James Lawton: New man or old-time hero? Kevin Pietersen must decide
Monday 01 November 2010
This is probably not the moment to disparage a leading professional sportsman for lamenting, bitterly, the time he is required to be away from his lawfully wedded, wife but you do have to wonder about Kevin Pietersen.
Even in the age of new man and all that he entails, Pietersen's declaration that he will be counting the days before he is joined in Australia by Jessica and their son Dylan is perhaps not an ideal Ashes battle cry.
Nor is it indicative of a hard-nosed pro who knows that in the next few months his entire reputation, for good or bad, could be recast quite profoundly.
Pietersen (right), along with the rest of the touring party, has been told that wives and families cannot join them for six weeks – or, put another way, until the five Test-match series has moved beyond Brisbane and Adelaide and certain battle lines have been established.
Four years ago, when England's cricket team surrendered so abjectly, their domestic caravan was in close attendance, and plainly captain Andrew Strauss and the new, and highly successful, coach Andy Flower have agreed that the priority – for at least a little while in lives that are so notably better rewarded than, for example, those in which time away from loved ones also involves the risk of a sniper's bullet or a roadside bomb – is not so much happy families but single-minded professional application.
Pietersen, the richly talented but currently form-troubled batsman, is more in need of tunnelled application than any of his team-mates at this point in his career.
On his last visit to Australia he was a giant, amassing 490 runs at an average of 54.44 and with a beautifully imperious top score of 158, but all that seemed to belong to another age when he was dismissed, quite grotesquely, in his last Test appearance against the Pakistanis. Pietersen has taken some steps to restore himself as a front-rank world-class batsmen, including a stint in his native South Africa. Yet we are told he has failed almost completely to conceal his rage over the decision to delay the arrival of the cricket WAGs. "I didn't react well when I heard the news," he said. "They're due to arrive on December 10 or 11. Will I be counting down the days? Definitely; in the last couple of days Dylan has just started to sit up. These are the kind of things you miss, like when he starts crawling."
These are sentiments no doubt easily understood by any family man who knows the need to pack his bags from time to time in order to earn his living. Yet what is the angry demeanour of Pietersen really saying?
The suspicion it is that he wants his glory on entirely his own terms. He wants his domestic idyll transferred to the field of action. He wants to be a new man and a old-time classic hero. Sometimes such ambitions are impossible to dovetail.
Certainly, it seems here self-evident that Strauss and Flower are right to draw on some of the lessons of the past. It is maybe ironic that Pietersen happened to be conspicuously set apart, by his own performances, from the criticism that followed the last wretched tour of Australia. But then, presumably, even Pietersen might see it as folly to grant him special privileges – despite the fact that during the 2009 West Indian tour he had a request for home leave turned down.
One thing at least is certain. When he arrives at the Brisbane wicket he will be asked about the missus – and with something less than total sincerity.
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