A rather unexpected realisation dawned on me at the end of last week. I actually quite like Kevin Pietersen.
I know this is a quite uncool thing for a fully grown adult to say. Adults who love KP are generally wallies who bat with a Woodworm in village cricket and still think Nasser Hussain is England captain. He is full of traits uncommon to international cricketers – he is brash, he is cocky,he is media savvy – and generally I am suspicious of that. To cap it off, he is good friends with Piers Morgan. I should hate Kevin Pietersen.
Yet, when he played that putrid shot on 99, I could not help feeling sorry for him. In fact, it was more than that. He was so near, and yet so far from banishing his demons. The poor bloke looked like he was going to cry. I have not felt that devastated for an England cricketer since Paul Collingwood missed out on what I was sure would be his only chance of a test hundred in Pakistan in 2005. Incidently, Colly notched up his 10th century in the same innings that Pietersen fell so agonizingly short, which doesn’t say much for my predicting skills.
Pietersen must be the most misunderstood cricketer of his generation. Yes, he was pushed from the captaincy, and yes, what he did was wrong, but people tend to forget that he was trying to encourage some much-needed improvement in English cricket. Far a time, England were a bit of a rabble. You half expected them to come out in twos and threes after tea, a couple of them stubbing out their post-feed cigarettes on the outfield. Pietersen wanted to shake that up, and events since he was dismissed have proved him to be pretty much bang on the money.
Whatever he does, he cannot win. He is the hardest trainer in the side, and this seems to be yet more proof that he is aloof. He is one of the few men to actually successfully create their own shot, and we label him a showpony. I have never heard a single word from an England teammate criticising him, yet he is labelled a bad influence on team unity.
It is easy to call Pietersen a big head, and assume that he thinks himself the best player in the world. For me, there is a subtle difference – he wants to be the best player in the world. When he needs, it he asks for help – just witness him picking the brains of Rahul Dravid and Andy Flower last week. In the days of player burnout, and certain individuals choosing the easier more lucrative T20 format, Pietersen openly admits to “enjoying” training and fitness work. Now, isn’t that in the least bit refreshing? Yes, it gives him the appearance of the school swot, but what is wrong with that? After all, the school swots become the brain surgeons and the nuclear scientists.
He has also been very quiet since his injury, which is very unusual. Normally, he is the first to line up for the cameras, metaphorically flexing his muscles. And I have even missed that. When he finally spoke out last week, blasting “Cricket is a game for men. It’s not for girls!”, I couldn’t help but giggle. In an age where cricketers, particularly English ones it must be said, are “hitting the right areas”, “doing the hard yards” and “coming to the party”, Pietersen ruthlessly cutting down anyone who rubs him up the wrong way always cheers me up, although Samit Patel may disagree. He is like a roaming, cricketing version of Charlie Brooker.
Ask anyone for a great role model for kids, and it is highly unlikely that Pietersen would be top of the list. Hell, he probably wouldn’t be near the top of mine. But I have to ask - why not?
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