Thursday, December 20, 2012

In praise of…Kevin Pietersen

Why does Kevin Pietersen divide public opinion amongst cricket lovers in England more than any other player since - well maybe Tony Greig? The answer, to some extent, is in the question. Like Greig KP is of course South African through and through and he is imbued with pure South African values dinned into him by his upbringing. But KP is different from Greig and from all the other Southern Africans who have played a lot of Test cricket for England (Basil D’Oliveira, Graeme Hick, Robin Smith, Allan Lamb). KP is the first Afrikaner to play cricket for England and as such he has more in common with Hanse Cronje, Alan Donald or Kepler Wessels than he has with Dolly or Greig or Lamb. But KP has an English mother you might say and indeed it is true that like one of his predecessors as England Captain, Nasser Hussain, KP is of mixed race (his mother came from Kent and moved to South Africa at the age of 18). But whereas Nasser grew up not in his father's Madras but in his mother's Essex (and from an early age he was culturally and emotionally English) KP grew up in Pietermaritzburg.

Pietermaritzburg is deep in the heart of Voortrekker country, and whilst there may have been a touch of Englishness at home, at school and elsewhere KP grew up in the land of the Boer. Afrikaner attitudes and mores are fundamentally different from those of English South Africans and a step again removed from those of the England of the shires and Lord's and the ECB. So although KP speaks colloquially native-sounding English it is wasn't really always his first language for the first twenty years of his life. And although he wears a three lions tattoo on his arm deep down Pietersen is motivated by the ambition, the drive and the self-confidence of his Afrikaner roots and these are qualities that are all too often dismissed as arrogance by us Poms.

If we are prepared to tolerate a selection policy which allows those with only quite tenuous English connections to play for our country then from time to time there will be a Kevin Pietersen. The cricket P&L for KP is, in my opinion, hugely in credit. I also like him – as Geoff Boycott once said he “is cocky and confident. I love it”. But must we always judge him by the conventions of the English middle class, under which Andrew Strauss is the archetypical “Goody” and KP the villain? Lets hope not.