Stephen Brenkley on Kevin Pietersen: Saddest thing is this book is about settling scores... not making them

One of cricket’s great entertainers spends 315 pages dealing in revenge, vitriol and persecution – and  virtually ignores his many wonderful deeds in the middle

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The Independent Online

There were so many moments when it was possible to feel deeply sorry for Kevin Pietersen. The saddest arrived towards the end of the 315 pages that are laced with vitriol, revenge and persecution.

“Again, am I bitter?” he asks. “No, and no again. There should be more cricket in these pages but there was a story that had to be told.” He tells it in such relentless, unforgiving detail that there is barely room or time to dwell on the fun that he must have had and the joy he undoubtedly gave.

Here is one of the greatest sporting entertainers of his or any other age, who has scored more runs for England than any other batsman in history and yet all he seems to have gathered are scores to settle.

It is there in the labels he applies to those who have upset or crossed him: Andy Flower as the Mood Hoover, Matt Prior as The Big Cheese with his little cheeses in tow, Alastair Cook as Ned Flanders, the man from The Simpsons who wants to please everybody, Peter Moores as the Woodpecker pecking away.

 

Pietersen does not make the mistake of not admitting to his mistakes. He concedes that there were plenty and that along the way he could have often acted differently. He admits to his vulnerability, that he is a singular individual who wanted often simply to escape cricket and cricket talk. He hated team meetings but equally he wanted to help others.

At one point he seems to indicate – talking of one of his many dust ups with England after the imbroglio during the tour of England by South Africa in 2012 – that he was the only one who ever owned up to an error of judgement. “My attitude by then was that we all make mistakes, we all fuck up. The guys would deny that any of them had fucked up and in the end that was fine.”

Pietersen makes a convincing case that he was singled out in the England dressing room but also concedes, by anecdote alone, that he wanted to be treated as a special case. When this was denied him his life became tougher because he felt hard done by.

He affects bemusement that anybody should think that he fell out with former employers – Nottinghamshire, Hampshire, England on a regular basis. It was, he implies, just the way it went.

 

Along the way he fell out with just about every member of the English press corps, a breed whose company, at least peripherally, he positively relished for the first few years. Throughout that early period, he was often engaging and invariably courteous.

When the fame game began to wear, when the price of celebrity grew too high for him to pay, the fall out began. The first time I came across him as a cricketer was in late 1999 when he was 19 and playing for KwaZulu Natal in a tour match against England. He scored 61 from 57 balls and made mincemeat of Phil Tufnell, which was to become faintly ironic in retrospect considering the trouble he was to have with left-arm spinners down the years.

Not long after, using the fact that his mother was English, he came to England. Whatever he came for, it was then and remains a brave journey for a 20-year-old to make. Within weeks he made a hundred in his first appearance at Lord’s, demonstrating precisely that he knew a big stage when he saw it and how to act on it.

But there were issues then about why he left South Africa and it is to his credit that he addresses these in his book. He got it wrong, he says, and one of the biggest mistakes he made was overplaying his Englishness. This is one of the most human parts of KP: The Autobiography.

“When I went back to play in South Africa I was still a young kid. When I made my first hundred there I should never, ever have kissed the badge on my helmet. I was on a high and trying to make a point but it was a silly, thoughtless thing to have done. I should never have judged and nailed the political situation in South Africa just because the quota system didn’t work for me. I didn’t understand enough.”

The first interview we had was at Loughborough in early 2004 when Pietersen was called up by England A. The discussion went into precisely that issue about quotas and ended in a shouting match. Perhaps he forgot about it but Pietersen never seemed to bear a grudge as the years went by, not until, recently when he felt the world was against him, partly perhaps because it was, partly because he had inadvertently invited the onslaught.

That article 11 years ago ended with the sentence: “England may soon be happy to have him but don’t expect the passage to be less than stormy.” Hardly prescience, the young man bristled with intent, presence and something that definitely approached arrogance.

Pietersen undoubtedly makes a strong case, that while he might have approached everything in the right spirit, he was not treated well by England. It will be fascinating to see if the England and Wales Cricket Board, which he also derides, bothers to try to rebut his charge that there was an unhealthy cabal in the dressing room which bullied and intimidated. He makes it clear, incidentally, that he is not merely saying all this now to increase book sales but was saying it at the time.

The trouble is, of course, that while he was saying it he was also upsetting more people than he was winning friends. He can never understand (or forgive) the way he was treated over the Indian Premier League. He makes a fist of mounting a sound case for it but ultimately appears to concede defeat on that score: it was, and is, all about the money.

And of the cricket, of the unforgettable innings there is almost nothing. The initial one-day hundred in South Africa, the one that introduced him to the stratosphere in the deciding Ashes match at The Oval in 2005, the double hundred at Adelaide in 2010, the trio of classics in 2012 – in Colombo, Leeds and Mumbai, all of which made it great to be alive and watching cricket, are all mentioned but glossed over. What are mere scores when there are scores to settle?

It is difficult to see in the immediate aftermath of publication how the reputations and careers of Flower and Prior, in particular, can recover at least in the short term. Pietersen embellishes rumours that were often flying around. Perhaps dignified silence, as with the ECB, might suit them better than any more overt reaction.

Clearly, he regrets the messy business with Andrew Strauss in 2012, which heralded the necessity of reintegration. But although he repeats verbatim many other telephone text messages, including an exchange with Prior, earlier this year, those BlackBerry messages, in which he is said to have traduced Strauss, appear to have disappeared into the ether forever.

He admits that he mucked up but he does not quite recall what it is exactly he said. The fact that he later had to apologise to each member of the team before the India tour that winter was probably punishment enough.

By the time England let him go, Pietersen was arguably not the player he had been. Confined solely, it would seem, to Twenty20 matches these days his highest score this year has been 58.

Perhaps this is his parting shot, perhaps we will hear no more of Pietersen except in fancy, big money, still largely meaningless, tournaments for a year or two. It will remain always a pity that he could not go out on his own terms and his talk of a return, as if on a white charger, will surely come to nought.

Not everything that Pietersen says in his book is correct, much of it may be misguided but it should give us all reason to reflect on how we behaved towards him. He says: “Over all the years that Andy Flower coached me I was never made to feel good about the job I did.” How sad that is for both men, for us all.

KP: The Autobiography is published by Sphere and is £20

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