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

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“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.

Unimpressed

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.

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