What a chance encounter with a young Graeme Swann taught me about the Kevin Pietersen saga

Our writer, a veteran at twelfth man even in his youth, recalls an illuminating episode from his glory days as a schoolboy cricketer in Cambridgeshire


“The Re-integration of Kevin Pietersen” sounds like the title of a very bad R&B record. As with the current cricketing scenario, it would presumably be all about the man himself.

The fact that Kevin Pietersen will - it seems - once again pull on an England sweater (of one colour or another) ought to be a relief to most fans. Whatever his sins, there is no more exciting sight in the English game than Pietersen dominating top-class bowlers: his summer display against South Africa at Headingley (cricket-wise) was the best individual performance of the series. If he can play at the peak of his powers in India, runs will ultimately provide his redemption – not least because he’ll have less time to spend texting.

But the fact that the necessary “re-integration” seems to be premised on Pietersen's contrition and his team-mates’ forgiveness is not likely to make the process easier. To focus on Pietersen's misdemeanours is not unreasonable. But to do so at the expense of properly examining the allegations of cliquiness and intra-dressing room antagonism which led up to his summer of discontent is far from sensible. Cricket more than any other sport places as much emphasis on the individual as the team; but that doesn't mean having a happy group dynamic is any less essential, it just makes it harder to achieve.


Seventeen years ago Graeme Swann was already destined for the professional game, his all-round abilities way ahead of most boys his age. By contrast, I was quickly realising that boyhood dreams of playing for England weren't likely to materialise. Mercurial (erratic) leg-spinners who can't bat much are not favourites among captains or coaches - kept in the squad because everyone wanted a Shane Warne in principle; but left out when the square leg boundary turned out to be short and uphill.

So it was when Cambridgeshire under 14s came up against Swann's Northamptonshire. I, the ever-disappointed twelfth man, leant keenly over the scorebook, while Swann strutted out to open the batting against my team-mates.

At the time, his batting wasn't rated far behind his bowling and his aggressive intent was clear immediately. After just a few balls he tried to hit our opening bowler straight back over his head and was brilliantly caught at mid-off by a lovely chap called Neil Midgely, who went on to play professional football for Ipswich Town.

Good players rarely display much Zen when they're out for not many - nor do bad players for that matter. Swann was certainly not impressed. As the batsman who followed him fared rather better, he sat on the sidelines with his team mates and gradually improved his mood by leading a lengthy session of ‘hilarious banter’, mostly targeted at the mother of one of our players.

To be fair, the lady in question was quite a sight, wearing as she was - in my memory - a purple jacket richly decorated with a multitude of peacock feathers. With large sunglasses to shade her eyes, there was a definite hint of Big Bird meeting Marlon Brando.  She also happened to be the mother of the bowler who had snared Swann.

But the joking at her expense – largely about her unusual clothes – was fairly merciless. That's not say it wasn't intrinsically funny in a 14-year-old boy kind of way - certainly many in the Northants team thought so. The assembled parents of our lot though were thoroughly irked and our coach 'had a word', which didn't do much good.

But crucially, while some (perhaps the majority) of Swann's team mates were more than happy to laugh along, it was clear that not all of them were comfortable. And while Northants eventually won their fairly inevitable victory, they did not display the same sense of relative harmony that you would find in a lot of teams at that level.  Had they been a completely harmonious bunch, we would probably have received a total thrashing.

Inclusion, exclusion

None of this is to say that Graaem Swann's humour hasn't developed since his mid-teens, nor that he is at fault in the Pietersen saga. Yet, it highlights a point that is true of a great many sports teams - that an in-joke shared by some will, by definition, exclude others. And while cliques are a fairly inevitable part of life, the development of teams within a team can spell disaster, particular if those on the outside feel not only isolated but also the object of fun. And when the team stops winning consistently, as England have done since the turn of the year, there is nothing to contain the discontent.

Will Gore took 3-36 on debut for Cambridgeshire schoolboys against Bedfordshire schoolboys in 1992; they remained his best figures.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Opponents of Israel's military operation in Gaza are the real enemies of Middle Eastern peace

Gabriel Sassoon
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

Government hails latest GDP figures, but there is still room for scepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little