Batsman provides fascinating account of a period when English cricket went from world dominance to devasting decline
Towards the end of Kevin Pietersen’s 324-page exercise in telling his side of a story that has convulsed English cricket and will continue to reverberate for some time to come, he reflects, almost in passing: “There should be more cricket in these pages.”
The fact that there is so little – aside from a fascinating few pages where he deconstructs the dread and fear that Mitchell Johnson inspired last winter – is as damning an indictment as any of the way in which the England dressing room and boardroom became riven with petty politics.
In doing so, Pietersen provides a fascinating – if, inevitably, wholly one-sided – account of a period when English cricket went from world dominance to devastating decline and during which the wider sport is facing unprecedented pressure from within and without.
But the book is also a portrait of what happens when all the accoutrements of modern, high-performance sport run up against a maverick genius who refuses to fit in.
“Flower didn’t grow players by nurturing individual talents, he created a regime.” Pietersen means it as one of the worst insults he can think of, Andy Flower may take it as a compliment.
It is partly a story as old as sport, but is becoming more pronounced in an age of “marginal gains” where everything can be measured. Pietersen is deeply suspicious of statistics, hates team meetings, rails against “ridiculous, army style training” and “pictures in our underwear” to measure body fat.
Flower was fine, he says, five per cent of the time. “The other 95% of the time he was fucking horrendous. They say don’t sweat the small stuff. Andy never found any stuff that was too small to sweat over,” he writes. “Or too small to make someone else sweat over.”
Meanwhile, English cricket continued to pretend it was business as usual. Key figures at the England and Wales Cricket Board, who said they had been requesting a copy of the book since mid-August but had not been supplied with one, insisted they were not scouring Twitter like everyone else.
The ECB chairman, Giles Clarke, one of the administrators damned by Pietersen as inhabiting a world of “small time politicians and bluff merchants”, was overseeing bids for the International Cricket Council’s media rights and professed not to have read the book or the accompanying media blitz.
Paul Downton, the ECB managing director who comes under fire for casting Pietersen into the international wilderness, was on stage at Lord’s – but talking about a grassroots cricket awards ceremony rather than the book that was obsessing everyone else.
Andy Flower, the “contagiously sour infectiously dour mood hoover”, who remains a powerful figure within the ECB hierachy and is remorselessly targeted by Pietersen, was not picking up his phone.
Nor was Peter Moores, the current coach who also preceded Flower during Pietersen’s short-lived spell as captain and is described as “obsessed with micro-managing every minute of everyone’s day”. In their feigned indifference, they perhaps protested too much.
The attempt to paint his former friend Matt Prior (who swaggers around calling himself the Big Cheese or just Cheese, for short) as the kingpin of a “bullying culture” at the heart of the dressing room is not always wholly convincing. But what does ring true is the extent to which all the internal battles and personality clashes are exacerbated by the relentless year-round grind of the modern cricket calendar.
Damning put-downs aside – Graeme Swann is a “sad, sad bastard”, Moores “a human triple espresso”, talking to Andrew Strauss about the IPL is like explaining “gangsta rap to a vicar” – what remains in outline is a portrait of what happens when a great team frays at the edges and then falls apart completely.
And, most clearly, a deep rift between a coach and his star player that simply could not be reconciled. “I was left feeling isolated and bullied, but nobody seemed too bothered as long as I did my performing seal routine when I went out to bat,” he says bitterly of what he sees as a lack of support from the England management.
At the heart of the book is the sense of injustice he feels at the way the “Text-gate” incident (when he exchanged messages about Strauss with the South Africans during a series) and the “Twitter-gate” saga (over a mocking KP parody account with links to the dressing room) were used against him.
But Flower’s supporters also believe that many of the criticisms in the book can be turned back on Pietersen. So whereas Pietersen claims he was the only one brave enough to stand up to “the Andys” [Flower and Strauss] and Cheese and his dressing room clique, the former head coach’s supporters would say he was the only one strong enough to stand up to Pietersen.
There is another intriguing thesis at the heart of Pietersen’s impassioned, angry book. It is that the ECB had the future of cricket in its hands in 2005 and dropped the ball.
He is scathing about the ECB’s inability to capitalise on cricket’s popularity at the height of the 2005 Ashes victory, implicitly criticising the decision to sell exclusive rights to Sky and explicitly criticising the cosy relationship between the broadcaster and the governing body.
Four years on he notes there was “no national frenzy” and by 2013 he describes the home Ashes series as “low key”.
“English cricket had something that it’s lost. Superstars. Sexiness. Momentum. The right to be called the national sport. You need stars if you want to grow your game,” says Pietersen, who is sneering about what he sees as the ECB’s failure to capitalise on Twenty20 and a tendency to look down on the IPL. “English cricket took the decision to wind its neck back in. I never did that.”
As throughout, he conflates his own personal fortunes with those of the wider game. Yet it is in those passages, rather than the ones devoted to settling personal scores, that the ECB might do well to reflect – once it finally gets its hands on the book.
via the guardian