For nearly a decade Kevin Pietersen has had to deal with some fairly juvenile nonsense surrounding his adopted nationality. The sheer arrogance and audacity of anyone denying him his right to define his own identity as an Englishman remains ludicrous, especially since his mother is English. Yet time after time the twitter timelines and online/print media have constantly engaged in such ignorant rhetoric, something I imagine being excruciatingly painful for a guy who's given relentless commitment to England's cause.
That commitment alone warrants a condemnation of frankly the disgraceful way in which England's highest ever International run scorer in all formats has been treated. The reason given by ECB's new chief Paul Downton for KP's sacking was dismissively confusing. Given the support afforded to KP by Alastair Cook and Ashley Giles only recently, the latter referring to him as a "million pound asset", this appears to be Downton's decision. Whatever reasoning he may or may not have had, he’s got it horribly wrong.
"Clearly this was a tough decision because Kevin has been such an outstanding player for England as the fact that he is the country’s leading run scorer in international cricket demonstrates,” Downton said on Tuesday night.
“However everyone was aware that there was a need to begin the long-term planning after the Australia tour. Therefore we have decided the time is right to look to the future and start to rebuild not only the team but also team ethic and philosophy.”
Let's tackle the "Long-term planning" point for a second. Kumar Sangakarra (36 years), Mahela Jayawerdene (36 years), Jacques Kallis (38 years), Sachin Tendulkar (40 years), Misbah ul Haq (39 years) and Brad Haddin (36 years) all played Test cricket in 2013 despite their ages and respective injury problems. Why? Because their country recognised that they brought something to the table regardless of age. Kevin Pietersen is 33 years old and arguably fitter and hungrier than the aforementioned players, even with a suspect knee it's hardly scandalous to suggest he could play on for another 3 years at least. The long term planning argument therefore is a falsehood.
Now let's focus on this "ethics and philosophy" narrative adopted by the ECB. First of all it's important to establish the fact that these are carefully chosen words that evoke confusion and debate rather than clarity. A posture of inconsistency necessarily evades definition. The ECB, not for the first time have taken such a posture, a position more apt for the corporate or political arena. It is very difficult to define the parameters of "Ethic and Philosophy" which means the purpose of its usage is to entice those consuming the assertion into quarrelling about its meaning and its implied implications for KP, preventing them from questioning it.
Was KP not complying with the ethics and philosophy of the England team when he did NOT get blind drunk during a world cup campaign in 2007 and nearly drown at sea as a result? Did KP not comply with ECB's ethics and philosophy when he did NOT write an autobiography in which he slagged off his current team mates? Did KP not comply with team ethics and philosophy when he did NOT get drunk before being involved in a bar punch up with opposition players? Regardless of the answers to these questions the point is, "ethics and philosophy" are two words so subjective they are effectively meaningless. Never the less given the new ECB head is a stockbroker by trade, it’s possible this could be a monetary reference. KP is probably the highest earner in that team. If ECB profits go up this year, and it's highly probable that's one of his prime objectives, would KP be at the forefront of negotiating an increase in salary? Is he likely to conform to the "ethics and philosophy" of the ECB telling him to shut up and be grateful for what he's being offered?
Who knows, but one thing KP has been guilty of ever since he made his debut is having the confidence and swagger of a Viv Richards and the talent to back it up. The dismissive way in which he has dispatched the best bowlers in the world for nearly a decade was a far cry from the "workman" like grinding innings of England batsman from yesteryear. Remember when England cheered as if we'd discovered the cure for cancer when Athers blocked it for 643 hours or was it minutes, to draw, yes DRAW that 1995 Test in Jo'berg. It was like a boxer getting pummelled for 12 rounds and feeling victorious because he didn't get knocked out. Well fast forward to 2012 and an England batsman was doing the punching and the knocking out. KP's majestic 149 against Steyn and Morkel at Headingly left most of us in awe, but others inevitably in varying degrees of jealousy. There's an extremely telling moment that comes to mind shrewd cricket observers may or may not remember. It involved reaction of the England dressing room. Whilst KP's ecstatic jump as he pinched a quick single to go to his century stole the limelight, clearly visible was a more understated and muted response from only three England players visible, showing support in the dressing room. A stark contrast to rapturous applause reverberating around the entire stadium from a crowd who'd witnessed possibly the greatest test innings of their lives. That KP innings was so good, it made his colleagues look ordinary and perhaps that's where the problem lay. His stormy relationship with the press didn’t help.
Jejeune journalists and publicists have called him many names over the years, aloof, arrogant and selfish being just a few descriptions far more fitting of the authors than their subject. But ultimately England fans will remember him as a dedicated professional who gave nearly a decade of his life to England's cause. Aside from all his personal milestones he helped them win 3 Ashes series, a World cup competition and a historic series win in India which pushed England to the dizzy heights of the Test cricket summit.
There is a case to be argued that his "otherness" amongst some "Englishmen", combined with his abundant mercurial talent amongst a team containing a lot of "grafters" meant KP was perhaps never wholeheartedly accepted in the England dressing room. Maybe that's what he meant when he famously said "It's difficult being Kevin Pietersen". If that was the case, by sacking him in this way it is perhaps Paul Downton who is the "Divisive" one after all.
KP's top 5 innings for England (in no order)
149 vs South Africa Headingly, 2012
142 vs Sri Lanka. Edgbaston 2006 (Includes THAT reverse sweep six off Murali)
158 vs Australia The Oval, September 2005
186 vs India Wankhede Stadium Mumbai 2012
227 vs Australia Adelaide Oval 2010
image: © Gareth Williams