Tony Greig: KP is like Boycott, too good to leave out

Former England captain tells Stephen Brenkley why Kevin Pietersen reminds him of another singular character who was talented enough to merit being treated differently

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The Independent Online

There have been difficult characters in England dressing-rooms before. Nothing is new under the sun, and Tony Greig remembered it as though it were yesterday.

For Kevin Pietersen read Geoff Boycott. England were in the West Indies early in 1974 and Boycott was in a truculent mood. His grievances were different in particular from Pietersen's but exactly the same in that he was a man alone.

"The first thing to be said is that I'm always in favour of picking the best side you have available," said Greig. "It's why Pietersen should be playing for England now, it's why I would have had Boycott in any side I was in or captained."

But Boycott's behaviour then, like Pietersen's now if the evidence is to be believed, bespoke a man who declined to grasp the team ethos. In Boycott's case it was exacerbated by his burning desire to be captain and his dismissive attitude towards the man who actually had the job, Mike Denness.

"At the beginning of the tour we were in the nets and the allocated time was just over 12 minutes each," said Greig. "At the end of his time, Boycott wouldn't leave, he just wanted to go on and on and he demanded the bowlers bowl some more at him.

"This was unfair on the other batsmen as well as tiring out the bowlers. We had to do something and it was decided that I would go to see him as vice-captain.

"I told him that he could only have the same 12 minutes as everyone else but he wouldn't have to do his share of the bowling and at the end of the session he could go back in and bat as long as he wanted against local net bowlers without completely knackering our own bowlers. He saw the sense of that. It was a case of finding some middle ground and that's what has been lacking in the Pietersen case."

There was much more to come about Boycott and his fractious relationship with Denness, but Greig is no fool. He was one of the most controversial figures himself in his time and, like Pietersen, he came to England from South Africa. He knows that comparisons are being drawn between the two.

As with Pietersen, he had his disputes with his bosses, in his case terminal when he became instrumental in establishing the breakaway World Series Cricket. Things really were never the same again as Greig and most of the world's leading players joined the TV mogul Kerry Packer in a private venture that was set up because Packer had been denied TV rights. The lot of the professional cricketer was changed forever.

"We both come from South Africa but that's it really," said Greig. "It was a different country when I left. I went because my father was keen for me to get out and an opportunity came along at Sussex. Kevin went for different reasons.

"He is entitled to make the most of his talent and get the rewards for it. But it doesn't look as if he's gone about it the right way. But what were others doing to allow it to get this far? It shouldn't have come to this."

Pietersen is about to start what is described as a process of reintegration with the England team before he can start playing again. His long-running dispute with the management ended, temporarily at least, after he issued a public apology last week in Sri Lanka.

Greig, of course, sees and understands the concept of Pietersen being an outsider, not being a true-blue Englishman, and how that might sway judgements. But he believes that everyone is somehow manageable. Boycott's intransigence has eerie parallels, however. England hung on grimly on that 1974 tour and came to the Fifth Test still only 1-0 down after a series of rearguard actions. Boycott batted supremely in making 99 and 112, and Greig, having invented a brand-new style of off-break bowling, took 8 for 86 and 5 for 70 as England won by 112 runs.

"I can't speak too highly of how Boycott batted and I went up to him at the end and told him how marvellous he had been. He turned round and said, 'Aye, that's all very bloody well but it's kept that bugger [Denness] in a job'. It must have been a dilemma for him, he wanted the runs but knew that by getting them the captain would stay."

When Greig took over the captaincy there was a mixed response. He was a golden hero to many, a South African interloper to some. But he knew then what he knows now: pick the best team. By then Boycott had taken his bat home, refusing to play because he was not captain and Denness was.

"When I took over I rang him straightaway to see if would come back," Greig said. "He was the best opening batsman in England and that was all that mattered. But he wouldn't budge because, as he has said since, he was in a bad place then.

"I made sure he was rung before every selection meeting while I was captain to see if he had changed his mind. But I never did captain him for England."

Greig firmly believes there has to be middle ground in the Pietersen saga which should have been found by now. Yet of course it was not found in the Boycott imbroglio in the mid-Seventies. Boycott declined to be selected for three years when the Packer storm broke.

Greig and Pietersen are different. Greig, a great England all-rounder, would never have disparaged lesser players in the way Pietersen did. Greig, who knew his own worth, comprehended and relished that what he did, he did for the team.

"I've no doubt that Kevin has made demands he shouldn't, in the wrong way at the wrong time," said Greig. "Coming from where he does, that might affect people's opinion. But I tell you this, he should be playing."