Kevin Pietersen on Cricket November 22, 2015

Pietersen: the sequel

Here's the book the critics wanted when KP produced his autobiography last year. (Not that it quite lives up to billing)

In his new book Pietersen admits he wasn't sensitive enough towards Steve Harmison in India in 2008 © Getty Images

Barely a year after Kevin Pietersen used his autobiography to rail against the injustices that he was adamant he had suffered at the hands of English cricket comes an altogether more peaceful and, dare it be said, reflective offering. Kevin Pietersen on Cricket gives an insight into the sybaritic philosophy that has shaped one of the most entertaining cricketers the game has ever known.

KP: The Autobiography was entirely concerned with expression of grievances and settling of scores. Like it or loath it, it was a book of great significance, a retaliatory story from the most exciting and ultimately tragic England player of his generation.

At the time, serious students of the game expressed disappointment that Pietersen's autobiography had not concentrated more on the cricket. Here, after all, was one of the most flamboyant cricketers of this or any age. Surely he had stories to tell that would provide the key to his success? It felt like unfair carping, like asking somebody caught up in a civil war to describe the view, or the food in the restaurant, but now that book has come along.

It is good that he has provided it, and for Pietersen fans - and there remain many - it will be a comforting, if not particularly revelatory, stocking filler. But, the world being what it is, the book that his critics professed they wanted will probably pass without much attention.

For those who previously condemned Pietersen's autobiography as overly confrontational to now dismiss Kevin Pietersen on Cricket as merely an attempt to address his reputation as an outcast star player, just a cynical display of even-handedness and affection towards former colleagues, is an exercise in double standards, a refusal by his critics to accept he has any saving graces whatever he does. Damn him if he does, damn him if he doesn't.

That said, the difficulty with Pietersen's take on cricket is that, by his own admission, he is an instinctive introvert. In terms of introversion, as he happily relates, whenever he did the Myers Briggs personality test he was off the scale, essentially indicating considerably more interest in himself than in others. "Throughout my career people have said, 'Oh, he doesn't participate in team stuff.' Well, no, I don't, because that's because of my personality type. I'd rather be doing bits and pieces by myself than surrounded by lots of people and having to put on a show and having to talk."

Pietersen's critics will also be surprised to learn that occasionally he does admit fault. He does not make any great claims to captaincy skills

Equally, as an instinctive rather than an analytical cricketer, he also relies heavily on his own aptitude and primarily on getting himself into the right frame of mind to perform, which to his mind equates to "form" when things are good and "the zone" when things are even better. Too much analysis is something to be frowned on, something that messes with his mood.

Combine both those character traits, add the superficial tendencies of the average cricket book (the same cricket series described from a slightly different angle for the umpteenth time), and the outcome is not bound to please everybody. And if you follow the golden rule that a book without an index does not have anything serious to say then it fails on that count, too.

But there are enough nuggets here to interest Pietersen's admirers. For example, the man who paraded self-confidence regularly suffers from anxiety dreams, which often exhibit themselves innocently enough in not padding up in time. He insists on practice drills with six balls at a time because there are six balls in an over. And only on one occasion did anybody challenge him about a supposedly irresponsible dismissal, and that was England's batting coach, Graham Gooch, during the 2013-14 Ashes series. Both of them were effectively sacked once the Ashes series was through, as were the men who sacked them.

Pietersen's critics will also be surprised to learn that occasionally he does admit fault. He does not make any great claims to captaincy skills, certainly not during the fateful five months he prematurely led England at the end of 2008, a dubious decision based on the fact that, firstly, he played all forms of the game, and secondly, that it would force a star player to turn his mind to the team rather than his own individual success.

On Steve Harmison during that 2008 tour of India, he writes: "At that point, my weaknesses re-emerged. Harmy kept bowling short and wide, he kept getting cut, and I lost my patience, shouting, bowl the f****** ball straight… I should have helped him more positively, but I just didn't understand the pressure he was under in the middle, or the pressure he felt at being away from home. He needed a lot more encouragement, a lot more attention, and I didn't treat him the way that I should have."

The captain Pietersen would have liked to be is Michael Vaughan, a creator of a flexible, easy-going atmosphere during England's 2005 Ashes triumph, which promoted aggressive cricket and was receptive to individual needs. He was "a free spirit who encouraged my free spirit in what he said and what he did". That approach suited Pietersen, whose perfect scenario as an England cricketer is "a very relaxed atmosphere where people can come in and have an incredibly good time".

The coaches he clashed with - Andy Flower and Peter Moores - are as good as airbrushed from history. Nothing must infiltrate his determinedly positive mood. Data, analysis, theories, group values, plans, discipline: all these get in the way of KP's feel-good, the pathway to releasing his talent. "Why are you never angry when you are out?" Flower once asked him, their tension encapsulated in a single sentence.

"If you're going to change the person you are, you're going to come unstuck," Pietersen warns. You can mature - and he says he has, to the point where you suspect he might not entirely like the KP of skunk-haircut vintage - you can learn, you can adapt, but only up to a point.

Never lose the connection with the touch of genius that makes you what you are is the crux of his message. That genie is not always easily summoned. Maintaining that connection, when it comes to the crunch, is the only thing that matters. But he has sought to make his peace with his former England team-mates and he deserves credit for that.

Kevin Pietersen on Cricket
By Kevin Pietersen
Sphere
£20, 288 pages

David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps

Comments