The sacking of Kevin Pietersen, the last of the great mavericks, has killed off any lingering interest I had in sport

Who would you rather have coming in to bat at number four? Mother Teresa?

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You finally really did it. You maniacs. You blew him out! God damn you all to hell! The sacking of Kevin Pietersen, I’m talking about. The only English batsman currently worth getting out of bed to watch. And his crime? Insouciance. Egoism. Inconsideration of the feeling of others. So who would you rather have coming in to bat at number four? Mother Teresa?

All right, it’s not the end of the world. There’s always...

But I lie. It is the end of the world – the final nail in the coffin of my enthusiasm for sport, which was always, if I am honest about it, more dead than alive. But at least it twitched. At least I’d trundle off to Lord’s once a year if I could find a member with a spare ticket. At least I’d stay up late watching darts or snooker on television.

And I even accompanied my wife to beach volleyball at the London Olympics in 2012. She’d interested me in ballet; maybe she’d interest me in this. A ludicrous spectacle from start to finish it turned out to be – as vulgar as panto and as unengaging as a Winter Olympics – but it got me out of the house. Now though, if we are to talk of sport, there is nothing and no one left remarkable beneath the visiting moon.

All the fun of wondering whether Andy Murray was ever going to win Wimbledon has evaporated now he’s won Wimbledon. Ronnie O’Sullivan looked so bored picking up another snooker title recently that I felt I owed it to him to be bored myself.

A few weeks before that, the once impregnable Phil Taylor contrived to get himself knocked out of the World Darts Championships and has just been whitewashed in another tournament by the Dutchman Michael van Gerwen, a player to whom I am unable to transfer loyalty because of the uncanny imitation of a paraphilic infantilist he gives at the oche. When he scores 180, that is, whenever he throws, you have to look away. If that isn’t a baby calling for its bottle I don’t what it is. And as for any footballer you care to name, find me one that’s not a racist.

Even in the good years I was never what you could call a supporter. Supporting goes against my nature. I’ve never owned a team scarf or a shirt with someone’s name and number on it. Never bought a season ticket. Never bought a programme, even.

I look away in embarrassment when people ask me what my team is. I’m a novelist: novelists don’t have teams. When Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky met, they didn’t argue the merits of CSKA Moscow as against Volga Nizhny Novgorod. “Up the blues!” Chekhov didn’t shout when he joined them for a white nights vodka. And I too couldn’t give a monkey’s who is beating whom. Except it seems I do. And because those I apparently do give a monkey’s about are being thrashed or fired everywhere I look, I am fallen into low spirits.

What it comes to, reader, is quite simply this: I have no one to support, though I am not a supporter, because there is no team or individual worth supporting, though I would not support them if there were.

Pietersen or no Pietersen, the English cricket team began to lose their way ever since it started winning. Their capitulation to the Australians came as no surprise to me after the way they played against them last summer. I saw some of those matches with my own eyes – the eyes of a non-supporter, a non-fan, a non-watcher, even: which means I can be trusted to report dispassionately – and what I saw was not one team winning but one team losing.

The spectacle, I have to say, kept me gripped, wanting to lose being so much more interesting psychologically, and so much more enchanting from the point of view of politesse – not normally an Australian consideration – than wanting to win. Why I have never, in that case, supported (that’s to say, non‑supported) a team that can be relied on not to win – Tottenham Hotspur, say, or Manchester City before all the treasures of Arabia were expended on buying it a new mind-set – I can’t explain. My masochism is clearly of a more exquisite sort than that of those who turn out in all weathers to cheer on a team they know is bound to lose; I need to anticipate a victory before I can savour the bitter disappointment of defeat.

 

But for this to work, your expectation of success must be rational. And if that can no longer be the case with England cricketers, it can no longer be the case with Manchester United either, a team I have half-called mine ever since news of the Munich air disaster was brought to us in the showers by our gym teacher, a man who could not devise enough ways to make us feel bad and whom, for that very reason, we did not at first believe.

In fact, Manchester United have been on the slide for years, but have still been able to pull a sufficient number of surprise victories out of the bag to keep us vaguely interested. Now, however, their best players are all drawing pensions, and by the time they’ve been replaced the team will not remotely resemble the one I almost supported.

There is some light in the darkness. I ran into Ronnie O’Sullivan on a plane last weekend, on my way to a literature seminar in Berlin. He said he was writing a novel and fancied coming along to pick up tips on sentence structure. In the event, he didn’t make it to the seminar but I’m keeping an eye open for his novel. Give me something to support next year, come the Costas.

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