Any cricket enthusiast will know that Kevin Pietersen has never been a man to shy away from the limelight, but even the greatest supporter of South-African born cricketer could never have foreseen an event that has divided English cricket to such a detrimental effect. Despite the leaked ECB ‘dossier’ which addressed issues of Pietersen’s personality, such as his description of Alastair Cook’s “weak and tactically inept” captaincy, Pietersen’s autobiography release has and will continue to cast doubt over the future of English cricket.
What was extremely striking from Pietersen’s autobiography was the manner in which he criticised key players within the England dressing room and set-up. Pietersen singles out many of his former team-mates, but none more so than wicketkeeper Matt Prior, or ‘the Big Cheese’, as he is referred to in the book, who is accused of being ‘a classroom bully’ and someone who is ‘not captaincy material or even vice-captaincy material’. However, Pietersen extended his attack to the England coaching staff, in particular Andy Flower, who left his position as coach following the disastrous Ashes tour down under at the back end of last year, and Peter Moores, who was removed as coach in January 2009 at the same time as Pietersen was stripped of the captaincy following their very public fall out. Flower was somewhat poetically described as ‘contagiously sour, infectiously dour’ and a ‘Mood Hoover’ who ‘could walk into a room and suck all the joy out of it in five seconds’, whilst Moores was portrayed as a woodpecker ‘tapping on our heads, all day, every day’.
Despite his attack on the England set-up, what is probably most worrying is how the problems he identified in his autobiography are similarly noticeable in his own personality. His claims that he wanted to slap both off-spinner Graeme Swann and fast bowler Stuart Broad as ‘they felt that as bowlers they were well within their rights to be angry and aggressive towards the fielders’ was excessive, if not bizarre. Whereas here Pietersen feels the bowlers were discouraging the fielders, Pietersen had no qualms in telling Andy Flower that he felt Nottinghamshire’s James Taylor was not ready to face the wrath of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel at Headingley due to his height, which similarly would have destroyed Taylor’s confidence even before his international career had begun. One of the finest batsmen the world has ever seen in Sachin Tendulkar only stood at a mere 165cm and was facing the likes of Waqar Younis at the age of sixteen, and while it would be wrong to suggest that Taylor possesses the talent Tendulkar had, it would be equally as wrong to dismiss Taylor as an international batsmen simply because of his height. Similarly, Pietersen explains how he felt hurt at the ‘KP Genius’ Twitter account, especially considering the accusations that some of his own England team-mates, namely Broad, Swann and Tim Bresnan, were behind the account in 2012, all of whom have denied any involvement regarding the account. Whilst Pietersen was ‘mentally shot’ about fellow team-mates running a parody account about him, nothing stood in the way of the 34 year-old from sending texts to the South Africans regarding the then England captain Andrew Strauss. Surely if Pietersen had been that isolated he would have restrained from criticising his own captain, even though many of the South African players are his friends. Whilst the trio supposedly behind the parody account may or may not have acted unprofessionally, there can be no doubt that England’s leading runscorer in all forms of international cricket demonstrated a lack of professionalism through ‘textgate’.
International recognition and debate regarding the autobiography has only further increased the pressure on the ECB and Pietersen. Former South Africa captain Graeme Smith weighed into the debate by backing Pietersen and the comment he made regarding the ‘bullying’ culture that existed in the England dressing room. Smith was no less controversial, adding that he personally experienced the bullying culture when South Africa faced England. Former Australia captain Ricky Ponting went a step further by naming James Anderson and Graeme Swann as the ‘so-called leaders’ who would ‘swear and shout’ at a misfield or a dropped catch. Despite the views of former captains of other nations who played against this era of English cricket, it is perhaps the captain of the current era, Alastair Cook, whose views are the most revealing, with the opening batsmen believing that the autobiography has ‘tarnished’ one of England’s most successful eras. However, there is no doubt many people aligned with Cook when he described it as a ‘really sad week for cricket’, an issue which we have not fully discovered the damage of. Will Pietersen’s work encourage more cricketers to give their views on how the atmosphere within a dressing room can turn so oppressive? The only facts we do know are that Pietersen has, through his autobiography, disrupted the harmony within the England set-up, and has forced commentators such as Jonathan Agnew to describe his character as ‘anxious’ and ‘nervous’. Without wanting to sound clichéd, a line will have to be drawn under this for England, and particularly the ECB, to move forward, but it will be the lines in Pietersen’s autobiography that will remain long in the memory.