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The Unbearable Weight of Being Kevin Pietersen

8 August 2012

12:47 PM

8 August 2012

12:47 PM

How do you solve a problem like Kevin Pietersen? England’s most talented and most infuriating batsman faces another crisis and, yet again, it is a crisis of his own making. Pietersen’s dispute with the ECB (the cricket authorities, not the European Central Bank) shows every sign of ending his Test Match career. The man himself insists he just wants to play for England yet, puzzlingly, seems to find the business of actually doing so more tedious and complicated than the layman – that is, the supporter – can possibly hope to understand.

Notionally it is a simple business. England would like to offer Pietersen the privilege of batting for England. What could be more handsome than that? This reckons without the complicating matter of the Pietersen Ego, however. The latest sticking point, apparently, is a parody Twitter account that Pietersen would like to see shut down. Worse still, from KP’s perspective, it is reported that he believes some of his team-mates are behind, or at least associated with, the account.

Pietersen is easily bruised but if his colleagues really are connected with a Twitter account that, as you might imagine, is principally concerned with mocking the Pietersen Ego then, on this occasion, he has decent cause to feel betrayed.

Dressing room rifts are scarcely unprecedented and brilliance has never automatically commanded love or even respect. Should you doubt this, consider the histories of Don Bradman or Geoffrey Boycott. Cricket’s peculiarities and the length of time for which players are sequestered together makes the dressing room an ideal habitat for festering resentment and the cultivation of mutual loathing. Given this is true at club level, it is even more evidently the case in the professional ranks.

Pietersen, however, has a gift for this kind of business. For one reason or another he has never found a proper cricketing home. For one reason or another he has been failed by every team for which he has ever played. For one reason or another, Natal, Nottinghamshire and Hampshire all proved unsatisfactory. Now it seems as though England may be added to that list. None of these teams has paid proper tribute to KP’s genius; none have been able to understand him properly. Pietersen is big; perhaps it’s the cricket that got small.

That is one theory and one endorsed by Pietersen’s supporters. Doubtless there is some truth to it but Pietersen’s problems are so regular that one begins to wonder whether the player himself might be a contributor to his own difficulties.

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Yet I’ve always believed that Pietersen’s high-altitude self-regard has been a mask for a deeper, darker insecurity. Behind all that imperial swagger lies the still, small voice of a slave reminding the emperor that it could all have been very different and, hell, could yet end badly. Worse still, much though he’d like to dismiss such perturbation, the emperor fears the damn slave might just have some kind of point.

I suspect Pietersen has willed himself to believe in the ineffability of his own genius because the thought of failure – and rejection – is too much to bear. Yet such concerns can never be banished entirely. Witness the manner in which Pietersen often starts his innings. He is a model of jaunty anxiety until he gets off the mark. That first run is balm to all batsmen of course but in Pietersen’s case it seems to come with an extra-deep sigh of relief and the blessed promise that now everything will be quite alright. This is genius that craves reassurance. Constantly.

This must make him an infuriating team-mate. Pietersen parades his genius and insists you pay due tribute to it. Unkind as it may be, one can imagine former (and perhaps some current) team-mates celebrating Pietersen’s failures much as Bill O’Reilly and Jack Fingleton chuckled and cheered when Eric Hollies rooked Don Bradman for a duck in the Don’s last test innings.

One fancies Pietersen doesn’t have much time for irony. Which is unfortunate given that he plays a sport that is loaded with the stuff. Nor can one imagine Pietersen enduring, far less enjoying, the kind of bubble-popping dressing room banter for centuries has been a part of the game. KP does not understand jokes made at KP’s expense, you know. Hence his desire to have his twittering alter-ego suppressed. (A wish, incidentally, that should not be granted. Parody, clearly labelled as such, is, well, only parody.)

Indeed, as may often be the way with genius (and Pietersen has some genius) you have the sense that Pietersen lacks what we now call “emotional intelligence”. Empathy or the ability to see himself as others see him is not one of KP’s longer suits. Indeed, it may be a void. He asks us to believe his troubles are ‘absolutely 100% not about money,’ even as he demands to be released from the unglamorous task of facing New Zealand next May so he may play in the more lucrative, shinier, IPL.

‘It’s tough being me playing for England,’ he says pitifully, adding to the impression that the Pietersen Ego, while undoubtedly real, is also a suit of armour needed to protect KP from just the normal slings and arrows of life in the public eye. There is some pathos here, you know. Pietersen demands to be loved but one senses he knows he is merely admired and that this, like so much else, wounds him.

Pietersen says it’s ‘no problem’ when the media portray him as the ‘bad guy’ and here again one has the impression of a man determined to persuade himself to believe in something he knows isn’t quite true.

If there’s anything to this it means Pietersen is the kind of man-child who tries the patience of even the most sensitive or supportive captain. He is not – at least not yet – more trouble than he’s worth but he seems determined to test that proposition too. He must, surely, often be an exhausting, almost insufferable team-mate. Perhaps he needs a Brearley, not a Flower.

The Australians had it right when they named him FIGJAM. Fuck I’m Good, Just Ask Me honours KP’s excellence only to cut him to the quick. I doubt Pietersen finds this mockery funny, no matter how much he protests his indifference or vows his bat will do the bloody talking.

Pietersen is a very good cricketer. We know it and he knows we know it and it’s still not quite enough. This is the sadness of his present situation and even his batting isn’t quite enough to save Kevin Pietersen from the troubles of being Kevin Pietersen. And so, absent some shift in fortune or attitude, it seems a matter of when not if his Test career comes to a sad, unnecessary, premature conclusion and the responsibility for that unhappiness must rest more heavily on Pietersen’s shoulders than on anyone else’s. A pity.

 

 

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Show comments
  • Fergus Pickering

    Plenty of other talent available? No there isn’t. Pietersen is the best England batsman since Compton and Hutton. Great players who are disliked in the dressing room? Well there was the Don, cordially hated. And there was Walter Hammond, a shit according to Eddie Paynter and plenty of others. And Sir Geoffrey.at a slightly lower level. There was a time when the two best batsmen in the world were thorough gentlemen about whom nobody had a bad word to say. But Jack Hobbs and Victor Trumper were a long time ago. Pietersen is a fool but if he had batted in that last test we might have won it. And is he HADN’T batted in the test before that, we would certainly have lost it. I think the England team would be stronger with Pietersen in it and Stuart Broad and James Anderson both out of it, excellent players though they both be.

  • Austin Barry

    Bit like George Best without the early charm – sporting genius, confused man.

  • SueDoNim

    Sad contrast to be drawn between him and some of the Olympic athletes getting ready to go back to their day jobs next week.

  • circketer

    Wow. I alway thought KP was foolish, but all this pop-psychology drivel (man -child? really? how long did it take on the keyboard for this one? ) alerts me that he is up against a wall of drivel.

  • Al

    Typical white South African really. Brought up to believe in one’s own innate sense of superiority but deep down know that it’s all a delusion.

  • Al

    Typical white South African really. Brought up to believe in one’s own innate sense of superiority but deep down know that it’s all a delusion.

    • Ravi

      Yep, only a matter of time before the race card emerged. So sad someone has to construct the debate in those terms.

  • ProBook

    KP Genius twitter account has gone.
    A real shame: it was hillarious.

  • Sarah

    Noticeable difference in the way male and female sport is treated by the Spectator. Male spirt= serious, = news. Female sport = light relief, = soft porn.

    • Fergus Pickering

      You got it, Sarah. But we are men, you know. Most women I know don’t care about sport at all. They like fashion instead. And most men…

  • Nathan

    Despicable article – england is shit and has always been – simple! With Pietersen and pitch fixing and a lot of media hype and ICC backing and injuries/IPL burn out to Indians – they got this far! Records don’t lie – 100 years, they’ve won one major tournament – and Kevin was a major reason for it!

    • SickyLeaks

      Bravo, sir! Stupidest and most ignorant comment on the thread. Have a biscuit.

    • Austin Barry

      Don’t forget the way England bribe the umpires, suborn the groundsman, drug the on-pitch drinks, allow Gatting to pinch the best lunch items, sprinkle chili powder in an opposing wicket keeper’s box, and send ladyboy hookers to spread confusion in rival dressing rooms.

      • Fergus Pickering

        And don’t forget the wonderful Douglas Jardine, God bless him. He’d sorted out Bradman and he’d have sorted Kevin out. Kevin would play and no grumbling.

      • Fergus Pickering

        And don’t forget the wonderful Douglas Jardine, God bless him. He’d sorted out Bradman and he’d have sorted Kevin out. Kevin would play and no grumbling.

  • Sylvia

    An excellent analysis I think – particularly the central point about a massive ego as a shield for inner doubts.

  • pdbp

    Michael Vaughan rates Pieterson “The best batsman I’ve played with or against.” He averages 50 for England.He’s the most exciting batsman in the country.He averaged nearly 60 against Australia in a series we lost 5-0. On Saturday he single handedly turned the series against South Africa and has given us a chance to share the spoils.Those in the queue to take his place are Bopara,Morgan and Bairstow. Who do you think our opponents would prefer to bowl to?

    • Austin Barry

      Or we watch.

  • Louis

    Since making his test debut in 2005, Pietersen has played 694 days of international cricket (88 tests, 127 ODIs and 36 Twenty20s), during this time he is put up in 5 star hotels, travels the world first class and has become a millionairre several times over. His career as a top-level cricketer has at most 5 more years to run (if he so desires). Perhaps he could just grow up and realise how incredibly fortunate he is.

  • KPedant

    It’s the home series with New Zealand next English summer, not the tour to New Zealand

  • http://www.facebook.com/amergin.selby Amergin Selby

    The man’s a prick. Let him go. Plenty of other talent available .

    • Dan

      Plenty of talent about, none in the same league as Pietersen. He may be a prick, but I am always happy to watch this prick smash Australia’s attack all over the park. Keep up the good work KP.

      • chudsmania

        Indeed . Like him or loathe him , the guy is box office , puts bums on seats , purely because he can turn a game in an instant . Maybe he doesnt do it often enough because of his swashbuckling style , but when he’s in the zone , he’s the worlds most exciting cricketer , bar none .

    • http://twitter.com/jezmundobizarro jezmundobizarro

      He’s incredibly insecure and immature but also one of the most talented players the game has seen for some time. Let’s not lose him just because he requires careful handling. Your comment suggests you have little / no understanding of the issues involved.

      • Dan

        I couldn’t give a rats about the issues, as they are pointless, childish, and belong on the playground, not on the cricket field – a bit like your silly comment really. I care about runs and winning, anything else is really not important. Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham hated each other, yet played together regularly, winning the treble, so it is possible

        • http://twitter.com/jezmundobizarro jezmundobizarro

          Dan, my comment was made in relation to Amergin Selby’s comment. Read it again and you will see I am in fact in agreement with you. I am a huge fan of KP although find it hard to sympathise with someone who is paid millions of pounds to do what I love doing for free. I want to see him playing Test cricket for years to come but I also acknowledge that he requires thoughtful management.

          • Dan

            Apologies then jezmundo! I have always loved watching KP, and he is worth the money, which frankly he earns as he puts bums on seats. Would you turn that sort of money if offered to you?

      • Dan

        I couldn’t give a rats about the issues, as they are pointless, childish, and belong on the playground, not on the cricket field – a bit like your silly comment really. I care about runs and winning, anything else is really not important. Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham hated each other, yet played together regularly, winning the treble, so it is possible

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