Andrew Strauss tells us that the South African origins of himself, Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior and Jonathan Trott are "a non-issue" for England's cricketers. Which is fair enough, but you can bet your last rand that they won't be treated as a non-issue by the South Africans during the forthcoming series of five one-day internationals and four Test matches. If the South Africa captain, Graeme Smith, doesn't encourage his men to target these perceived turncoats in the England team, then he's not the chest-thumping patriot I took him to be. And even if he doesn't – for he does seem to be mellowing somewhat – the home supporters in Durban and Johannesburg will most certainly let the abuse fly at those biltong-flavoured Englishmen, reserving particular vehemence for Pietersen, who is scheduled to join the party next week.
That prospect won't trouble Pietersen in the slightest, of course. He got fearful stick when he first played one-day cricket with England in South Africa, to which he responded, after scoring his first international century (108 not out from 96 balls at Bloemfontein), by not so much kissing the three lions on his helmet, as snogging them. He finished as Player of the Series, some achievement given that the South Africans had won 4-1. And now he is five years older and wiser, witness the disappearance of that preposterous white stripe from his hair. It has been replaced, moreover, by an eminently sensible Brylcreem bounce, which augurs well, because the last Brylcreem Boy to play cricket in South Africa, in 1948-49, scored what remains the fastest triple century in first-class cricket. Playing for MCC against North-Eastern Transvaal, Denis Compton took one minute over three hours to reach his 300, hitting five sixes and 42 fours. He completed the last third of it in just 37 minutes.
Strictly speaking, Compton didn't become the first official Brylcreem Boy until 1950, but we won't let trifling details interfere with the parallels between the man they called Compo and the man they call KP. I was gratified, when I interviewed Pietersen a few weeks ago, to find that he had done his homework on Compton. "I know he was a pretty flamboyant batter, a chinaman bowler, a pretty cool guy," he said. Cooler, in fact, than Pietersen knew. He'd done some of his homework but not all of it, and had no idea that his Brylcreemed predecessor also played for Arsenal in the 1950 FA Cup final. "Is that right? I didn't know that. Wow."
Wow indeed. And if I'd had time I would have told him the story about Middlesex captain Walter Robins, who took Compton aside during a tea interval at Lord's one day in 1947 and said: "It's funny that a strong chap like you can't drive the ball straight. We never see you hit it over the bowler's head." Compton agreed that this was very funny, then advised Robins to look out for the third ball after tea. And so it was that the third ball following the interval came crashing over the bowler's head into the pavilion. The similarly swashbuckling Pietersen would have liked that tale, though it's all too easy to imagine him trying the same thing, and holing out to mid-off.
Winning ticket in the lottery of life plucked from a litter-strewn street
Young Kai Wayne Rooney, I heard it said on the radio this week, has won the lottery of life. He has an extravagantly talented dad, an attractive 23-year-old mum, and he lives in a Cheshire mansion with, if we are to believe what we read, a tennis court, a swimming-pool, a five-a-side football pitch, a kitchen themed on an American diner, a cinema and seven plasma-screen televisions. Kai's folks are worth around £30m, a fortune that will only get bigger as Kai grows up. As for what he will grow up to become, that is a subject already exercising the minds of bookmakers. They consider him a 300-1 shot to play football for Everton, 500-1 to play for Manchester United, and 500-1 to play for England.
But when you think about it, Kai's old man (below) has done all those things already. He grew up on a council estate in Croxteth, Liverpool, that was notably grim even by the standards of Merseyside council estates, and where anyone with seven televisions was either a thief or a fence. Yet it was an environment where his abundant gifts were recognised and nurtured. Kai won't grow up kicking a ball around in litter-strewn, graffiti-stained streets like his dad did. But that's the background that produced the one footballer whose form and fitness everyone says are vital if England are to have any chance in next summer's World Cup. So really, it was Kai's dad, not Kai, who won the lottery of life. It just took a few years for him to redeem the ticket.
Hard knocks at old school block
What chance David Haye against Nikolai Valuev tonight? None, say my children, who as schoolkids know the perils of squaring up to someone older and vastly bigger, and have been looking aghast at the pictures of Haye, 6ft 3in, alongside the 7ft Russian. But I've been telling them about Mo Thabut v David Hodgson behind the geography block at my grammar school, 33 years ago. Sometimes, size isn't everything.Reuse content