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A tale of two English icons

One is seen as a man of the people, the other as a man for himself. What is perception and what reality?

Andrew Miller

January 25, 2010

Comments: 35 | Text size: A | A

The injured Kevin Pietersen managed to dodge the rain at Edgbaston, England v Australia, 3rd Test, Edgbaston, 1st day, July 30, 2009
KP: Confident, ambitious, devoted to excellence, insular © PA Sport
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Players/Officials: Andrew Flintoff | Kevin Pietersen
Teams: England

At The Oval last August a national treasure stepped down from Test cricket. At Centurion in November a mistrusted maverick returned to the fold. In terms of stature, star quality and even IPL salaries Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen are peas in a pod - a pair of box-office personalities in an otherwise humdrum England dressing room. In every other respect the two men remain polar opposites, not least in the eyes of the British public.

Objectively speaking there should not really be a contest as to which of the pair is more deserving of adulation. Flintoff's credentials as a world-class allrounder are undermined by his ordinary statistics; moreover he went four years from 2005 without either scoring a century or taking five wickets.

Pietersen, on the other hand, has made 16 hundreds in 58 Tests and, according to his best man and former England team-mate Darren Gough, is a shoo-in to become England's leading run-scorer in Test cricket. "When Freddie looks back, he will say he's underachieved in a lot of ways," says Gough. "Whereas Kev wants to fulfill his potential totally."

Yet Pietersen's devotion to excellence is the very same attribute that alienates him from a fickle British public. From the days of Henry Cooper through to Eddie the Eagle and Frank Bruno, plucky and personable underdogs have always trumped sportsmen with genuine claims to greatness.

"It is peculiar how Pietersen is portrayed," says a media colleague who has worked with him at close quarters. "He claims not to read the papers but that is definitely not the case. He takes criticism very personally and he is certainly not happy about it. I suspect the South African link will never allow him to be the Freddie-esque man of the people he so craves to be."

According to Paul Burnham, founder of the Flintoff-worshipping Barmy Army, Pietersen's persona is a direct challenge, for better or worse, to everything that British sports fans hold dear. "At the moment we are what we are as a culture. Personally I love it and wouldn't want to change it, even though it isn't what you want if you want to win all the time," he says. "Freddie is old school and England's fans can relate to that, whereas Pietersen is probably the most misunderstood cricketer there is. He's got a really friendly personality but for some reason people don't like his body language. He exudes confidence but it comes across as arrogance."

"I think Fred comes across exactly the same as me," says Gough. "He's a bit of a joker who likes a drink and he plays his cricket in the right spirit. KP is slightly different. He'd take a wine bar over a pub any day, and that's not a knock at him. He just enjoys that buzz and that edge about being a top-class sportsman. But because he wasn't brought up in this country he still doesn't quite understand how things work and how people look upon celebrities. It can be a difficult place if you make it a difficult place."

Freddie is old school and England's fans can relate to that, whereas Pietersen is probably the most misunderstood cricketer there is. He's got a really friendly personality but for some reason people don't like his body language. He exudes confidence but it comes across as arrogance Paul Burnham, founder of the Barmy Army

Pietersen has not made life easy for himself since transferring his allegiance to England. He arrived in the country with a reputation for brashness and cultivated that image with dressing-room spats and crazy hairstyles - antics that did not endear him to English cricket's essentially conservative fan base.

In 2008 he appeared finally to have cracked it. A brilliant and wildly acclaimed hundred against his former compatriots at Lord's led to him declaring that he had never felt "so loved", and before the series was out he had been appointed England captain. Then came the falling out with Peter Moores.

"I think he was badly scalded by what happened last winter," says the source. "He is considerably more guarded with the media than he used to be and I get the impression he feels people are out to get him."

However Flintoff, too, has had moments in his career when media attention has cast him in an unfavourable light - and pound for pound his catalogue of misdemeanours deserves far greater censure than anything the relentlessly professional Pietersen has come up with. KP would never turn up drunk at practice while leading his country on a tour of Australia, for instance; and as for the Moores debacle, at least it can be argued that he was acting in what he thought were the team's best interests.

Perversely, though, the harder Pietersen tries to ingratiate himself, the more the suspicions of his motives grow, whereas the more Flintoff strays from the straight and narrow, the more his stock appears to rise. "Part of the attraction is that Fred does make mistakes, like we all do," says his friend and spokesman Myles Hodgson. "But generally he doesn't make many excuses for them either. He holds his hand up and says, 'I was a bum then.'"

That is an aspect of Britishness that Pietersen simply "doesn't get". For him an apology is a sign of weakness and, as such, to be avoided at all costs. His refusal to acknowledge the crass error of judgment that led to his dismissal in the opening Ashes Test in Cardiff this summer was a case in point.

"He was absolutely furious about the way he was singled out for criticism for that shot," says one English journalist. "Basically I think he is very insecure and wants to be loved but has not worked out how to achieve that. For some reason he doesn't quite fit into the England dressing room. I'm not sure he does 'banter' that well."

Geraint Jones, Pietersen's fellow 2005 Ashes winner, concurs. "As a team-mate you see KP on the field but other than that you don't really see him around very much," he says. "He'll go out for dinner with the guys but after that he keeps to himself a bit while Fred tends to run into people he knows and is happy to spend a bit of time with them.

"KP is not actually someone who wants to be in the public eye that much. Yes, he's a bit flash and he likes his fast cars but that's what makes him tick. He's just a very focused person and very insular and people tend to form their opinion of what he is like by watching him play cricket. That's his job, after all."

Andrew Flintoff and wife Rachael walk through the streets, London, August 24, 2009
Freddie: friendly, loyal, fallible © AFP

It is also, crucially, all the public has ever seen. Whereas Flintoff made his debut as an overweight and unready 20-year-old, way back in 1998, and slowly developed into the talismanic figure around whom the 2005 Ashes side was built, Pietersen arrived in the side with no hinterland and seemingly no fear either. As the plot of that summer's epic contest developed, so the mystery of his motivation began to tell against him.

"Everyone wants to be loved and everyone would love to have the relationship with the fans that Flintoff does, but I think Kev knows that that's just not going to happen," says Jones. "He thinks quite hard about saying the right thing but perhaps people see him trying too hard to be nice, whereas it all comes naturally to Fred, who is just a more relaxed character."

Flintoff remains close to two former schoolboy team-mates Paddy McKeown and Mark Chilton and is still in touch with old friends from Preston; he is known for his loyalty. Pietersen, on the other hand, does not have any such long-standing and intimate friendships, and according to Gough, even his choice of wife, the pop star Jessica Taylor, whom he married in 2007, arouses suspicion among the public.

"Freddie married a girl [Rachael Wools] who wasn't a celebrity, while KP married a celebrity at an occasion with other celebrities, and that's the difference," says Gough. "One person embraces the celebrity lifestyle while the other puts an image across that he doesn't like it."

In the months since Test retirement Flintoff's stated distaste for celebrity has been tested by innumerable public appearances, as he attempts to forge a life after cricket. Nothing, however, has dented his place in England's affections, not even his rejection of an ECB central contract, which is precisely the sort of move that Pietersen would be castigated for.

Ultimately it seems there is only one sure-fire route to acceptance and that is for Pietersen to stick belligerently to his guns and accept the brickbats as a trade-off for his talent.

"He's a terrific guy and I'd want him on my side in all situations but he's just not the kind of lion-hearted character that people love," says Gough. "He's just not English through and through."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo. This article first appeared in the January issue of The Wisden Cricketer. Subscribe here.

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Posted by   on (January 27, 2010, 16:20 GMT)

hats the problem people? I'am definitely behind KP, contary to what some believe I don't think KP is a natural talent, technically I don't think he's a brilliant batsmen either but what he is, is extremly ambitous and determined. He is without doubt the most driven player in that England team... then you get guys like Ian Bell technically a better batsman than Kapes but what the hell has he achieved? Medicority ... so is that really the english people wan't? How on earth do we expect to beat teams like aus,ind,sa. Those teams will alway

Posted by catweazle63 on (January 27, 2010, 14:03 GMT)

It seems unfair to me that Flintoff is portrayed as a lovable, laddish, man of the people, but in reality is a lot more shrewd and calculating than you think and enjoys the limelight on him. Nothing wrong with that but let's be realistic, when it was about Freddie, the rest of the team didn't get a look in with some elements of the press and fans.

Pietersen on the other hand, comes across as arrogant, cocky, a loner, non team player, etc, but is actually a lot nicer than he is portrayed but is more reserved. He wants to do the best he can and puts the time and effort in but also wants to feel part of a team doing the same. Yes he is confident about his abilities but there is nothing wrong with that. That's why england are getting more exciting at the moment because they have a crop of young players (Broad, Swann, Anderson) who have a bit of swagger about them and who are not cowed by other teams or by there only being one 'star' in the team.

Posted by crikkfan on (January 26, 2010, 16:17 GMT)

I think we need to accept KP and Freddie for what they are and that will make us enjoy them more - particularly for KP and Freddie is easily enjoyable! I admire KP for his professionalism and Freddie for his flair and talent.

Posted by King_Viv on (January 26, 2010, 9:33 GMT)

KP lost a lot of respect when he first burst onto the scene and slagged off his homeland. Sure the quota system is far from ideal but reversing years of apartheid and inequality was never going to be easy and for a white South African to make comments about reverse racial equality was too much for some. We understand everyone must act in their own interests and moving to England was the best for him (and for England) but the comments he made about the country that nurtured him left a bitter taste in my mouth. Without the quota system, Duminy and Amla may never have emerged. Ever since he has tried to act more English than the English with the tattoes and various "I love playing for MY COUNTRY" comments. Nevertheless, he is a special talent and I hope he is able to perform at the highest level for years to come. From my perspective, Freddie was a great cricketer but unfortunately injury prone so never realised his potential

Posted by Peekay2407 on (January 26, 2010, 6:57 GMT)

According to me, there is a big difference btw KP and Freddy. KP is aggressive cricketer whereas Freddy is calm and passionate cricketer. He does his job without much show of aggression. I had an opportunity to see him in Dubai Bab Al Shams Resort holidaying with his family. I am extremely pleased to see Freddy walking around with his kids and he readily agreed to a photo click with me. In fact, he looked around to find someone take snap. Freddy is a great human being and I love him so much. No matter what milestones one achieves in cricket world - cricketers like Freddy are so humble with no prejudice or hatred towards anyone. Freddy had his moment of success in English cricket and we all love him. I am A LOYAL FREDDY FAN AND GOD BLESS HIM AND HIS FAMILY.

Posted by Sir-Collingwood on (January 26, 2010, 2:05 GMT)

I can't say much about Flintoff since he actually does something when there is something needed (like the boyfriend/girlfriend who pulls up a miraculous recovery every time they royally screw up), whilst my loathing for KP grows with every single bad innings he blames on either something stupid, or refuses to acknowledge a truly boneheaded move and carries on like nothing has happened. Soon he will blame it on someone else, and when that day comes, I pray that he will be far, far away from the English side.

Let the players like Swann, Anderson, Strauss and Collingwood do their jobs and that is to win matches -- KP's next gig ought to be I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here (USA version)...

Posted by Manush on (January 26, 2010, 0:37 GMT)

The two are definitely towering and inspiring personalities, while one is lingering with his memorable contributions,the other continues to occupy centre space in English Cricket. A one ordinary performance in the just concluded series, should not be taken seriously. Without KP's contribution England is just ordinary and will only lose. Even the one victory against SA, his innings was important. KP should learn to control emotions and avoid being over aggressive. He is sure to be on top of the world.

Posted by BacupCCU17 on (January 25, 2010, 23:31 GMT)

I don't understand the mentality of some people, why do we criticize the best performers and completely overate mediocre ones?! KP has averaged the best part of 50 so far in his career making him the player with the highest test (and odi) ave in the England team by a good amount! ... so whats the problem people? I'am definitely behind KP, contary to what some believe I don't think KP is a natural talent, technically I don't think he's a brilliant batsmen either but what he is, is extremly ambitous and determined. He is without doubt the most driven player in that England team... then you get guys like Ian Bell technically a better batsman than Kapes but what the hell has he achieved? Medicority ... so is that really the english people wan't? How on earth do we expect to beat teams like aus,ind,sa. Those teams will always be better than England unless we change the way we view our cricketers. C'mon KP 10,000 test runs @50 and you'll be the one of best players in English history!

Posted by Kassto on (January 25, 2010, 23:10 GMT)

Good piece, Andrew. My sympathies are definitely with KP, who's a complete professional. I think Fred loves the celebrity lifestyle more, underneath all that ordinary bloke stuff, and he's been a serious underachiever as a cricketer.

Posted by Subra on (January 25, 2010, 22:38 GMT)

To me Flintoff stands miles ahead and epitomised by his gesture to Brett Lee after England had won. The game was a keenly contested one, one team had to win, but it was his gracious act that will forever cast him as a true sportsman - a cricketer in the broadest definition of the term. Siva from Sinfapore

Posted by BrianCharlesVivek on (January 25, 2010, 21:59 GMT)

Both of them are celebrities no doubt. But i think two Andrews are now building a team that beleives in earning their own bread through hardwork, unconcerned about the celebrities around them . Strauss once publicly said he was "used to life without Flintoff many times" . And if KP contiinues to be inconsistent, he might well be an underachiver like Flintoff !

Posted by mahjut on (January 25, 2010, 21:46 GMT)

KP - confident (sure), ambitious (no doubt at all), devoted to excellence (probably, but devotion to doesn't always beget...), insular (certainly will be in large sections of SA after his very in the public eye criticisms of SA systems). KP is your Henry cooper or Frank Bruno - just not as affable, because he doesn't really realise it :(

Posted by vatsap on (January 25, 2010, 20:04 GMT)

Kevin Pietersen was a whiff of fresh air for England cricket and the Cricketing world otherwise. The aggressive, positive cricket and the urgency he brought with him was one of the primary reason why 2005 Ashes was a success for England. Making him the captain was a horrendous blunder which only the England selectors are capable off. They should have made Strauss the captain after Vaughan, but they had to go thro the romantic honeymoon with Freddie as Captain. Freddie certainly has had its moments in Sun. Making KP the Captain was a "worser" decision. Allow this guy to just bat with the confidence. It would be great to see KP get back to form, he would certainly be England's highest scorer and more of reverse swept sixes.

Posted by FTDtheKing on (January 25, 2010, 19:55 GMT)

@ABG1 - you clearly have no idea what you're talking about. Admittedly Flintoff underachieved, but it is not just the English who respect him as an iconic figure...his presence alone could make batsmen and bowlers capitulate. And as for Botham...an AVERAGE performer?!! He was an allrounder, yet overtook Lillee to get the world record for most test wickets (finishing with 383 @ 28) - something any out and out bowler would dream of, yet scored 5200 runs @ 33.54 with 14 tons as well! What an insane thing to say. Sorry I didn't comment on the article - I was clearly irked.

Posted by Afrodizzy on (January 25, 2010, 19:48 GMT)

If the English concentrated on picking Englishmen, there would be no need for all this angst. Just come home Kevin.

Posted by TurningSquare on (January 25, 2010, 18:34 GMT)

Flintoff arrogant !? not a chance, his celebrations are passionate, and the reason love him is because he is a warrior, he is a great cricketer. Forget the averages, half of the time he played half injured the guy is a collosus. We only saw glimpses of his best.

Posted by ABG1 on (January 25, 2010, 18:18 GMT)

Well written article. Pity the English always try to lionise average performers - Botham and now Flintoff. Both one series wonders - look at the stats. Fancy admiring all rounders who average more with the ball than with the bat in a form of the game.

Posted by KTiwari on (January 25, 2010, 16:59 GMT)

Both are good cricketers so it is quite understanble that general public will love their local born hero over import. Public can ignore the local/import question only when there was a big gap in cricketing abilities but that is not the case here. But that is the choice KP made when he left SA.

Posted by Hybrid on (January 25, 2010, 16:54 GMT)

Flintoff is definitely a show pony. Holding your arms aloft while not celebrating or acknowledging your team mates after an important wicket/run-out (he must have had the champagne moment for the forthcoming Ashes DVD release in mind) and then wandering around the field on your own while your team mates celebrate an Ashes win. He's as arrogant as KP (trust me - I've met him), he's just better at hiding it.....

Posted by UnwedUnfed on (January 25, 2010, 15:56 GMT)

There is a somewhat similar parallel to this situation in baseball. Two of the stars on the New York Yankees (for the uninitiated, the Yankees are by far the most successful and loved/hated baseball team) are Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez is statistically one of the greatest players ever, and Jeter's numbers are far inferior, but for the New York fans Jeter is God, and Rodriguez is someone they love for criticize for any real or perceived flaws or errors. Like Pietersen, Rodriguez also gives off the impression that he tries too hard, and every public utterance comes across as fake.

Posted by pjknavesmere on (January 25, 2010, 15:55 GMT)

Goughie sums KP up in once sentence "He's just not English through and through." Nor is KP South African through and through ... basically he is in no-man's land, just like his cricket at the moment. No doubting the man's ability, but perhaps it is time he just got back to the sport he loves, if he does indeed love it?

Posted by AJ_Tiger86 on (January 25, 2010, 15:46 GMT)

It's unfair to compare KP to Freddie. Freddie has the heart of a lion, which is almost unique among the international cricketers of the last 15 years or so. KP will never be as popular as Flintoff-- not only in England but also worldwide.

Posted by safbob on (January 25, 2010, 14:21 GMT)

You have to love the English, 'the South African link' HE IS SOUTH AFRICAN. Of course he's not very well liked or trusted, what mercenary ever is? Do you really think that he's playing for England because of his undying love for the country? He left South Africa to make good money playing county cricket (despite what you might of heard) and now he makes good money playing for England. What self respecting fan wouldn't wonder about him.

Posted by HenkCornetto on (January 25, 2010, 14:04 GMT)

I think a lot of it has to do what people WANT to see: A hero/superathlete who is human??..meaning: going out and getting drunk or being nice to everyone??....Unfortunatly it is not possible anymore to play cricket like the Botham's,Boon's or Lillee's..Those guys rocked! and were good, look at their averages. Flintoff might be a cool guy but he has underperformed in my opinion. Also: I will never forget the moment I opened cricinfo early in the morning to read England lost to Australia in Adelaide in last ashes down under! I know you can't blame one guy for a teamperformance but WHAT?? They had to drag Fred out of every pub in Aus. Pietersen might not like beers but give the guy a break. He want's to perform and he will win a lot of matches and is simply great to watch! So let him focus on his batting! Is he here to drink or to bat? Go on KP!

Posted by Nitin_Sundar on (January 25, 2010, 13:40 GMT)

As random a write-up as they come. Miller begins by claiming Flintoff is 'old-school'. Pedalo incidents are not old-school by any stretch of the imagination. Pietersen has always been loved when the runs have flowed, bei it in Ashes 05, South Africa 04, or when he "never felt more loved" last year. Of course he is a complex, intense personality, but that's not going to stop anyone from loving him when he does what he's best at. All this gibberish to gain some eyeballs in the off-season, quite amateurish really.

Posted by Poachedfromthecradle on (January 25, 2010, 12:33 GMT)

Flintoff is not old-school. If anything, Flintoff is more arrogant than KP - see for example his wicket celebrations. Only Henry's 'behold, I am God' goal celebrations come close. And at least Henry was pretty good.

Posted by SirWilliam on (January 25, 2010, 11:49 GMT)

Flintoff old-school. Really?

Posted by sslapper on (January 25, 2010, 11:26 GMT)

A great article. I think you touched on what was is a big cause for people to love Flintoff and dislike KP. In interviews, Flintoff does come across as more genuine whereas KP seems like he is trying to project an image, and his comments are always peppered with how he loves playing the great game of "test match cricket." The "South African" tag doesn't help, and will never leave him, but no doubt he'll go on to score thousands more runs in test cricket. In terms of behaviour on the field, I always thought that Flintoff was quite a show pony himself. You only need to look at some of his wicket celebrations to see that a fair amount of arrogance still resides within the "everyman" normal guy Flintoff. I'm not meaning this is a disparaging way, the it's something the English public appear to be blind to!

Posted by BellCurve on (January 25, 2010, 11:20 GMT)

KP may just be a batting genius in his prime. If the runs are flowing later this year in Aus it wouldn't matter whether he's from Pietermaritzburg or Peterborough. As for Freddie: well his all-round ODI stats are rather good; possibly the best ever.

Posted by kishorecv on (January 25, 2010, 11:04 GMT)

Pietersen the Great!, if England does not adore then so be it. Let them adore the boring Bells and Collingwoods. You just come on over to India for IPL and we'll make sure you feel right at home.

KP is one hellava special guy and he certainly deserves the $1.5 million IPL tag Cant wait for KP to come on over here for our unbridled adulation that is reserved only for the very special ones.

Posted by Avery_Mann on (January 25, 2010, 9:48 GMT)

Yawn. More fawning over the two most overrated cricketers of the modern era. Time to get over your mancrush.

Posted by amit1807kuwait on (January 25, 2010, 8:38 GMT)

An adopted homeland will remain that - an adopted homeland! No matter how hard KP tries, no matter how many runs he scores, no matter how influential he is in English victories, he will always find it difficult to merge within the society and be loved. Good luck to him!

Posted by ChinmayD on (January 25, 2010, 7:33 GMT)

Pietersen is your archetype South African cricketer. Confident, cocky, professional. This is what makes them great sportsmen.

I really don't get why he and Smith didn't get along, they are almost exactly similar, except that Smith has become more mature due to captaincy.

Posted by r1m2 on (January 25, 2010, 7:20 GMT)

Excellent topic, but I think this article could've used a few more sources. Opinions form KP's friends would've lend more credibility to the conclusions drawn on him. As I am outsider, the read tells me what Fred's buddies and other outsiders think of KP. Whether or not he's got long time friends, is debatable. Now without further nitpicking on the article, I'd say that KP's record speaks for itself. Although he's not a captaincy material, but he's one of those rare batsman who has little weakness against any team. He's done equally well against all comers. That means he falls into the Tendulkar, Ponting category in terms of greatness. With that sort of credibility and talent, it is no doubt he wouldn't fit in with the English "fans". And there is no need for KP to live up to these "fans", who think they've come to their senses after a few pints of beer. Not to say KP's a saint, these are early days yet, but he's done well and best of luck for him to continue as such until he retires.

Posted by Nemo2011 on (January 25, 2010, 5:47 GMT)

I think Pietersen's case is a perfect case of an immigrant trying to establish hismeslf in a foreign country! Not only in cricket..this happens in all the profession. People who go through this situation accepts this and move on in life...and Pietersen has to do it as well...but histroy will judge him as 'great' if he concentrate in scoring runs rather than worrying about all these non-sense.

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Andrew Miller Andrew Miller was saved from a life of drudgery in the City when his car caught fire on the way to an interview. He took this as a sign and fled to Pakistan where he witnessed England's historic victory in the twilight at Karachi (or thought he did, at any rate - it was too dark to tell). He then joined Wisden Online in 2001, and soon graduated from put-upon photocopier to a writer with a penchant for comment and cricket on the subcontinent. In addition to Pakistan, he has covered England tours in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007

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