcting injustices and, understandably, putting his side of the story on the record. That, more than money, will be the motivation behind this book. He feels he is a wronged man. And, up to a point, he might have a point.

It is unlikely many will change their mind about Pietersen as a result of this book. Just as his supporters will find new ammunition for his defence, his detractors will find examples of his perceived divisiveness and self-absorption. However good the book on Manchester United, it won't make Liverpool fans support them.

There is a telling phrase on page 313. "There should be more cricket in these pages."

And he's right. Because it is sad that the man who played some of the best innings in England's Test history - three of his last four centuries (Colombo, Headingley and Mumbai) can only be described as "great" - the man who played the switch-hit against Muttiah Muralitharan in a Test and saw the ball sail for six, the greatest run-scorer in England's international history, the man who played a part in four Ashes triumphs and was man of the tournament when England won their only global trophy is in danger of being remembered as little more than an argumentative ego-maniac with a mistrust of authority who could fall out with his own reflection.

He deserves better than that. And so do Matt Prior who, whatever his perceived faults, was a wonderfully selfless player for England through many of their finest years, and Andy Flower, who seized a poorly-performing group of talented individuals and turned them, just briefly, into the finest team in the world.

Instead Flower and Prior are destroyed in this book - the abuse of Prior is, at times, amusing but soon becomes gross and gratuitous - and, in the coming weeks, the revenge attacks on Pietersen will be no more edifying.

All of it - the book and the ensuing squabbles - is a manifestation of an appalling failure to manage a character who, while demanding, was also brilliant.

Perhaps, in a perfect world, Pietersen could have taken a more subtle approach. He could have corrected what he sees as misinformation but he could have avoided the excessive abuse that sometimes follows.

Maybe, more than anything, he craved acceptance and support and praise. Maybe, in a more benevolent environment, England might have coaxed even more out of him. It is telling that, in psychometric testing, he was rated as an introvert. The brash exterior? A coping mechanism, perhaps

But Pietersen is not a fellow to do things by half measures. Just as when batting, he reacts to adversity in typically straightforward, bold manner. You might as well try and persuade a lion of the virtues of vegetarianism as preach subtlety to Pietersen.

Among the revelations in the book, Pietersen claims he never issued an ultimatum over the sacking of Peter Moores; he never used the word 'doos' in a message - though he does not deny agreeing with the sentiments - to a South African player (and really, does it matter if he did?); he has sometimes been embarrassed by Piers Morgan's aggressive support; he never much wanted the captaincy and he was not the instigator of the anti-Flower tirade in a team meeting after the defeat in Melbourne. It was, according to KP, Prior.

All of which leads to the question: what did Pietersen really do that was so bad?

Maybe he was brash. Maybe he was clumsy. Maybe he was rather pleased with himself. But none of those are reasons to exclude someone from a team. As he puts it: "I was often naive and sometimes stupid. I was no villain, though."

Maybe, more than anything, he craved acceptance and support and praise. Maybe, in a more benevolent environment, England might have coaxed even more out of him. It is telling that, in psychometric testing, he was rated as an introvert. The brash exterior? A coping mechanism, perhaps.

There are admissions of errors. He admits he was an unsympathetic captain. He admits his overt support of his IPL team, the Delhi Daredevils, was sometimes expressed inappropriately (such as when watching the IPL on TV during a Test against the West Indies at Lord's). He admits to some poor strokes. He admits, on the issue of South Africa and the "quota system", that he "said too much without understanding enough." And he admits trying too hard to be ostentatiously English in his early days.

Perhaps, were he more reflective, he might admit that his seeming inability to move on from upsets and slights - his sense of being wronged when he wanted a few days at home during the Caribbean tour in 2009 is a bizarre recurring theme - was unhelpful and that his failure to work towards building a constructive relationship with Flower was a major fault.

This book should unsettle English cricket, though. If Pietersen's claims are true - and there is an uncomfortable ring of truth around some of them - the culture within the England camp has been destructive for a long time. The failure to manage problems reflects poorly on not just the likes of Hugh Morris - dismissed as "a weak prick" by Pietersen - and Paul Downton - who comes out of this little better - but also on the entire ECB management system. What where they all doing that the situation sunk to this level? It is a damning indictment of their management.

While it would be easy to dismiss Pietersen's claims - you can guarantee the ECB will do so - it would also be a mistake. Pietersen is not the only man from the England dressing room to talk of bullying, to talk of cliques and to talk of an unhealthy culture. He is just the only one brave enough to do it publicly.

And he is not the only one to describe Flower in negative terms. While the Flower who led England to No. 1 might have been focused and determined, he was also capable of loosening the reins sometimes. But by the end of the last Ashes series in Australia, the atmosphere within the England squad was miserable.

Players were intimidated by Flower. He was seen, and not just by Pietersen, as a brooding menace in the dressing room. As a negative influence. As part of the problem. While Pietersen's view of Flower is extreme it is not unique. If the ECB do not know that, they are not communicating with the players effectively.

There are other pertinent points made. Pietersen complains about his medical treatment following an operation on his Achilles tendon in 2009 that he says jeopardised his career. He was, he claims, not given appropriate after-care (he relates a tale of a cab driver helping him into his home following surgery) and was encouraged to return to training far too soon.

Bearing in mind the state Prior was in when he played the Lord's Test against India this year, it seems reasonable to ask some questions of the medical support team.

There are other fascinating insights: the extent - perhaps the psychological extent - of the knee injury sustained in Queenstown in early 2013 - he reckons he has never been more than 75% of the player he once was; that his cricket income "tripled" following his sacking by England and the claim that the ECB tried to persuade the MCC not to select him for the bicentenary game at Lord's. He says he "hated playing for England" for a while.

And, through it all, there are complaints - some will call them 'moans' - about the schedule. About the schedule that pushed Graeme Swann into premature retirement, that pushed Jonathan Trott to a breakdown and which compromises England at every stage. Might some of Pietersen's injuries have been a psychosomatic reaction to the demands of that schedule? A physical expression of his mental exhaustion? A plea for time off from an environment in which he felt unwelcome and, in his words, bullied?

But, incredibly, he still admits to harbouring hopes of a recall. By describing Peter Moores as "a good bloke" and Cook as "a nice man" and "decent at heart," Pietersen may feel he has not burned his bridges with the men who look set to remain in charge for a while yet. And by attempting to diminish Flower and Downton, he may feel he may yet see an ECB set-up where the door is opened once more. It seems unlikely, but so much about Pietersen's life has been.

So, realistically, this is the end. The last word. His final statement.

It should have been a celebration. Instead it is a bitter divorce played out in public. The brightest chapter in England's recent history, and all the characters involved in it, deserved a happier ending. It is not the legacy Flower had in mind.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on October 9, 2014, 12:44 GMT

    This is the most persuasive of all the (excessive number of) articles I have read about the book. The analogy with a divorce seems appropriate, although I suspect that those who have been through divorces may regard the associated trauma as rather more serious than that of a multimillionaire sportsman losing a contract a few years before his shelf life is up. I think this will probably be the last article I read on the topic. I'm in no rush to read the book, either. Kudos to George Dobell.

  • tyler21 on October 9, 2014, 12:22 GMT

    is it only me or the unceremonious end to KP's england career looks awfully similar to how Ganguly's captaincy was ended? both of them were brash & brave, both of them put the opposition to sword, both of them sacrificed a lot for the team's sake(sourav sacrificed his own batting slot which eventually cost his form & place) and still both were hard done by their respective cricket-boards. funnily, greg chappell was the hard task-master & dravid was the cook!

  • kid_rookie on October 9, 2014, 10:42 GMT

    So much has been said about the dressing room environment in KP's book. Makes me wonder about whether there is any link between Trott's breakdown and Yardy's depression with this negative environment. Taking the early returns of the two players from the respective tournaments of which they were a part of, I believe there has to be some truth in what KP says - and boy he said it just the way he always batted - aggressively & rashly. Just one question here - "not the only man from the England dressing room to talk of bullying, to talk of cliques and to talk of an unhealthy culture" & "not the only one to describe Flower in negative terms" - is there anything that confirms it? This all reeks of poor management of players by the ECB and nothing else. Like George here has said - there is no winner, everbody lose - England lost one of the finest batsmen and entertainer and ECB lost its credibility while KP lost his chance to represent England ever again. Sad end for a great player!

  • JG2704 on October 9, 2014, 9:33 GMT

    @bundybear55 on (October 6, 2014, 22:55 GMT) It would indeed be interesting to see what would have happened if KP had still been playing under Vaughan all these years. Vaughan was an attacking captain and maybe KP could have flourished even more under Vaughan and he may have kept his head off field. I wonder if the reason why KP has been more inhibited is because he has tried to modify his game to suit others? It hasn't worked

  • JG2704 on October 9, 2014, 9:32 GMT

    @ JaranNirsi on (October 6, 2014, 19:49 GMT) Just a couple of points here. He didn't beat the interested rest hands down in Oz. He was better than most but there were 5 or 6 batsmen who were within 4 or 5 runs ave for the tour. It wasn't like he was averaging significantly more than other. Also , do you still think he is all that entertaining still? A few years ago he was box office but IMO he is just relying on his name/past rep these days as opposed to what he actually does on the cricket pitch

  • TheOnlyEmperor on October 9, 2014, 7:00 GMT

    Every now and then there will come up players with flamboyance and talent. These are the players who would make all others seem lesser mortals. Because the others can never be what these talented-flamboyant players are, the latter will always be resented and ousted at the first sign of mediocre performance. The talented - flamboyant players are held up to different standards and loftier performance expectations. Only the truly wise leaders in the cricket establishment will realise the importance of nurturing and grooming such talented-flamboyant players. Flamboyance is a mixture of on-field and off-field star power + attitude + personality. The fact that Kevin was mismanaged doesn't speak much of the ECB. The sad part is that entities such as the ECB are not given to introspection and reform and so deficiencies on the part of the ECB will be foisted on Kevin... and so the situation continues till the next story. Schadenfreude is enough to keep all the lesser mortals happy.

  • Praze on October 8, 2014, 20:42 GMT

    Personally I find it all rather amusing and entertaining. In 30 years the protagonists in this drama will look back and think how sad it all was. Only Shane Warne's constant digging at Aussie past management can match it. I hope that The Cheese holds his counsel - show some restraint and grab the moral high ground!

  • dogcatcher on October 8, 2014, 13:48 GMT

    One statement that continually irks me is the continual reference to KP not being English. What exactly defines being English? Where you are born? No, one hardly ever reads an article and says South African born Strauss, Prior, Dernbach, Trott etc Why is that? Is it because they conform to what is expected of an Englishman or what the ECB or Flower define it to be?! Does one need to make statements like saying the sun over Birmingham is the most beautiful sight like Trott or are more austentatious moves like a 3 lions tatoo enough? Maybe its the accent? As far as I am concerned all of the above are English and have made their homes. livelihood and played their international cricket for England. Nothing more is required as proof. I'd prefer therefore if in future all scribes could refer to Pitersen as the English batsmen. This is about English cricket and where one is born should have no bearing on peoples views unless that is paramount to the reason for discord.

  • dummy4fb on October 8, 2014, 10:10 GMT

    I think the one thing no one seems to have mentioned in any commentary on KP's descent into the gloom of a post-international cricket is that he isn't English. He played for England but his attitude, which both gained hi extraordinary success and unwanted scandal, is so very un-English. e moved to England in his late teens, qualified after 4 years of residence to play for England and made his international debut in few years later. Whatever his foibles, he is not English and shouldn't be judged against the stiff upper lip administration that has prevailed over the English game for decades. England gave him the freedom to realize his genius, but in super-stardom, also gave him the leash that restricted him. Like Dean Jones 20 years before, runs and natural talent does not always equate to automatic selection if you are an anomaly, a loner, in a team sport. Thank goodness the Australian administration allowed Bradman's genius to blossom and not stifle it due to his individuality.

  • dummy4fb on October 8, 2014, 6:17 GMT

    Sport at an amateur level has the ability to take ones mind off personal problems, albeit for a short while. At the highest professional level, your mind has to be totally focused on the game itself or you cannot play to your potential. KP , since his exclusion and possibly before, has not been focused on his game and it has shown in his results. One fifty in over a year. I'm sure he has made his money by now which is just as well, because unfortunately, it looks like his cricket career is over.

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