Monday, 13 October 2014

The saga rolls on and on

Monday, 13 October 2014
I got bored of the Kevin Pietersen 'saga' earlier in the year. Nothing was happening, just the odd annoying snipe coming from people on either side. Really, it was tedious. Really, some may still find it that way. But I've been a sucker for all the new drama as the gagging order has ended and the autobiography has been published, a sort of morbid fascination drawing me to the whole thing.

It's not hard to see why the book has been hitting the headlines, particularly with no English cricket to serve as a distraction. In short, the book is a bloodbath. The central attacks focus on the team's bullying culture, led by the keeper Matt Prior; and on the role of the coach, Andy Flower, described as a dictator. And it's not always difficult to believe. Watching the England team over the past few years, you can see the signs of such a bullying culture. Fielders have been chastised when they drop a catch, misfield, or are just seen as not putting in enough effort; often just written off as the bowlers being their typically grumpy selves. And there have been a number of players who have come into the team, only to find themselves out of it without perhaps a fair chance - Nick Compton one to spring to mind, the rumours being that his face simply didn't fit. Chris Tremlett has also spoken out in support of Pietersen's claims, while players from other countries have said it was something they picked up on. How much of Pietersen's words are truth and how much is exaggeration is impossible to know as just a fan, but it's enough to make you think about what you've seen and what really goes on behind closed doors.

Pietersen is far from innocent though in the whole affair. He's always been a brilliant, though frustrating, cricketer, and has played some of the best and most entertaining innings I've witnessed. The three centuries in the ODI series against South Africa in 2004/5 that announced him to the world; the 158 at The Oval in that Ashes series made his name; the invention of the switch-hit; and in the past couple of years centuries against Sri Lanka, South Africa, and India just giving more evidence of his match winning talents. But there's always been the ego to go alongside it, self-belief that is essential to play in the way he does, but that also rubs people up the wrong way and can be his downfall - going for the big shot when the match situation doesn't call for it, then using the old excuse 'it's just the way I play'. His ego is present in the book too; I think it has now just been hammered into my brain how he is England's leading run scorer of all time - I mean, it's true, but still. He just doesn't always endear himself. And this is ignoring the various scandals that have plagued the last years of his career - from losing the captaincy, to textgate, to whatever really happened in Australia. I doubt we'll ever know the full story about any of these, and though the ECB are at fault too, there must have been some sort of issue for them all to explode in the way they did. 

The overwhelming feeling I get from the book is one of sadness. England had a truly brilliant player on their hands, but neither the ECB or Pietersen could work together to achieve what they might have done. Everyone failed in Australia and several international careers ended on a sour note, players who should have been celebrated for their achievements - England rose to number one in the world, won three Ashes series and their first in Australia for 24 years, their first series win in India for 27 years. And Pietersen was a part of it. But now he may be remembered just as much for the fall outs and the in-fights as he is for the cricket, the great innings he has played, and the great wins he has been a part of. 

I don't want to defend the ECB, I have absolutely no desire of that. There's a lot of food for thought for them - how can they let their relationship with a star player get to such a stage where a book like this is even written and published? If there was such a culture of bullying, why was this not fully investigated? How was Flower coaching and was he having an adverse effect, as Pietersen has said? And really, what did go so wrong in Australia? But instead the ECB always seem intent on covering their tracks, the latest being a 'dossier' (however legitimate or not it was, and whatever purpose it was intended for) covering Pietersen's misdemeanors in Australia, including checking his watch and looking out his window. There were parts of the dossier showing Pietersen shouting and swearing at his teammates, but the petty things are what attracts the attention, adding to the belief of the ECB's conspiracy against Pietersen. Simply, the ECB's relationship with the fans is broken, and this feeling is repeating time and time again. I don't think either side has come out of this well, but I feel that Pietersen has won the PR war - it's definitely much easier to sympathise with him and feel his career's been taken away from him. Just as much though, it's felt like a case of airing dirty laundry in public. 

That said, it's been a entertaining distraction while the cricket's been off. 

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