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KP: THE BOOK

THE BOOK is out.  You know the one I mean, the one we’ve been waiting for all summer.  Now, finally, the long-promised bombshells have been dropped. 

It’s an autobiography, by the way, and it’s called, simply, KP.   

That title, it must be said, sums up the author.  It assumes that every prospective reader will know who or indeed what a KP is.  So, in case you’re not of the English persuasion, or even if you are but confine your newspaper reading to sections other than the sports pages, perhaps I ought to explain just that.  

The KP in question is Kevin Pietersen.  If you still have to ask who Kevin Pietersen is, I suggest you skip what follows altogether. 

KP is a former England cricketer – indeed a former England cricket captain.  His book fits that hallowed publishing soubriquet ‘long-awaited’ because KP happens to have been, by general consent, the best England batsmen of his generation, arguably one of the best of all time.  It also so happens that, despite his many glorious exploits on the playing field, he was twice fired by the English cricket authorities, first as captain, later as a player.  His crimes and misdemeanours were of a heinous nature, at least by the genteel standards of the world of cricket.  

KP, as is well known, had ‘issues’.  He had issues with the powers-that-be (you may choose to phrase that vice versa).  He had issues with his coach.  He had issues with his team-mates.  In short, KP had issues with just about everyone.  KP could create an issue with a one-legged blind man in a care home.  The problem was plain to see, plain because KP made sure it was on display at all times.  The problem may be defined according to taste, or prejudice, but either way seems to distil down to one thing: an inability to get on with anyone unable to match up to KP’s idea of genius. 

KP’s idea of genius is, of course, himself.   

A South African by birth and upbringing, KP was entitled to play for England by virtue of an English mother and, as if that was not quite enough, a convention that obliged him to serve a four-year ‘period of qualification’.  In his native land he was scorned as a cynical turncoat, in his adopted land as a greedy mercenary.  Being unloved in both might have been a heavy burden to bear for a lesser man, but then KP was never a lesser man.  And anyway, after a while he became accustomed to being unloved, wherever he resided or whatever passport he used.

KP disarmed the sceptical English by batting with flamboyant if erratic brilliance.  He entered an England team that, while showing signs of promise, notably lacked players of genius or charisma.  He provided both.  Occasionally, actually quite often, he would resurrect latent resentments by getting out cheaply with an ungainly swipe at the ball.  But when he was on song, happily demolishing the best bowling attacks in the world, the doubts receded.  His skills were deployed according to mood.  

We often call people like him mercurial.  KP had more mercury than a thermometer factory. 

While KP was adept at destroying opponents on the field, he was equally prone to offending colleagues off it.  A refusal to suffer fools gladly might have been a virtue if it had been applied solely to his enemies.  When applied to friends it became a vice.  And applied it was, freely and frequently, to managers, coaches and team-mates.   

The Pietersen Affair, as we shall no doubt come to call it, came to the boil last winter, when the England team, having beaten Australia in the summer, went down under for a return engagement.  The crisis had been simmering for years, since his dismissal as captain – the result of a falling-out with the then coach – and the ‘textgate’ incident – in which he tweeted friends in the South African team, playing against England at the time, some choice words about his captain Andrew Strauss, a gentleman if ever there was one (and also, incidentally, a fellow South African). 

The England team arrived in Australia as firm favourites, a fatal burden as it turned out, as England was soundly and to some inexplicably thrashed.   The margin of defeat, five matches to nil, was so decisive that it could only be well deserved.  But what caused the anguish in the ranks of English cricket-lovers was not so much the defeat itself – which can be attributed to a stupendous performance by Australia’s once wayward but recently rejuvenated fast bowler Mitchell Johnson – as the manner of the defeat.  The England performance was, in a word, supine.  There is another word that dare not speak its name, although the jubilant Australians failed to refrain from uttering it at every opportunity.

That England had fallen apart on the field was at least excusable, given Mitchell’s onslaught, but plainly something was amiss off the field as well.  One leading player had to be sent home suffering from stress.  Another quit half way through the series.  And all the while stories emerged of dissention among the players.  What they were dissenting from was something of a mystery, but speculation was rife, even before the plane took the disgraced squad back home. 

The coach’s management had been inept, it was whispered.  The captain’s tactics had been pathetic, it was yelled.  Some players, it was hinted, had formed a clique and had bullied newcomers in the dressing-room. 

An army of cricketing sleuths was soon on the case.  They descended in perfect formation on precisely the same dark recess – the corner occupied by KP, a corner to which by all accounts he had been banished as the primary cause of the team’s decline. 

These amateur investigations produced more noise than light.  And no more light was shed even after the tourist’s plane had touched down at Heathrow; or even when, shortly afterwards, the world’s best batsman, and the sport’s best crowd-pleaser, was advised by the England cricket management that he had been fired. Or, as the authorities more delicately put it, would no longer be invited to play a part in England’s cricket future.

The news divided the nation.  Or at least divided that small part of the nation which cared one way or the other what had happened to KP – or even, it must be said, to English cricket.  The opposing camps did at least agree on one thing: KP could be and probably had been a pain in the arse. Their differences hinged not on that point but on the question of whether it represented a grievous fault or merely a minor irritation.  

Genius, KP’s supporters proclaimed, ought to be accommodated, whatever the cost.  Genius, their opponents responded – more or less echoing the view of management – was all well and good, but in KP’s case enough had gone well beyond enough.

KP took the time off to count his money and lick his wounds, all the while remaining uniquely silent.  He had not, though, suddenly acquired an instinct for diplomatic niceties.  He was bound by a contract.  In return for whatever payoff he got when his England contract was terminated, he had signed a legally-binding non-disclosure agreement.  The term ran for six months, which time he could either spend in quiet contemplation of his fate, or in plotting his revenge.  There are no prizes for guessing which was chosen.

I have not read KP.  I doubt that I will.  The newspaper coverage has been so extensive, not to say wildly excessive, that the book would be an anti-climax.  In it, according to press reviews, the author has mounted the defence of his reputation in the form of attack on the reputations of his erstwhile colleagues.   Interestingly, his targets seem to have been chosen carefully, perhaps on advice of counsel, each one having since retired from the scene, while those still active have been spared altogether.  The explanation offered is that KP still nurtures the hope of a return to the England team. 

The consensus is that the polar icecap would have to melt first.

The controversy will meanwhile rumble on, doubtless to the delight of KP’s publisher, rolling the printing presses as the Christmas season approaches.

I must confess to having been absorbed by each new revelation in the papers.  Absorbed rather than thrilled, mind, as neither KP nor his adversaries are doing cricket or themselves a service.  But the scandal will blow over soon enough.  Life will go on.  The game will survive, or not, on its merits.  And next summer, the Australians, and Mitchell Johnson, will arrive for a fresh Ashes encounter.

Now I hear you asking, as is only right, whose side I am on. 

Let me, as a postscript, sum up my position. 

First I apologise to all those readers to whom cricket is an unfathomable and irrelevant lunacy. 

Second, it is my view that KP, for all his talent, has finally become what many suspected he had been all along: a less than useful idiot. 

Third, the English cricket establishment continues to demonstrate, in the KP affair as in many others, a grasp of management barely sufficient to organise a celebration in a brewery. 

Fourth, in the final analysis – and in full acknowledgement that such a conclusion flies in the face of the above long-winded prognostications – who gives a damn?     

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