August 22, 2012

KP's story: the next chapter

How Pietersen turned his career around after the fall of summer 2012: a view from the future

As the theme music pipes up, a cavernous TV studio erupts in cheers, jeers, foot-stamping, whistling and, from someone dressed as a flamingo, a heartfelt roar: "KP for UN secretary-general". One banner reads "Nuts about KP", another "Nuts to KP".

Interviewer: For tonight's edition of Meet The Gods, we are honoured to welcome one of the greatest sportspeople ever to represent this proud united nation of ours, whose services to social media, human interaction and freedom of expression have served as such an example to us all, a man without whom our lives would be a great deal duller… the one, the only… KP.

As KP bounds on from behind a small curtain, wearing a cloak and a highwayman's hat, the cheers and jeers resume. "Oy, KP," shouts the flamingo. "When are you coming back to Trent Bridge?!" KP stops in his tracks, turns and addresses the flamingo.

KP: Oy, Mr Flamingo. Take some flying lessons.

Interviewer: Very droll, KP, very droll. Or it would have been, if he'd been dressed up as a penguin. Flamingos fly at night.

The rapturous greeting drowns out the correction as KP takes his designated seat and neatly folds a strip of biltong into his mouth.

Interviewer: Still like a good meaty chew, do you?

KP: Sure, beats that peppermint stuff, though KP wishes the Yanks hadn't persuaded the World Anti-Doping Agency to restrict the use of performance-enhancing chewing tobacco to baseballers. Forget the 30 million they paid me: that's the reason KP spent a season with the Yankees. That's the secret of his longev… durabi… um… success.

Interviewer: So, how does it feel to be the man who saved cricket?

KP: Fairly bloody good, to be honest. KP doesn't like blowing wind up his own bum - and the bloke who'd like to be known as "JA" copied KP on that, not vice-versa - but there are times when a man has to stand up and count himself. There, another gem. But yes, I must admit, frankly, that you're absolutely right. If it wasn't for KP, Test cricket would have died after that 2012 India-England series.

Interviewer: I should remind the audience that that was the Test series that plunged to such depths of incompetence that not one batsman on either side scored at 60 runs per 100 balls, not one. Not even the 2013 Ashes, only the second ever to see a side fight back from 2-0 down to take the rubber could make amends. And now, ten years later, with 53 Test hundreds and 200 caps to his name, KP can take a bow for remedying matters.

KP: Well, it was KP's duty. KP didn't get where KP is today by neglecting the greater good. Ever since KP's parents asked KP whether he minded if they named him Kevin Peter Pietersen from Pietermaritzburg and he said he should but didn't, KP has been dutiful above and beyond, and even through, the call of duty.

Interviewer: Okay, let's rewind to Lord's 2012, the lowest moment of your career: dropped from the Test side for the first time, missing out on the biggest match of the decade, and having completely distracted attention from Andrew Strauss' 100th Test? How did you feel on that second afternoon, while the batting was collapsing?

KP: Sad for the guys, obviously, but pretty bloody good. I'd started a rumour about flying off somewhere but I was in Cornwall, where phone signals can be dodgy. They don't have a first-class side there but they do have the thuggiest rugger buggers this side of Natal seconds. Mrs KP had KP's undivided attention for a couple of consecutive minutes, and KP bonded with KP Junior over an Olympic-sized table tennis table - you shoulda seen KP's topspin backhand. Best of all, KP's soul buddy Chris Gayle was so eager to know whether the selectors had had a last-minute change of heart, he got up at 4.30am on day one - his time, in Jamaica, near Barbados. Did you know they were seven hours behind us? Makes you think.

Interviewer: Didn't Alice Cooper say something that turned your career around?

KP: What a fabulously wonderful memory you have. KP had got some tickets for Alice, because he always loved "Won't Get Fooled Again", and he'd heard about how he'd carried on doing his thing even after he chopped that plastic baby's head off on stage. But yes, you're absolutely completely right - to hear him call KP "a real rocker" on TMS was something KP cherishes to this day. It was all the affirmation he needed, even if Alice's mother did give him an extremely silly name.

Interviewer: Actually, his mother called him Vincent and The Who did "Won't Get Fooled Again", but we'll let that pass. Didn't the interviewer make a snide comment?

KP: KP will never be judged by people, especially people with only four Test wickets at 148.66. How could Jonathan Agnew possibly know what it was like being KP? You might as well ask Mel Gibson what it feels like to be a rabbi.

Interviewer: Before we go on, in fairness to Mr Agnew, Steve, our researcher, has just informed me that his Test average was actually 93.25.

"Ever since KP's parents asked KP whether he minded if they named him Kevin Peter Pietersen from Pietermaritzburg and he said he should but didn't, KP has been dutiful above and beyond and even through the call of duty"

KP grins

KP: Right, sorry Aggers. I still say you could blindfold Sir Boycott's great-grandmother and she'd hook you for six, and she's dead.

Interviewer: But surely you were asking for trouble at the end of the previous Test, saying it was difficult being KP.

KP: Look man, KP was just being KP, telling it like it is. Or was. What-evah. There were guys who had it in for KP - jealous guys, envious guys. The team had started to slip and every time I bailed them out, they got jealouser, enviouser.

Interviewer: But don't you think you were a bit insensitive? It is a team game, after all.

KP: You don't have to tell KP it's a team game. KP knows it's a team game. KP didn't get where KP is today not knowing it has always been a team game, even though KP's Single-Wicket Cup has been getting bigger crowds than the World Player League lately, as KP's sure you're all aware.

Interviewer: But wasn't it risky texting derogatory comments about your own team to the opposition?

KP: Look, we're all human. Even KP. KP felt alone. The team-mates who weren't ignoring KP were teasing him. Look, you've got a pretty big nose - remember being teased at school? Well, a cricket dressing room is like school but with even richer pupils who've passed their exams and are a bit older. Ask Shane Warne. Ask Shoaib Akhtar. Ask Don Bradman. Okay, ask Don Bradman when he was alive. He'll tell you. Or he would have. Or would. If he was alive.

Interviewer: Millions of us have long admired the way you've never hidden behind an agent.

KP: Why conceal who you are? They're going to find out anyway, especially if you're one of those people, like KP, who loves sharing, like KP. That's why KP was honest about Peter Moores. People said KP stabbed him in the back but KP stabbed him in the front as well, which seemed fair. Here's something you didn't know. KP had one session on a psychoterrorist's couch and that was enough. The bugger did wear a KP Foundation for Safe Passports tie but he had the nerve to tell KP he was lacking in moral fibre. KP has Fruit and Fibre every morning, with three cans of Red Bull - breakfast of champions.

Interviewer: How did you cope with being in exile? Sure, you made piles in all those T20 leagues and with the Yankees, but what was it like being KP the cricketer without a country?

KP: Look, some guys once dropped out of a Test in order to play in a Yorkshire-Middlesex match and that was more than a century ago, and they all played for England again. And KP certainly never went on strike for more money before an Ashes Test, as some Surrey guys did, and that was more than a century ago. KP did get some tips from Gayley and Symondsy, but luckily KP is someone people love watching whoever he plays for and whenever or whatever or however or whyever he plays. Well, it's not luck really, more genius, but sometimes it's better to be mediocre.

Interviewer: You mean modest…

KP: No, mediocre. Because if you're mediocre, nobody writes or tweets or sets up extremely amusing fake Facebook accounts about you. You have the odd good day, the occasional bad one, but it's mostly a lot of so-what. KP's greatest crime was to reject medioc… the ordinary. KP's sin was to be extraordinary. Which, when you think of it, is mediocre. If someone's extra-ordinary, doesn't that mean they're especially ordinary? That's why I kept going so long once I'd re-qualified for my country: South Africans have always coped so much better than the Brits with people who are different.

Interviewer: So there you have it, from the mouth of the man himself: KP is mediocre.

The cheers and jeers resume as lights dim and credits roll. KP bows, then opens his cloak to reveal a green shirt emblazoned with a leaping yellow protea and the words "KP - Kosher Prince". The cheers resound anew.

"Oy, KP," shouts Flamingo Man. "When are you coming back to Trent Bridge?"

KP: Next June. KP World Single-Wicket Cup. Shane Warne, Usain Bolt, Tiger Woods, Lady Gaga and Oscar Pistorius are all lined up, so book early. And send my love to Brian Clough's family. Ol 'Bighead was KP's role model.

Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton