June 8, 2012

Let's talk about Kevin

Pietersen's has been among the most sparkling yet controversial stories of all

There is not much to do at Edgbaston except talk more cricket. The amount of rain is staggering, apparently it is the thing Britain is most recognised for abroad. Not Churchill or Shakespeare; Buckingham Palace or Her Majesty; not Westminster, Wembley or any of the Cathedrals and not even fish or chips. This land is best known for rain.

Cricketers know rain well, those out of nick pray for it. Rain brings release from expectation, albeit temporarily, and allows the mind to wander irresponsibly through card games, iPods, Xbox (I'm told) and endless reruns of matches past. Today Fred Flintoff and Steve Harmison have been causing havoc in Barbados and Marcus Trescothick knocked off the winning runs. That series was back in 2004 under Michael Vaughan's savvy leadership and became the foundation upon which the monumental Ashes win of 2005 was built.

Two thousand and five, the summer when Kevin Pietersen first caught our eye. It was the haircut - skunk and streaked. He had joined Hampshire from Nottinghamshire, a glamorous move at the time, which ended unsatisfactorily. He loved the lights of London too much and so Surrey, where he plays now, may be the last resting place. Back at the Rose Bowl, in one of the few county matches he played for Hampshire, a selector saw him make an efficient 20-odd on a tricky pitch. This little acorn, in the company of three breathtaking one-day hundreds for England in South Africa the winter previous, was enough to cull Graeme Thorpe's Test career and launch one of the most sparkling and yet controversial stories of them all.

Goodness, these South Africans! Think back for a minute: Tony Greig was hardly the retiring type; Allan Lamb had a capacity for mischief and frolic like few others; Robin Smith was a crackerjack fellow, so popular that there simply weren't enough hours in the day. And Pietersen is off the chart really. Barely a moment goes by without, well, a Pietersen moment, and thus he has been top of the pops these past 48 rain-filled hours.

Sure, he says some stuff that is too self-fulfilling for its own good, but for a long while he travelled on rocky ground, a man bent on redemption in another man's land. His achievements are every bit as remarkable as those of Greig before him - once "ordinary" in the shirts of Eastern Province and Natal respectively, then monumental in the three lions of their adopted land. Pietersen hates the "adopted" thing by the way, he just wants to be plain old English.

The trouble, KP, is that there is nothing plain about you, and not much that is English. Not since Denis Compton has an English batsman played with such carefree spirit and jaw-dropping panache. David Gower had the range and Ian Botham the bravado but even they were not quite so original. And you are up there with Geoffrey Boycott when it comes to a stir.

All of which is box office and worth a mint to both Pietersen and his employers. As many as 600,000 follow him on Twitter; that is a big number. The vast majority are fans but the few who are not really niggle, and he hates that too. There is the problem with social media: as easily your enemy as it is your friend.

Quite why he has pulled out of all limited-overs cricket is a mystery. Clearly he has had a bellyful of the 50-over game and hates the time away from his wife and young son. But it is still a big call, one with which the ECB could not get to grips. The timing alone is bizarre. Probably he made some demands on a pick-and-choose basis and was told to lump it. They need a mediator, these two opposites who don't attract. Or perhaps the damage is done. It did seem a bit daft to fine him three grand for an uncomplimentary tweet about Nick Knight's work on television, and it seems even dafter to be just 31 years of age and packing in the game that draws you the biggest audience. What a far cry from heady 2005.

And it is no good bleating about the IPL sucking his oxygen from our grasp. If someone offered any of us a couple of million dollars (because that is about what it adds up to, endorsements and all) for six weeks in India, we would bite their hand off. There was always one rule for one and another for the others - plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. As hard as we champion the team ethic, it is individuals who make the team.

Pietersen's "retirement" is not based on revenge for the loss of the England captaincy or retaliation for the tweet fine, it is based on overkill and disaffection. This is only the beginning. The quicker everyone who runs the game realises that the IPL heist is here to stay, the better. Give it space and give those who play it respect. Work with it, not against it. Pietersen may not have used the charm offensive when dealing with the ECB, and he surely owes English cricket more than he cares to acknowledge, but there has to be another way, there has to be. Otherwise it is a terrible waste. And it is still raining in Birmingham.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Randolph on June 11, 2012, 9:11 GMT

    KP retired before the Australia series because he knew his career would've been ended by Pattinson then anyway.

  • Wicky on June 11, 2012, 2:40 GMT

    One of the most self centerd plyr ever to play crickt.But a prolific match winer n easily poms best odi,t20 batter n they gonna mis him big big time

  • John on June 10, 2012, 21:16 GMT

    @Debashis Basu on (June 10 2012, 01:55 AM GMT) I actually feel that KP has been no more or no less important than any of our batsmen. He was part of a huge success in our batting vs India and Australia and part of the batting unit's dismal failure in UAE and the SL 1st test. I think the main reason we're number 1 is the consistency of our bowling unit and our batsmen have by and large been equally equally responsible for our success and failures and I would not put KP on a pedastel above any of the other main 4. The problem is that I don't feel we have so much batting depth so if we lose a batsman it makes a bigger difference to the side compared to losing a bowler

  • ian on June 10, 2012, 21:07 GMT

    The quota system effectively exiled KP from SA, but believing in himself (he appears to have phases of complete non-self doubt followed by periods of intorospection and uncertainty), he took himself to England where, by turns, he tested the patience of Notts, then Hampshire, as he carved out his career. Surrey has now provided him with a nominal county home, but as they haven't seen too much of him, we can assume he is persona grata at the Oval for the time being. It must be obvious to anyone thinking about KP's mind-set that he is, like all of us, conditioned by his experiences. One thing he learnt early on is that he only has himself upon whom to rely. Any institution that he signs up to (3 counties, the ECB and his IPL contract) are only good so long as they're good to KP - the moment he feels that he cannot go when and where he wants, he'll sever the tie. This is a man who has one defining loyalty only: to himself. His talent is awesome; his loyalty undoubted! We must live with it.

  • Dummy4 on June 10, 2012, 16:42 GMT

    WI FAN-I feel sorry that KP will leave the ODIs this guy is an intertainer and by all means ENg. should have done more to keep him. IPL is to blame and i cant believe IPL show it is above Pounds.

  • Dummy4 on June 10, 2012, 15:17 GMT

    A cricketing mercenary if there ever was one. England gave him the opportunity but when he had a better IPL deal, he turned his back on England.

  • Dummy4 on June 10, 2012, 13:22 GMT

    When I first heard it, I immediately assumed the real reason for Pietersen's ODI retirement that he wanted to free up some time for a nice, juicy Big Bash contract next Christmas but he actually does have a point. There are far too many ODIs. Fewer people are going to matches because there are simply too many and they are stereotyped due to the number of playing conditions, eg fielding restrictions, power plays etc. The boards turn to television more and more to make up their revenue and the tv companies want more matches to full up their schedules, not less, so even fewer people go to the matches and interest falls even further. When investment in stadiums, needing even more matches to fund their cost is brought in this accentuates the cycle even more. Something is badly needed to break this cycle but I'm lost as how it can be achieved due to all the conflicting interests.

  • Dummy4 on June 10, 2012, 1:55 GMT

    Agree fully with 'Insightfulcricketer'...KP is ONE HUGE REASON that England are the no.1 side in Tests and the World T20 holders. No doubt England have a fantastic bowling attack and a good captain. But the batting has revolved around KP. I can understand no one player can be bigger than the team, and ego has been, and will always be, a major issue vis-a-vis KP. But ECB are being too stubborn and short-sighted (my feeling).....

  • Dummy4 on June 10, 2012, 1:53 GMT

    Mark, you have been very kind to KP and it's nice to know there are still some of you out there in "cricket land". I am so frustrated that no one seems to want to stand up and fight to get KP back. We, the England and KP supporters can't do anything other than write our comments but Andy Flower , Graham Gooch. Cookie and Stuart Broad who will all be affected by his retirement from ODI and T20 should at least try . Surely there can be a compromise between ECB and KP. Let's just put personalities aside. KP needs to play ODI and T20. That's the end target. Maybe a compromise on the ODI games. We all know there are far too many of them. Continue playing so many games and crowds will fall off.Finite amount of money on entertainment. Please someone TRY

  • Steven on June 10, 2012, 0:33 GMT

    6779@49.12 & 4184@41.84 (ODIs)

    Pretty ordinary at the end of the day regardless of what he or the media has to say.

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