“KP left us when we were rebuilding our nation. Now that he is in trouble, he wants to come back. It’s interesting.” That’s one point of view. Another local, a journalist, says, “I am surprised that KP has admitted that he is in trouble. He is saying ‘please help me’. That’s a sign of maturity. The young KP wouldn’t have done that. So all the best of luck to him.”
You might feel that Kevin Pietersen coming to play cricket in his place of birth will be a small matter. It would perhaps be so in another country. In many ways this is a young nation in its teenage years. Its past throws up many adolescence issues and the people are trying to grow up. The KwaZulu-Natal CEO Jesse Chellan sees Pietersen’s return as a part of the bigger reconciliatory mood in the country.
It wouldn’t have been easy for Pietersen to admit that he was in trouble. It certainly wouldn’t have been easier for the locals to accept him. “South African sport in many ways is in a period of reconciliation,” Chellan says. “We are doing different things; the bulls are playing rugby in Suweto. All of these are brand new part of the reconciliatory efforts. I see KP’s return as part of that. He didn’t endear himself, not only to the Natal public but also to entire South Africa, but that was then. A lot of water has flown under the bridge since then. We want to move on.”
KP’s return would perhaps be almost a non-issue for his long-time confidant Graham Ford, who happens to be the Dolphins’ coach. It’s a friend who is in trouble. He has called you. You have a very young squad who could do with exposure to an international star. It’s a no-brainer. “I wasn’t surprised at all and had no problem with it,” Ford says. “It’s a fantastic sign of maturity that he is now accepting that he is in trouble and realises he has to do the hard work. If he puts in the hard yards, he will bounce back.”
For the others, like Chellan, the dark past is illuminating the path to the future. Chellan rekindles his darker memories from an earlier era. “Back then I was turned away from restaurants. We were not allowed to go to the beach. White and Indian kids had separate holidays. These sorts of things don’t leave you very easily but we have made significant progress. The leadership of people like Mandela inspired us. We were segregated once but we are all in a process of assimilation.
“We want the world to be different for our kids. You teach the past to the kids so that it doesn’t happen again but you don’t dwell on it. You want to be part of the change. Getting KP back is part of the whole reconciliation.”
Sriram Veera is a former staff writer at ESPNcricinfo