On any other day, I’d be writing this article about Kevin Pietersen’s batting.
Speaking on Saturday evening, after his inspired 149 that lit up the Headingley gloom and breathed life into a generally moribund England innings (James Taylor’s assured debut and Matt Prior’s feisty 68 aside) Pietersen was asked where he saw himself in a year’s time. “I don’t know,” he said, “we’ll see.”
It was an interview described as cagey and evasive, but, perhaps unsurprisingly given his at-times uncomfortable relationship with the English media, he seemed to me like a man terrified of saying something that could be construed as boast or bluster.
He obviously didn’t have to wait long for that to happen anyway, as, after receiving his Man of the Match award on a final day that briefly promised excitement and unpredictability but fizzled into an unsatisfactory draw, he faced the media at the post-match press conference. For about seven minutes he was bombarded with questions regarding his future; he made it clear he didn’t want to discuss his ongoing negotiations with the ECB regarding renewal of his Test contract, but nevertheless the questions continued. If you’d ever wondered what cricket’s version of bear-baiting looks like, this was it.
At last, irritated, he obliged. “For me, the saddest part about all this is that the spectators just love watching me play and I love playing for England. But the politics is what I have to deal with personally and it’s tough being me in this dressing room. Playing for England is tough. We’ll see.”
It’s tough being me. You could almost visualise the smoke pouring from laptop keyboards. Who in the hell does Kevin Pietersen think he is?
Pietersen is a Marmite cricketer. He rubs a lot of people up the wrong way. I wrote about this back when the storm clouds began to gather. I’m not really sure why some people have a dislike for him that sometimes is so vehement it borders on the irrational. Perhaps their constant calling for him to be thrown out of the team would have some justification if he was a shit batsman. Everything aside from that – and that should be the main criterion – is down to management, or, in this case, bad management.
One thing I suspected at the time was that the details of Pietersen’s contract negotiations that appeared in the press were leaked strategically by “ECB sources” (to whom the details were attributed). Pietersen alluded angrily to this in yesterday’s press conference. “I was blamed before the Test series for grabbing the headlines. But did I leak anything? I never spoke to the media for one second. I never said anything about what was said behind closed doors.”
Behind closed doors is where you would reasonably expect negotiations between employer and employee to remain. But of course this isn’t the first time it has happened. Pietersen says he still doesn’t know who leaked details of his row with Peter Moores back in 2009 either. What all this boils down to is the manipulation of public opinion as a negotiating tool. Now I don’t know about you, but if my boss leaked selected details of a contract discussion, which, without the benefit of all the facts being known, might be calculated to paint me in a bad light, I’d be pretty damn pissed off too.
With this leak followed by a press conference that, it could be argued, was allowed to go on way too long, it’s starting to seem very much as though the ECB are not just intent on watching Pietersen dig his own grave, they’re even handing him the shovel.
One outcome is that, in common with many other national boards, the ECB may eventually become more flexible and accepting of the IPL and their players’ participation in it. Unfortunately, the way things now stand, with a headlong race towards a messy divorce now inevitable, it seems as though Pietersen’s career as an England player will be the price.
Can England do without KP? Inasmuch as they will have to, yes. Is sticking to principle more important than coming to some kind of compromise via a sensible, non-combative – and carried out in strict confidence – discussion with one of the greatest batsmen ever to take the field for this country? The future of England cricket depends on their answer. Given their now tenuous hold on the number one Test position, now is not the time to diminish this England team’s strength.