Friday, July 25, 2014

It's not Kevin Pietersen who changed....a look back to 2005

Back in April 2005, just before that glorious cricketing summer when Kevin Pietersen made his Test debut and helped England regain The Ashes, "The Cricketer" magazine ran a profile of KP by Emma John. I have returned to it nine years on and, in the light of Pietersen's career and a few months after his precipitate sacking by the apparatchiks of the ECB, it makes interesting reading. 

In early 2005 KP made his debut as an England cricketer in One Day Internationals in a tour of South Africa. He played six innings scoring 454 runs with three centuries and one fifty. Richard Hobson described his performances as revealing that he “thrives on a challenge” – in this early case the boos and stares from the players and supporters of South Africa who felt, understandably, that Pietersen had abandoned them. This was a view by many in or close to the world of cricket. Peter Oborne, biographer of Basil D’Oliveira and a journalist who always speaks his mind, summed up a commonly held view: “Pietersen ought to be a proud member of the post-Apartheid South African team and helping the country of his birth. Instead he’s barged into an England team where he doesn’t belong” he wrote at that time in the London “Evening Standard”.

Emma John met with Pietersen and found, unsurprisingly, that he was no shy retiring violet! “I’m a good-looking lad,” he told her, “I can pull anything off, Eh?” He was referring to his highlighted hair but he could have been talking about his personality – perhaps he was! In the interview it is clear that KP and his agent Adam Wheatley were very consciously building the Pietersen brand. It’s about the hairstyle, the clothes and the media exposure. He was not the first cricketer to do this, but to do it from the start and before he had even played a Test match was certainly new! 

At the ODI in Johannesburg Pietersen had shepherded England to a Duckworth/Lewis victory. He said this about it “I think that innings [of 22 not out] was one of the biggest I’ll probably play in International cricket. It just helped me settle down…35,000 people are booing you, every single person wants you out, every single person hates you.” This was a revealing insight into KP’s character. He found the opposition motivating not the reverse. He was, even then in those early days, determined to beat the system. And if there are some casualties along the way he’s not going to be too bothered. Tanya Aldred, writing in The Guardian, had said that Pietersen “…has a record of pissing people off. Jason Gallian, his captain at Nottinghamshire, threw his kit bag out of the window. His team-mates did not shed many tears when he left to go to Hampshire for the forthcoming season.” 

Emma John asked KP to explain his method, which was unusual for an English player developed as it had been in South African conditions. He said “In one-day cricket you have to be able to hit a ball into three different areas at once…I open up the off-side, I go down the ground, I open up the leg-side and I try to make sure I get a run a ball… My style doesn’t change” He said, however, that in Test cricket “…I won’t have to hit the ball through the leg-side all the time. There’ll be more scoring options all over”. Amazing confidence from someone who was yet to play a Test match!

This confidence Emma John describes thus “Listening to him, you cannot avoid the force of his self-confidence, as a fly cannot avoid a windscreen…He reminds me of a teenager, keen to appear grown-up and savvy but unable to hide his excitement” She asks KP whether he has any doubts “He looks almost surprised to hear the word… “I think cricket is a big-time confidence game and I don’t think I’ve got any doubts at the minute…” he says” 

Emma John wrote that Kevin Pietersen’s “…self assurance, along with the accent, is probably one of the most un-British things about him”. This is a view which in the light of recent events and especially in the context of England’s current struggles is very revealing. Over KP’s England career we became used to his extraordinary bravado. Sometimes it let him down of course. But so often it led to his playing an extraordinary innings which helped lead England to victory.” In 2005 Simon Briggs wrote this “[Pietersen] is a very independent character, as anyone who ups sticks and moves to the other side of the world is always likely to be”. England’s selectors must have known what they were doing when they picked him, warts and all, for his first Test match at Lord’s in that Ashes summer. He scored 57 and 64* and followed that with 71 in the first innings at Edgbaston… the rest is history. 

Kevin Pietersen’s “…cricket is a big-time confidence game” was a precociously accurate remark. England’s recent sad decline is not because they don’t have talented cricketers any more - it is because the experienced cricketers have lost their confidence. Look at how the batsmen new to Test cricket, Sam Robson, Gary Balance, Joe Root and Moeen Ali have all scored centuries recently whilst the established stars, Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, Matt Prior (etc.) have struggled. And some. And look how Cook’s pedestrian and cautious captaincy has all too often failed. Maybe like Kevin Pietersen back in 2005 the tyros don’t know how difficult Test cricket is! The air of gloom around the England camp during The 2013/14 Ashes and subsequently is palpable. I suspect that on tour KP tried to relieve the gloom in his own cocky way – and as a result fell foul of the Flower/Cook axis. They chose to see his behaviour as arrogance or disinterest. But the evidence from back in the spring of 2005 is that Pietersen, the Voortrekker made Pom, was never going to be the introspective English public-schoolboy that the England and Wales Cricket Board now sees as proper leadership material. And good captains, especially Michael Vaughan in 2005, knew that KP was a bit wayward and could be a trial sometimes. In the same way that Mike Brearley got the best out of Ian Botham back in 1981 so Vaughan got the best out of Kevin Pietersen in 2005. By 2013 KP was a highly experienced as well as a talented cricketer. If there was some falling off in his performance surely that could be seen as temporary. And if he was sometimes a pain in the arse on that Ashes tour – well it wouldn’t have been the first time! 

How odd and revealing it was that when the most significant thing that was missing from England’s performances on tour and in the run up to the 2014 season was confidence that the ECB chose to dispense with the services of England’s most confident player! All the signs of Pietersen’s character were there back in 2005 and you have to say he didn’t really change much over time. What changed was the willingness on the part of the cricket authorities to cope with this unusual talent. Shame on them.


Unknown said...

Another good piece Paddy and brilliant assessment of KP. The interesting bit for me was that KP never really changed but the ECB Old Farts wanted to go backwards to a place that many thought we had escaped. I think KP mellowed over the years and championed players who were dipping and diving in their form. I read a piece where David Graveney remarked that he had never seen a cricketer work so hard on his fitness. He was up very early in the morning. His work ethic was quite something according to Graveney. England wanted him and his skill and his ability but not the person. Vaughan was so good for him and the team really were a team of people who worked hard together. He was good friends with Ashley Giles and other members of the team. Players in the team did not warm to him, like Flintoff, as he said they were not buddy buddy, but he would never hesitate to have KP in his team. I think there were such strong characters around. I remember after one game in 2005 Ashes where Geraint Jones had an awful day with the gloves and bat. A reporter asked KP, something like: I don't suppose you are all happy in the dressing room with the way Geraint Jones played. KP said something like: Not in our dressing room. We are a team, we support one another, no matter what and Geraint is a special part of our team. You can say what you think but you would be very wrong. The commentator was gobsmacked.

He stuck up for Finn and Panesar out in OZ and complained at the bad treatment meted out to them. He and Panesar are very good friends. As Vaughan has said on many occasions now, KP is one of a team of very different characters. You have to manage the team and give them all your time and support. Vaughan was just brilliant, just like Brearley.

Where are team captains now Paddy? Do you think it is the central contracts that has given us dearth of experienced England captains?

I will be passing this on Paddy. It's a great blog.

Maxie Allen said...

Excellent piece.

yanmaneee said...

100% real jordans for cheap
curry 4
air max 95
retro jordans
supreme t shirt
nike basketball shoes
louboutin shoes
christian louboutin
zx flux

veloughs said...

wikipedia reference Chrome-Hearts Dolabuy important source gucci replica you can try here bags replica ysl