The insecure kid who never grew up
The story of Kevin Pietersen was unleashed on the cricket folklore last week. It is a sad story of a kid who never grew up.
With sadness normally comes sympathy, but in this case there need not be any now. This young, brash kid from Pietermaritzburg has had more chances to step out of his shadow, and has ultimately, going by this week's example, accepted very few. The record of the batsman will speak of something, but not of the man, for it never came to be. KP simply remained an insecure kid.
Now, at 34, he is shipwrecked, his international cricket career well over, his esteem in his adopted country utterly compromised. He may as well go back to Natal and start again.
Yet at the important age of 28, in the summer of 2008, Pietersen stood on top of the mountain. He had established himself in a new country and team and had blazoned his immense talent all over the world with 45 Tests to his name, 4000 Test runs, 15 hundreds and averaging just over 50.
Up until then it was the perfect performance. So much so that he was also the new captain of England and had announced that symbolic accolade with a hundred and a victory on debut as captain against his old foe South Africa.
What could possibly top this scenario? Could he improve on this position of strength and respect? Really, only a person with a self-sabotage button to press could not improve on such a marvelous situation. With the world at his feet, with the prime period of his talent about to be entered, Pietersen was ready to announce his new maturity, his true self. His fingers were hovering above the buttons to self-destruct or grow? Which would he press?
In the four-year time span it took to create his Picasso, Pietersen murdered his own early work. The canvas on which he could have painted the most wonderful of legacies has become a dark splattering. By the autumn of 2012, he was an ugly black swan, swimming and circling in dangerous waters. And now, two years on, he is a dead duck, adored by a few, loathed by as many, and dismissed by the general mob.
For him alone, in the popularity stakes, it is a self-inflicted fall. Overall, including all involved in English cricket, it is a bloodied field, casualties aplenty.
From that 45-Test mark, he lost his way, lost his meaning, lost his purpose. Instead of growing up more, he grew back towards that raw, unhappy kid who left Natal in a huff, apparently due to lack of opportunities. Maybe he never let go of any early bitterness, grew resentful and became vindictive. It appeared that as each year passed by, as he was falling and shouting out his name, no one wanted to hear him anymore.
By 2012, they had stopped listening to the ego voice , the bully "doos" himself, and they gave up trying to help him grow up. That they still reinstated him was the mistake of all mistakes. There were others who deserved a chance at that point. And so by reinstating the same bad apple, they poisoned the whole bunch. As of this week, the apple cart is rotten, a time to harvest afresh. It is probably time to start with the top and Giles Clarke.
What in hell's name happened? Somewhere back in that period of post-captaincy in 2009, Pietersen missed the point of life. Shit happens to us all. Yes, he may have got stuck with a dud coach in Peter Moores. Maybe he was a dud captain? (He certainly looked like one leading Delhi Daredevils lately). Yet, there are ways to behave, to respond. In no time he made the captaincy untenable.
Okay, so the leadership stint didn't work. Did he show the maturity to accept it and move on for the sake of his team, his country of choice? Or did he become judgemental of everything around him and, in doing so, lose the ability to move on from the sabotaging self he was? If so, did he need a scapegoat as he turned on the rest, and, in particular, Andy Flower?
Did the IPL become his new focus and paymaster once disposed as a Test captain? In his bitterness did he turn his energy off England, in defiance of England, switching his allegiance to grow his own marketable brand? We are left to ponder all this this week.
What he cannot deny is that his batting numbers went down while his behaviour got exposed, his attitude changed towards ODIs to play more IPL games, the runaway train crashing inevitably. From 2009 on, in his next 59 Tests he scored just eight centuries, fell for seven ducks, the average at a modern-day adequate 44, including a mandatory dine-out against Bangladesh, and propped up by six scores above 148. Far too many misses in between for a man in his prime.
This year he got the sack. It came too late and the rationale was flawed given the whole team collapsed. But instead of taking his next cue in the meaning of life, he has behaved like a petulant child. So too inexplicably has the ECB.
This autobiography, however, reeks of ego and a falsehood. It is not one of a man's truth, but of a wayward youth. Make no mistake, despite its superb authorship, this book is feeble, even pitiful, definitely unnecessary.
Back then, as he moved countries, at least he had a road to tread, the truth to find. Today he showed clearly that the path he chose was a calamitous, tumultuous, immature one, of never growing up, and most likely never will.
Martin Crowe, one of the leading batsmen of the late '80s and early '90s, played 77 Tests for New Zealand