Assessing Kevin Pietersen's England Reintegration One Year After It Begun
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“I am still human. All I want is to be loved. For myself and for my talent.” —Marilyn Monroe
Perhaps the most revealing moment in last year’s polemic Kevin Pietersen saga was when the man himself was said to suspect his own teammates, James Anderson and Graeme Swann, of being behind the Pietersen-mocking parody Twitter account—@KPGenius.
It was a suspicion that exposed the deep-seated insecurities of Pietersen, laying bare his mounting paranoia, confusion and disenchantment with Team England—a disenchantment that had first been suggested in his post-Headingley press conference where he memorably proclaimed, “It’s tough being me in this England dressing room.”
It is apt that John Buchanan—possibly the original micro-managing cricket coach—was the first to notice Pietersen’s separation from the rest of the England team—observing way back in 2006 when he was leading Australia to a 5-0 Ashes victory that “he always seems distanced from the rest of the group.”
Indeed, Pietersen has habitually been a natural outsider—his extraordinary talent, as much as his personality dictates that. But last year, such isolation appeared to finally get to Pietersen—a man who is, and invariably has been driven by, a deep desire to be loved.
Andy Flower acknowledged, in the midst of the crisis, that the Indian Premier League was the “catalyst” for the whole controversy and as much as the money, glitz and glamour of the league is an attraction, Pietersen has long maintained his deep lust for the adulation the players receive in India.
A lust that could, perhaps, be explained as an authority-defying rebound from what he perceived to be an increasingly cliquey England dressing room and general public in the UK who still remain suspicious of his ego and South African roots.
The IPL offers a complicated character, like Pietersen, uncomplicated love.
He is, in many ways, the classic high-maintenance sportsman: demanding, temperamental, thespian and misunderstood. And such traits were only reinforced by the manner in which he dealt with the crisis last summer—of which Andrew Strauss’ account of his final Test match in his autobiography, Driving Ambition, has provided a harrowing insight.
I feel incredibly tired, as though I have simply run out of energy - I have nothing more to give. I am also wallowing in a rising tide of sadness. This is not the way I wanted my England career to end...I am far too frustrated, tired and generally hacked off with life for it to be a rousing emotional affair.
I find my space in the far corner of the room, near the television set, and sit down. I pack my helmet in my kitbag and then bury my head in my hands. For 10 minutes I sit, unable to move.
There is little doubt, looking back, that Pietersen was clumsy, heavy-handed and rash on multiple occasions during the saga, making errors which only served to escalate the problems, moving it from one crisis to the next.
His limited-overs retirement, although understandable, was, arguably, rushed and poorly thought through; the manner in which he aired grievances in the media rather than the dressing room was counter-intuitive.
His YouTube explanation was pseudo-professionalism. His text messages to South African players (whether or not they contained tactical information) were thoughtless at a critical time in the saga, and his obstinacy in the face of a genuinely career-threatening issue was foolish to say the least.
He dealt with the crisis just as he bats: act first, think later; fight not flight. It’s such traits that make him the player he is. After all, he's a cricketer not a politician.
The problem for Pietersen, and indeed for England, was that such traits didn’t and indeed still don’t match at all with the traits of the team.
England are a micro-managed side of attention to detail and corporate speak. Pietersen’s struggle against conformity breaks the mould. “He seemed to be at best destabilising and at worst undermining our carefully cultivated team environment” wrote Strauss in his autobiography.
But it wasn’t just Pietersen who was at fault. This was a clash of two extremes. Pietersen’s clumsy demands were matched by equally inept inflexibility and short-sightedness from England’s management.
Because although a lot of England’s recent success can be put down to superb attention to detail and diligent planning, the ECB’s contractual requirement that players must be available for both 50-over and Twenty20 cricket is what stimulated the whole crisis following Pietersen’s desire to retire from just 50-over cricket.
What’s more, while there’s certainly a more than cogent case for micro-management of teams, there’s also an equally persuasive argument that exceptions should be made for a rare and wonderful sporting genius—of which Pietersen exactly is.
While reprimands for Pietersen were, perhaps, necessary, they shouldn’t have come at the cost of England’s chances of victory in any match or tournament. And in dropping him for the final Test at Lord’s and leaving him out of the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka, they did just that.
However, Pietersen has most definitely been brought into line—for now at least—and considering that it was a genuine possibility that he may never have played for England again during the zenith of the crisis, the ECB have secured at least a couple more years more service from their most talented player.
He’s also been “reintegrated” into the team which is as fluffy as business fluff gets, and more likely, it betrays a group of men who have simply accepted they have to get along. England needs KP, and KP needs England.
Indirectly, the crisis also saw Pietersen’s already frosty relationship with the media become damaged seemingly beyond repair—something which suits the ECB well, considering his proclivity for sensationalism with a microphone in front of him.
Yet interestingly, if you scratch beneath the surface of the last 12 months, it has become, and still is becoming, increasingly clear that Pietersen’s demands for more rest and more time off for the IPL were—although terribly made—entirely valid.
His initial point of an overcrowded fixtures list and the need to manage players' schedules has been proven both correct and sensible with the appointment of Ashley Giles as limited-overs coach and the more structured rest and rotation Flower and Giles have adopted.
And perhaps a greater triumph still for Pietersen is that his IPL desires appear to have been recognised as Giles himself, and ironically Strauss, too, have expressed their beliefs that England players should indeed feature in the league more often—not to mention to prolonged negotiations between the PCA and the ECB themselves that are thought to be with regard to actually creating some kind of a window for the IPL.
The whole elaborate mess can, thus, be looked back upon as another example of Pietersen—ever the revolutionary—being ahead of the times. His ego, motivations and personality remain terminally misunderstood, and the way in which he handled himself during the saga will have done negative presuppositions no good.
All he can do, therefore, in his eternal quest to be accepted and adored is continue doing what he does best: scoring runs for England. That’s what history will remember.
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