Kevin Pietersen is not an easy man to love. The almost total lack of charm, wit, grace or modesty he displays in public make the new, improved Andy Murray seem like George Clooney by comparison. He is not playing cricket for England out of patriotism, but because he felt the quota system by which his native South Africa tries to improve opportunities for black players hindered his own advancement. And though he is, at his best, an awesomely destructive batsman with a Test average very close to 50, there's always the suggestion that KP will put his own desire to show off ahead of the team's need to build an innings.
In the course of this season, Pietersen has done everything possible to reinforce the idea that he is a selfish, materialistic, disloyal egomaniac. He has been accused of sending texts to England's South African opponents describing his captain, Andrew Strauss, also born in South Africa, as a "doos" – Afrikaans slang for "dumb c***" – and offering tips on how to get him out. Pietersen marked England's defeat in the first Test by going out drinking with South African players.
This was the culmination of an entire summer of manoeuvring in which Pietersen tried to find a way of picking and choosing the various occasions on which he would make himself available to England. His problem has been that some England matches overlap with those of the Indian Premier League, the Twenty20 competition that is by far the richest in world cricket. The England management insists that Pietersen, like all its other centrally contracted players, must place his England duties first. But if he can play an entire IPL season, which occupies April and May, he stands to make in excess of £1.5m.
However unlikeable Pietersen may be, he has a point. Were I in his shoes, I'd be off to India and that seven-figure cheque like a shot. Nor would I have any qualms about deserting my country. Cricketers have every right to put their interests first given the way governing bodies have long exploited appeals to patriotic duty while imposing absurdly onerous schedules on their teams.
England's centrally contracted players live on a year-round treadmill of Test, 50-over and Twenty20 games. And with only eight seriously competitive nations, the vast majority of these fixtures are repetitive, meaningless and played before dwindling crowds. A drastic cut in the international schedule would add value to those games that remained and allow time for other forms of the game to flourish.
If England's players had any sense, they would support Pietersen's stand, whatever they might think of him as a man. If administrators were more flexible, they would accept that they are on a hiding to nothing. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. And even an objectionable egotist can do good for the game he both graces and, on occasion, degrades.
Why so few Olympic medals?
Speaking of the Indian Premier League, there's been little comment on the near-total failure of the Subcontinent's sportsmen and women at London 2012. India, with a population of 1.24 billion, managed two silver medals and four bronzes. Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh could not muster a single medal between them. Why not?
Poverty would be one obvious answer, though India now boasts its own billionaires, space programme and F1 team, so it can surely afford the odd sports facility. Another might be culture. How can young athletes develop without star predecessors to inspire them? And how can sportswomen thrive if religious radicalism diminishes opportunities? Perhaps the answer is physiological: a genetic mirror image to the advantages allegedly enjoyed by Afro-American and Caribbean sprinters.
These may be impossible questions to answer. But when more than a fifth of the world's human beings are winning less than 1 per cent of the Olympic medals, it's surely worth at least asking them.Reuse content