English cricket is in a state of mourning. Recent weeks could best be described as a farce and if England harbour any chance of regaining the ashes come the summer, it is a period both the players and coaching staff should look to put behind them. One man in particular will be looking to rebuild his reputation following this inexplicable public dispute. Kevin Pietersen has certainly seen better days and the only way he can begin his equinox is by knuckling down, keeping as low a profile as possible, and proving to his teammates he is capable of moving on by performances both in training and on the cricket field. At this stage in time, the jury is still out on K.P. the man; however, his calibre as a cricketer is without question. This is the route he should pursue for public salvation. The one thing stopping him? The same thing that hindered Hitler, Stalin and Mugabe. Pride.
There is an argument in sport that if you were to take away the one part of an individual’s personality that keeps it ticking, it would hinder them when they cross the white line. Countless times Sir Alex Ferguson has said of his tenacious forward Wayne Rooney that if he were to quell his appetite for the game, and channel his aggression away from the sport, it would lead to Rooney being half the player. Although Pietersen does not possess such an aggressive quality as Rooney, or Andrew Flintoff for that matter, he has this individualism and roaming spirit that needs to be unleashed. Who can forget his reverse sweep that went for six against Sri Lanka at Edgbaston in the second test in 2006? Pure genius (sigh). Such maverick skill, so unconventional and difficult to execute, is rarely seen and was rightly celebrated.
Is such a personality suitable for the role as England cricket captain, one might ask? I would be inclined to suggest it is not. But what makes a captain? Strength of character is an attribute I would bring to the table. KP certainly has this; the public dispute with Moores proves he is firm in his thinking. It is just rather ironic that he has given up the captaincy to stick with such beliefs. Excellence in the particular field one is leading, and there is no questioning Pietersen excels at the sport. Leadership, and until this fiasco I would say he showed glimmers in his short spell. Leading his team out to India despite the security concerns following the tragic terrorist scenes in Mumbai was no easy course of action, and this brings me onto my next attribute: bravery. Such an act proves he is willing to fight for his adopted county when needs must.
Loyalty is the final quality Pietersen offers when dissecting this individual’s worth in the England fold. His allegiance to England, born from his displeasure at the racial quota system in place in the South African national side, is unquestionable. In the 2004-05 tour of Zimbabwe, several players voiced their disapproval with Robert Mugabe’s regime. Steve Harmison withdrew for “sporting and political reasons”, whilst Freddie Flintoff, after voicing is concerns with the moral justifications behind the tour, was “rested”. Pietersen jumped at the chance to represent England and, in the face of adversity, hit an average of 104 in the five match ODI series, helping England to a 4-0 series whitewash. In his first encounters against South Africa, only called into the squad following injury to the aforementioned Flintoff, KP was subjected to boos and catcalls from hostile wherever he played. Labelled a traitor he said:
“I knew I was going to cop a lot of stick...I expected stick at the start of the innings, and I'm sure it will carry on through the whole series. But I just sat back and laughed at the opposition, with their swearing and 'traitor' remarks... some of them can hardly speak English. My affiliation is with England... In fact, I'm going to get one of (Darren) Gough's tattoos with three lions and my number underneath...No one can say I'm not English”
Enough said on allegiance.
Despite such a strong loyalty and commitment to the England cause, making him a prime candidate to replace Michael Vaughan last summer, there are elements of his character which made him a dubious decision for captaincy. Teamwork is a quality a captain must have in abundance and despite spectators not being afforded the luxury of the England dressing room, Pietersen’s character suggests he is at his best as an individual. He plays to the rhythm of his own tune and what this fiasco proves is that he cannot cope with the pressures of leading a group.
Professionalism is another element which has been open to question with Pietersen. Whilst rumours of a rift between the England captain and coach surfaced this winter, KP was sunning himself in southern Africa. Instead of sorting out the indifferences that were obviously apparent man to man, face to face with Moores, Pietersen seemingly looked to avoid the situation, leaving it to simmer until it reached an irreconcilable boiling point.
Kevin Pietersen is a world class cricketer, both in test cricket and in the shorter forms of the game. His indifferences with Peter Moores exploded onto the public radar recently and the repercussions are still being felt. Andrew Strauss will lead England forward, and one hopes such a kerfuffle will not hinder the team too much as the Ashes approach. If England are to get the best out of its star, it will be as a squad player, rather than as captain. For Pietersen, this may well end up being the best thing to have happened to him, as the shackles of captaincy have been lifted. Expect fireworks the next time he pulls on the three lions jersey, for he more than anyone will be looking to set the record straight. England and cricket fans the world over will be hoping for more magic over the coming years from this nonconformist. However, he must put aside his differences with the ECB and look to the future if this is to be the case.