Kevin Pietersen would doubtlessly consider David Beckham a kindred spirit. Each has a minor pop star for a wife, and both are perceived to be bigger than their sport. They are globally renowned, fashionably tattooed and suit the pretensions of modern marketing.
Yet while the genuine article spends £15 million in loose change to woo a city, Miami, with a football franchise, the wannabe opens a “luxury hairdressing destination” in Notting Hill where toddlers have their locks teased for £40.
Class. You’ve either got it or you haven’t. Though Pietersen is probably too self-possessed to care about how he is ultimately regarded, his popularity will fade as his vacuity and instinctive oppor- tunism bring a welcome sense of perspective.
Beckham may be a brand served by a subtle business strategy, but he has been positioned to maximise the authenticity of his character. Pietersen lacks his natural warmth, and will be unable to match his staying power, because he has never aligned himself to anything enduring.
He’s a serial badge-kisser, but his real affection is reserved for himself. Should he need reassurance, he finds it from Piers Morgan, a chat-show host who possesses the slavering loyalty of a Pekinese lapdog.
The calibre of cheerleaders is instructive. David Cameron, a prime minister who appears to labour under the misapprehension that “Colin Wood” once played for England (Paul Collingwood was unavailable for comment), paid tribute to Pietersen’s “tonking”.
Graeme Swann, who couldn’t be bothered to complete the Ashes series and has devoted his retirement to attacking the written press, gave him a glowing character reference in the sort of personalised news-paper column that doesn’t tend to come cheap. Such a shame he wasn’t around for that pivotal team meeting in Melbourne.
That Pietersen should be able to portray himself as a victim underlines the magnitude of the incompetence of those who purport to run English cricket. They conspired in his martyrdom when they had the opportunity to expose his hypocrisy and confirm his disruptiveness.
The controversy has at least exposed the deeply malignant culture of corporate cowardice which defines the ECB. Pietersen has detonated the equivalent of a neutron bomb. The old pavilion at Lord’s is still standing, but the reputation of anyone inside has been vaporised.
Alastair Cook’s captaincy has been compromised because it lacks the context of an overdue explanation for his antipathy to a gifted player. He has been betrayed by a catastrophic news-management policy.
Cricket’s worst PR campaign since the fraudster Allen Stanford received a fawning welcome after landing his helicopter on the outfield at Lord’s has been compounded by the success of Pietersen’s advisers in opaque negotiations about the settlement of his central contract.
He is free to accept in excess of £2m in this week’s IPL auction. In a hidden irony, the ECB will allow Surrey to break salary-cap regulations so they can make it worth Pietersen’s while to avoid the Caribbean Premier League.
Since confidentiality clauses conveniently expire at the end of September, he is free to posit ghostwritten bile in a book aimed at the Christmas market. It is likely to be closer in tone to Katie Price than CLR James, but it has the capacity to create more mayhem.
Anyone expecting a show of reciprocal loyalty to the English game is deluded. Pietersen, let us not forget, changed nationality with the ease of a man pulling a freshly ironed shirt from the wardrobe. He regarded South Africa, his birthplace, as being too small and commercially inconvenient.
He is a 21st century creation, well suited to the bravado and casual brutality of the global T20 circuit, but he lives in an age of built-in obsolescence. He lacks the understated humility which allowed the truly great batsmen, such as Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Ricky Ponting, to adjust their games to declining physical powers. When he is gone, he will not be missed.
Fancy jibbing a Russian Doll?
Like, it was radness. A sick squirly switch, frontside 1440 was followed by a widening topside 1440, backwards. And what about the dude pretending to knit at the start ramp, before jibbing the Russian Doll?
Welcome to the sport of slopestyle, and a language beyond those who have reached the age of consent. The oldest competitor was 25. Even Sage Kotsenburg, the inaugural gold medallist, admitted: “I have no idea what’s actually going on.”
It wasn’t necessary to know the difference between a “joystick” and a “picnic table” to understand something special happened in Sochi yesterday morning. The Winter Olympics, once an alpine version of It’s a Knockout, skipped several generations in a heartbeat.
It has always been baffling. Biathlon appears to involve snipers on skis. Having tried bobsleigh, I can confirm it is akin to being encased in a spin-drier. Skeleton is sledging on acid. New anti-heroes wait to be discovered, and devoured by advertisers.
Slopestyle, a cross between aerobatics and an Animal House movie, has the perfect ambassador in Russia’s Alexey Sobolev. He took the precaution of writing his mobile number on his crash helmet. Overnight, he received nearly 2,000 photographs. What of?
What is wrong with British sport (Part 524):
Liz Nicholl, chief executive of the quango UK Sport, explaining why elite funding had been withdrawn from Great Britain’s basketball teams: “They are hardly role models if they are not winning – they become role models by winning.”