Like those poor exasperated nuns in The Sound of
Music, faced with solving a problem called Maria, the managers of England’s
cricket team must find a way to solve a problem called Kevin.
Kevin’s problem is not quite the same as Maria’s, though
they do share the knack of not quite fitting in with their colleagues. Lovable, perky, open-faced Maria simply
wanted to spend her days singing and dancing up in the Alpine meadows instead
of praying in a dank, gloomy nunnery. Unlovable,
prickly, open-mouthed Kevin is paid to play cricket, happens to be very good at
it, and is content to continue doing it, but has the same attitude to cricket as
Maria had to prayer: it’s something he’s
glad to spend time doing, but only when it is most convenient, or rather
lucrative, to him.
The choice for the England selectors is stark: give in
to him or get rid of him. The trouble is
that Kevin Pietersen, born and raised in South Africa – but with no discernible
allegiance to either the country of his birth or of his adoption – and driven
by an ego that would have embarrassed Napoleon, happens to be the best batsman
of his generation, perhaps of several generations. Only last week, he scored a magnificent
century that effectively saved England
I’ll spare you the details of the case, which readers with
no interest in cricket would find confusing, in favour of a summary. The essence of the Kevin problem is that,
while he is happy to continue to play for England in the long (5-day) form of
the game known as Test cricket, he has no further interest in the short forms
because those fixtures tend to clash with the schedule of the Indian
Professional League, one of whose teams is prepared to pay him £1.6 million for
about six weeks of work. Now, it turns
out, he would like to absent himself from some of the early-season Test
matches, too, for the same reason.
In the cricket world, opinion about Kevin seems to be
divided between those who say good luck to him for making lots of money while
he is able to, and those who feel he has betrayed the country that gave him the
opportunity to make a name for himself, and is now an unsettling influence in
The controversy, though overshadowed in the press by
the Olympic Games, rumbles on, with no resolution in sight. But resolution there must be, probably by the
end of the English cricket season, and before England
embarks on a tour to India.
My attitude is absolute. Let him go.
Genius he may be – and, yes, I know genius comes with baggage – but England should
play Pietersen at his own game. The team
has exploited his best years and he now probably has only a couple left. His bloated self-regard, if now merely disruptive
in the dressing-room, will sooner or later prove to be destructive as well.
Kevin, go frolic in the crystalline mountains like
Maria, or feel free to make your fortune on the dusty plains of India.
Either way, just go.