Kevin Pietersen and England: The team will always beat the individual

Pietersen was the ultimate soloist within the group and, writes Kevin Garside, left England with no choice but to go into bat for the collective

If you are going to walk the plank you might as well make a splash. Kevin Pietersen has detonated the biggest water bomb in the history of English cricket. From the low born to the First Lord of the Treasury, the nation has had its say on the execution of England’s heaviest runscorer in all forms of the game.

He would rather have kept his place at the crease, no doubt, yet it would not be a stretch to imagine Pietersen warming his hands in the heat generated by his England post-mortem. It reinforces the view he has of himself, a unique talent worthy of special consideration, a player to be indulged for the genius he brings to the piece.

This is the reasoning of the child, of course. Any parent who has marked out a pitch, set out the wickets, laid out the cones will recognise the swagger of the “gifted one” and suffered the petulance. Reconciling the “me” reflex with the interests of the group is a fundamental dynamic at the heart not only of the team but of life.

Pietersen would have been a gift to those early 19th century philosophers, social theorists and politicians, wrestling with a new world order. The feudal system was in retreat, the head of a monarch had rolled in Paris, migration from country to town to service the needs of a burgeoning industrial age was in full swing, trampling underfoot the influence of the church. A new script was required that made sense of the chaos.

What they would not have given for a populist example that broadly encapsulated the points they wished to make. There were no sporting heroes to piggyback in the manner of David Cameron when Europe was convulsing two centuries ago. Louis Veuillot was writing about social order in post-revolutionary France. He might have been addressing the cult of Our Kev. “The evil which plagues France is not unknown; everyone agrees in giving it the same name: individualism.

“It is not difficult to see that a country where individualism reigns is no longer in the normal conditions of society, since society is the union of minds and interests, and individualism is division carried to the infinite degree. All for each, each for all, that is society; each for himself, and thus each against all, that is individualism.”

You can guess where Veuillot would have stood in the Pietersen debate. This train of thought was not against personal development and self-expression but the rampant egoism that ultimately brought Pietersen down; hubris by any other name, a corrosive and ultimately destructive force that undermines authority and brotherhood.

Pietersen did not last anywhere long, his outrageous gifts ultimately proving not worth the bother in Natal, Nottingham, Hampshire and now with England. His apologists rail at his sacking, arguing that as England’s best player Pietersen should be at the heart of any rebuilding. This ignores the fact that a team with him in it was thumped by Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, beaten at home by South Africa and suffered the most catastrophic drubbing in Australia.

A team can be so much more, or less in England’s case, than the sum of its parts. If it is the case that some players, simply by pulling on the shirt, can lift the performance of others, Roy Keane would be one example at Manchester United, then it follows that others can have a negative effect on the group. Keane was never the most technically gifted to wear the red of United but the team was always better for his inclusion for he brought out of others a higher level of performance.

This was demonstrably not the case with Pietersen for England. He has not been jettisoned because he cannot bat. There has, arguably, never been any player in the game do what he has, arriving on our shores as an off-spinner batting at eight and leaving the scene as the fourth highest run-maker in English Test history.

There is a queue of English Test batsmen, including former captains Michael Atherton and Vaughan, who will tell you that Pietersen is the best they have seen. But this did not protect against disaster when the ego became inflamed and counter-productive.

The ugly betrayal of his captain, Andrew Strauss, in the text correspondence with his blood brothers in the South African team, the fateful misreading of the purpose of the meeting during the fourth Test in Melbourne, convened at the behest of the coach Andy Flower, to allow the players to address their own failings, condemn him. In each case Pietersen went his own way against the prevailing sentiment.

In an interview given to the BBC’s Mark Pougatch he defended his approach in the middle. He would never adjust his style to meet the requirements of the team. It was not in his nature to play any other way. Bunkum, of course. A player of Pietersen’s gifts and range can choose to play a shot any way he likes. That’s what makes him special. But his first thoughts were always for himself, not the team. Effectively he was saying to the skipper, the coach, the selectors and his team-mates, “Sorry I won’t do what you ask of me. This is me, this is who and what I am, take it or leave it”.

He has had his response. Team KP will get over it. As will England. It is a pity Pietersen was unable to leave adolescence behind. We are in the age of the sporting deity, an epoch that throws great wealth and fame at young men at an impossibly early age. Is it any wonder that many fail to manage the distortions that warp their environment, persuading them that they really are the gods they read about?

Most well-adjusted individuals grow out of it. Maybe Pietersen will mature in parenthood. There is nothing quite like the nurturing power of nature to wean us off our perch at the centre of the universe. Maybe he will recognise in the behaviour and tantrums of his three-year-old son, Dylan, that the selfishness he exhibits in his professional life is best suited to the school playground.

It is an ironic quirk of his fall that criticism should be led by a cricketer who had and retains an even greater regard for his own abilities than KP. Yes dear, old Geoffrey Boycott sent him packing with both boots in a newspaper column on Thursday, arguing with some force that the silly shots that cost him his wicket so irresponsibly in Australia resulted from a superiority complex that was not only unacceptable but could no longer be contained.  

In the period of mourning at Arsenal following the departure of Thierry Henry to Barcelona a young man put his hand up to express his relief at Henry’s going and gratitude for the opportunity it represented. Who would argue that Cesc Fabregas did not prosper in Henry’s wake? He flourished in the space left behind, uninhibited by the presence of the “one”. Privately players have expressed unease at Pietersen’s reluctance to connect off the pitch, frustration with a man who preferred his own company to theirs. This is the invisible glue that binds a team.

Pietersen’s exile is an invitation to the next generation of England players to pick up the baton and run, while remembering that a cricket race is not won by one man alone. There are 10 other blokes out there bowling, batting, catching, and, as a consequence of pulling in the same direction, winning more than they lose.

Divider of opinions great and good on KP

* Anti KP

Geoffrey Boycott How do you teach youngsters to bat sensibly when the best player plays the most stupid strokes? It is impossible

Michael Atherton It was coming. Ultimately he found himself friendless

Nasser Hussain Wherever he has been he has been a problem

* Pro KP

David Cameron I am an enormous fan. Some of my most enjoyable times have been watching him tonking the ball all over the park

Ian Botham I’m baffled, exasperated and disgusted. [The ECB’s] handling has been pathetic

Piers Morgan Our greatest ever batsman made scapegoat. Spineless losers at the ECB.

News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Bruce, left, with Cream bandmates Ginger Rogers, centre, and Eric Clapton in 1967
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker