‘Unprecedented,’ was what Andy Flower called it, and given that he was still in school when Geoffrey Boycott was creating all manner of havoc on England’s tour of India in 1981, his hyperbole was understandable. On that tour, Boycott was forced to apologise to the team for his antics, which he did, according to one member of that tour party, on a scrap of paper drilled into a wooden cabinet in the team-room by way of a corkscrew.
There are not many similarities in the way that Kevin Pietersen and Boycott bat or apologise, but in the circus that has come to surround Pietersen there are many echoes of Yorkshire’s favourite son. Yesterday’s performance took place in the bowels of the Cinnamon Grand hotel in Colombo, the only certainty out of which came the news that Pietersen is once again under England contract- if not, in the way of things, their control.
The nitty-gritty of the press conference is worth recounting, because it highlights just how ludicrous this business has become. Before Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman, and Pietersen arrived, prior negotiations were necessary: three questions only was the stipulation, from pre-agreed interrogators. For your information, the Times was one source, the Daily Mail another and Sky Television the third. Nobody could work out whether this was a badge of honour or shame, although those charged with asking suddenly felt nervous. Who, we wondered in the way of opening batsmen, should take first strike?
Clarke and Pietersen arrived, suited and booted in sombre blue. They had been involved in conversations for two and half hours earlier in the day, but neither that, nor their proximity on stage, was fooling anyone. They loathe each other, and have done ever since Pietersen was removed from the England captaincy four years ago. This was strictly business.
Clarke opened by reading a pre-prepared statement which talked of the process by which Pieteresen’s reintegration into the team would begin. There is no time-frame on this and Flower, still sore by all accounts, is the key player here. On he is satisfied it opens the way for the National Selector to consider Pietersen for selection. Clarke’s statement reiterated Pietersen’s apology and denial that, to the best of his (Pietersen’s) memory, the famous text messages were not derogatory towards the England captain or ECB employees, nor did they contain tactical give-aways.
One began to wonder, on the back of these further denials, what exactly Pietersen has done. We have heard plenty about what he hasn’t, but precious little, since neither party were prepared to discuss it, about what he did do, save behave like a prima-donna for the best part of a few months. There has been a deliberate humbling here, a slapping down of a player who, in his desire to play fast and loose with the terms of his contract, had become a little too big for his boots.
Turning away from his statement, Clarke conceded that Pietersen had signed a four-month contract- a period of probation, if you like- during which this re-integration process will be conducted and after which, if successful, he will sign an extended contract to run through to September 2013. And then, just to show how the key players have lost sight of just how nonsensical this all sounds, Clarke talked of the need to ‘rehabilitate offenders into society.’ It made Pietersen sound like a combination of the Yorkshire Ripper and Charles Manson.
Now it was Pietersen’s turn and once again he was in apologetic mode (although nobody was quite sure still what he was apologising for.) Playing for England, he said, is the pinnacle of his career and he would very much like an opportunity to have another go, hence his commitment to completing the ‘reintegration process’ and to committing to England in all forms of the game until the 2015 World Cup, ‘or as long as my body allows.’
Given Pietersen’s numerous volte-faces over the years, he is best judged on his strokeplay in the middle rather than his language in a press conference. He left himself enough wriggling room should things go wrong: the nature of the text messages were denied ‘to the best of his recollection’ and the potential stresses on his body that he referred to were the reason for retiring mid-summer in the first place. They may, of course, return.
Then came the flourish for which a Pietersen press conference is famous. He’d like it, he said, if his little boy could watch him play for England again, and, indeed, if his little boy could one day play for England himself. Clarke did not visibly blanch at this, but one supposes that the ECB have had their fill of one Pietersen, never mind two.
Pietersen, then, has done what he needs to do to get his place back; that is to say, he has eaten some humble pie, said the right things and notionally committed himself to England again. Until the time comes to reverse that. Certainly he has been chastened and he will not forget this episode in a hurry.
When he does return to the England team- and the smart money is now on an early return for the India Test series- the question is this: will he return as a Tigger that has lost his bounce, or as one full of the kind of verve that he showed when scoring 149 against South Africa at Headingley, just prior to the fateful press conference at which he complained ‘it is difficult being Kevin Pietersen’ which led all the way to the Cinnamon Grand yesterday.
In the absence of anyone explaining what exactly Pietersen has done wrong- the three questions, by the way, were brushed aside yesterday in a desire ‘to move on’- the whole thing has taken on a ridiculous air. The hubris of those senior players who believed that their success was down to intangibles such as ‘mutual trust’ has hopefully been shown-up for what it was, and on the back of yesterday’s solemnity and posturing those running English cricket, and Pietersen himself, need to remember it is a cricket team we are talking about here.
An important cricket team, but just a cricket team, nonetheless. ends