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The strange case of Kevin Pietersen
As Kevin Pietersen joins a long line of twitter and text message casualties to have hit cricket in recent times, India is meditating on the bewildering links between the IPL, the Olympics and one batsman's prolonged rant against his English employers. Already well-versed in Lalit Modi and Shashi Tharoor's impetuous showcasing of the dark powers of social media, Indians would have recognized the irony in KP's enforced absence from the ongoing England-South Africa Test at Lord's, where arrows of the more literal kind were being flung with impunity just days earlier. Our South Africa-born protagonist - who is, of course, adored in India as long as he confines himself to hitting sixes for his IPL team - must be wondering how he got his timing all wrong. Meanwhile, the dyed-in-the-wool conformists in the England Cricket Board, for whom the IPL and tweets seem a complete anathema, are trying to resolve an electronic war after having pulled the plug on their most successful import. Parts of this delightful tragicomic puzzle lie in the feeds from the now-deleted, mock-KP twitter account called 'KP Genius' which contributed to the deep scars in the England dressing room. Started by a friend of pacer Stuart Broad - who has, of course, duly apologized along with Broad himself - the KP 'parody' feed reveals itself to be in poor taste, more snide public-school bullying than any real attempt at humour. KP didn't like it, especially when the primary followers turned out to be some of his teammates.
One tweet ran, "Confused genius. Future undecided. Love India. " Compare this with some of KP's own unforgettable comments: "The English are jealous of the IPL", or even better: "I'm not English. I just work here. "
One more gem from the parody account, right after Pietersen's memorable 149 against Headingley, went: "The world hasn't experienced genius like KP's over the last few days since an apple fell on Isaac Newton's head. " Pietersen's retort? "It's tough being me in this dressing room. "
The mock account, though, wasn't to blame for KP's ouster. Neither were the lofty pronouncements at press conferences, the contractual disputes or the batsman's own weekly prevarications over which format to represent England in. Or what format of online video to record his retraction on.
The clear statement of intent that he wanted to justify his $2. 3 million contract and play the full next season of the IPL, instead of some Tests against lowly New Zealand, may well have been tolerated too. Pietersen, though, painted a bright bull's eye over his chest by batting for the IPL when every other England teammate is wary of annoying his home board over the issue.
Push came to shove only when it was revealed that KP had texted unsavoury things about captain Andrew Strauss to some of his friends in the South African team. The batsman had finally been caught and bowled.
"It's funny but at the same time immensely sad, given that Pietersen is at the peak of his powers. Why wasn't he forgiven even after apologizing for the texts and admitting he needed to rein himself in? His repatriation in the England team will be a long time coming, " feels noted social scientist Shiv Visvanathan, who has followed the issue with keen interest since it's "too interesting to pass by".
Visvanathan says, "Apart from him being an outsider, the other issues in KP's ouster from the team are the Olympics and the IPL. KP's antics appeared unforgivable amid the nationalistic, jingoistic wave which swamped England during the Games. "
At the time Pietersen's self-indulgent YouTube video was causing a furore, the Somalia-born Mo Farah won the 5000 metres and became the toast of a nation. Farah too is genuinely gifted, but unlike KP he appeared humble, soft-spoken and thankful for his acceptance in English society.
Then, of course, there is Pietersen's long history of dressing room fallouts, whether in Kwazulu-Natal, Nottinghamshire or Hampshire. There was the Peter Moores saga. Incidentally, Strauss himself is SA-born, teammate Jonathan Trott is South African, and they seem to get along okay in England.
Says Visvanathan, "KP failed the nationality test in England. He has been branded as 'self-centred' and 'narcissistic' and has made it plain he wanted to earn more money through the IPL. Just read the comments on KP from opinion-makers in the British media and you get the picture.
"During the Olympics, England hoisted the flag and expected everyone to line up. Also, the English feel culturally threatened by the IPL, so it's a deep-seated, almost subconscious antipathy which the establishment has against players like KP. In England, if you're against the textbook, you're wrong. "
As it stands, Pietersen is just one ton behind England's alltime Test centuries record of 22, held by Geoffrey Boycott (no stranger to being dropped unceremoniously after a tall innings ), Colin Cowdrey and Walter Hammond. His contribution to modern batting has been immense. In full flow, his aggressive attitude, one-legged whips, savage pulls and switch hits are a treat to watch. "I am who I am, I shoot from the hip. I bat like that and I speak like that, " he once said. Yet, in the modern game, no one is indispensable. If England want, they can move on from KP without undue consequences.
Anshuman Gaekwad, who as a former India Test player, managercoach and selector has seen it all, offers an interesting viewpoint: "Look at how the Indian board handled the rift in the team between Sehwag and Dhoni. They successfully brushed it under the carpet. They could do this because in India, we're happy with what is being said as long as it's coming from the mouth of authority. We pretend that certain things don't happen. Even in the media, we chase quotes from people in power. We don't often counter question. English cricket and society doesn't function like that. There were bound to be questions and action needed to be taken. "
Visvanathan agrees: "The British could do with some of our doublespeak. To some extent we should allow players some erratic behaviour. These are the characters who make cricket a sport of personalities, which is the way it was supposed to be. I hate the dull manner in which Indian cricketers speak, as if they are always looking over their shoulder. "
Pietersen quit South African shores at the turn of the millennium because of what he felt was reverse racism: he had issues with the affirmative action which he felt offered blacks opportunities on a platter. Judging by how the SA team of the next decade turned out, KP got the timing wrong then too.
Gaekwad says, "Agreed that KP has qualified to play for England;he did his time in the counties too. But at the end of the day, what he did was wrong. He is an opportunist. He built his reputation in England. What was he in South Africa? If you work in a country which is not yours, you are like a beggar. He had no right to say anything against England. "
It's a pity, for the enjoyment of English cricket has reduced greatly in Pietersen's absence. KP will argue that he has a gift and a right not to kowtow. But even he will know private apologies must follow public ones if he is to save his England career. If that doesn't work out, we hear there's a YouTube production in the works titled, 'What KP did next'. The search is on for a good script.
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