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Pietersen's video apologia was immensely polite, and spread love and devotion as only he can, but forgiveness will not be granted easily
August 12, 2012
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It was a mark of Kevin Pietersen's breakdown of trust with the English media, as well as his belief in himself as a very modern man, that when he announced his willingness to make himself available again for England in all three forms of cricket he did it on YouTube.
If HELLO! magazine ever ran a chat show it would look something like this: gentle questions, carefully groomed hair, even more carefully groomed answers. Pietersen did not just apologise to England, as he knew he must do, for his presumptuousness in thinking he could plan his own schedules, he also spoke directly to the people who matter most to him: his fans.
Adulation matters to KP, he draws strength from it, and he returned the favour, telling his admirers how much they mattered. He played to win and he played for them. What was there not to like?
For Pietersen, this was another performance. That is not to suggest that it was dishonest, more a recognition that he had a message to deliver and he needed to deliver it in the most advantageous manner if he was to have any chance of winning the favour of the ECB hierarchy and the England selectors, if not for the Lord's Test then for the T20 World Cup soon to follow
He was sharp enough to remember the exact form of words he needed to use to persuade Hugh Morris, the managing director of the England team, and the selectors, to forgive him. "I want to make myself available for every form of cricket for England," he said. Unfortunately, he omitted to advise the ECB he was doing it. Umbrage was taken. He could not do right for doing wrong.
The mischievous thought occurred that somewhere in the Shires an official of the ECB, a little tipsy after a drinks party, would have received a late-evening phone call and spent much of the night trying to find out what YouTube was.
Even as he expressed the joys of togetherness, fraternity and of being part of a successful England team, Pietersen tweeted the link to his video around the time that Mo Farah was contesting gold for Great Britain in the 5000 metres. It was tempting to draw the conclusion that KP was living inside his own head again, oblivious to the needs and desires of others and to the fact that all eyes in England were elsewhere. But his next tweet was a celebration of Farah's gold. It was a typically unrestrained Pietersen tweet - with Moooo written with a lot more Os than the average pair of lungs can handle. Not entirely selfish after all then.
Pietersen's video apologia was immensely polite, at times sheepish, and spread love and devotion as only he can. His first expression was that of a man who has been under severe emotional pressure, who knew there was only one way out and who had steeled himself to make a voluntary plea for forgiveness that has no comparison in cricket history.
For his countless admirers, that was more than enough. The car crash deserved to be averted at the last minute; it was time to anticipate the chance to watch KP bat again in an England shirt. No England batsman begins to match the excitement he generates. His detractors, on the other hand, will sniff that it was just another Pietersen performance, question its sincerity and believe that the team will be better off without him.
No England cricketer has caused such a divergence of opinion since Geoffrey Boycott - and if you scratch beneath the surface there are similarities. Pietersen and Boycott might be very different characters in terms of personality, and as far as can be discerned Pietersen has yet to develop a lopsided grin or a taste for panama hats, but Boycott was also self-driven to the point where he was often mystified why he had caused offence.
"I am what I am," said Pietersen, another line that fitted easily with him, and that defence was followed by more than a hint of self-revelation. He was emotional, he shot from the hip as a person and a batsman. "I can't change the way I have been born." He has always wanted to be understood but this was the first time he had asked for it so publicly.
|To like KP you have to run with the preening and sense of his own self-importance. Perhaps this was a video that would have fit more naturally on MeTube than YouTube.|
His most intriguing thought was never entirely explored because this was not an interview interested in delving beneath the superficial. "The stubbornness that I have got sometimes, which is probably not a good thing as well, has led to me trying to believe myself for too long."
It is not for nothing that Shane Warne, who counts himself a friend, calls Pietersen "The Ego". To like KP you have to run with the preening and sense of his own self-importance. Perhaps this was a video that would have fit more naturally on MeTube than YouTube.
But here was a striking admission that yes, perhaps he had been wrong to believe that midway through his England contract he could negotiate his own future; that he had been wrong not to recognise that, however unsustainable England's international programme, his personal wishes should not disrupt the team at a critical moment; and, yes, that he had been wrong to imagine that he could win.
Before the ECB crows too loudly, incidentally, over drawing such contrition from Pietersen, the question of the workload for England's top players remains on the agenda for the Professional Cricketers Association when negotiations begin on the next contract, as does the debate about whether the ECB must work harder to find an accommodation with the IPL. Pietersen, the arch individualist, might one day appreciate the power of collective action.
There are many people on England's county circuit to whom the word Pietersen will still remain anathema. Other South African-born players in the England side have won respect: Andrew Strauss, if he so wished, could easily be an ECB chief executive one day; Jonathan Trott's commitment to Warwickshire is respected; Matt Prior seems so English that his South African birthplace is a supreme irrelevance.
Pietersen will never gain such widespread acceptance because he sees himself as the icing on the cake rather than part of the cake itself. Playing for Surrey in a County Championship match at Worcestershire this season, minutes after getting out, he was tweeting messages of good luck to Delhi Daredevils while Surrey's travails, in the game in which he was playing, did not receive a word. Little social errors, repeated, designed eventually to displease.
That will always be Pietersen's nature. He can be infinitely polite, gracious and charming. The video revealed all those qualities. He is also consumed with the minutiae, as well as the magnificence, of his own life. There is no "I" in team but as all good subs know, there is an "I" in Pietersen. Those tensions will still remain.
"I need to pull towards the team and the team needs to pull towards me," he said. The truth of that is obvious. Whoever he plays for, he remains a great individualist, picking his way through a team environment, applauded as much as he is resented; spreading love as no other England cricketer can in one minute, making a crass, almost childlike, error the next.
Things can become better again, with good intentions on all sides, and if he has looked into himself and grown as a result, it is cause for praise, not for him to be belittled, but the video was only the start. Forgiveness is not about to be granted easily.
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