We live in an age of sanitised sports stars. Player agents and PR representatives, determined to ensure nothing comes in the way of their client landing the next big endorsement deal with a Cola brand or hair-gel manufacturer, chisel away at any elements of their personalities they think may elicit controversy. It is against this backdrop that Kevin Pietersen, the flamboyant England and Delhi Daredevils batsman, emerges as, if not a breath of fresh air, then at least a dense, colourful fog that provides some relief from the cloying, pristine atmosphere.
That is why Pietersen’s autobiography, which was released yesterday, was one of the most awaited sports books in recent times. Pietersen, whose South African roots raised eyebrows from the minute he was selected to play for England, endured a rocky nine-year career in the England Test team, that ended with him being unceremoniously sacked after England’s disastrous 2013-14 tour of Australia. His autobiography, titled simply KP: The Autobiography, is, as expected, an invective against the English cricket board, the England team’s culture, his former coach Andy Flower and some of his former team-mates.
In the book, Pietersen says there was a culture of bullying in the England cricket team and accuses his former team-mates of having started the infamous @KPgenius Twitter account that was used to mock him in 2012. “A clique choked our team… If you’re outside that clique, you were fair game for mocking, ridicule, bullying,” Pietersen writes.
His sacking, he says, was the board’s means of finding a scapegoat after the humiliation England had endured in Australia. He admits to having had a “huge argument” with then coach Flower in a team meeting before the final Test of the Ashes tour, and says that from then on, he “had a sense that the inner circle were telling each other that they had to find some way to get rid of me”. About a month later, he met Paul Downton, the new managing director of England cricket, who told him he had looked disengaged from the rest of the team. Pietersen rubbishes Downton’s statements, saying the only time he may have looked slightly disgruntled was while fielding in the outfield, where he was subjected to constant abuse from Australian fans. His next meeting with Downton took place in a hotel room in the presence of England captain Alastair Cook. Dowton told him he was no longer going to be a part of the team while Cook, according to Pietersen, “was looking at something really fascinating on his shoe”.
While Cook is described as a nice man in an invidious position, the same restraint is not shown in the denouncement of some of Pietersen’s other former colleagues. Fast bowler Stuart Broad is referred to as “not the brightest tool in the box” while Flower is called a “Mood Hoover” who “could walk into a room and suck all the joy out of it in five seconds”. The most caustic language, though, is reserved for wicketkeeper Matt Prior, who is referred to mockingly as the Big Cheese, or, in some places, Le Grand Fromage. David Walsh, who ghost wrote the book, uses a string of witticisms to lampoon Prior, who comes out of it looking more like a boisterous clown than the world-class cricketer he was. Pietersen’s main grouse against Prior is that despite him being a bully and a loudmouth in the dressing-room, he was portrayed as the perfect team man, while Pietersen himself was always left looking like the temperamental rebel.
While the sheer pungency of the language keeps one entertained through most of the book, it does appear, in parts, that Pietersen is overplaying the role of victim. He says his reputation was never fully restored after he was painted as the villain in the fracas that saw England coach Peter Moores sacked in 2009. Pietersen was captain of the team at the time and made public statements that seemed to compromise Moores’s position as the leader of the team. In his book, however, Pietersen says he was merely giving voice to a belief most of the players had and that he only suggested to the board that the team could not move forward with Moores. Pietersen resigned as captain immediately after Moores was sacked.
On his conflict with Andrew Strauss, Pietersen admits to having sent South African cricketers texts deriding Strauss, but says he never used the particular Afrikaans curse word the media said he had used. With surprising honesty, he says he does have some regrets about leaving South Africa to play in England. “I realise too that South Africa was my first home and my real home,” he writes.
KP: The Autobiography has received predictably polar reactions. While former opponents Ricky Ponting and Graeme Smith have backed Pietersen’s allegations of bullying being rampant in the England setup, former England players Graeme Swann and Andrew Strauss have dismissed the book as “rumour” and “fiction”. Meanwhile, a document detailing some of the complaints the English board had against Pietersen has been leaked to the media. The board had earlier declared there to be a dossier on Pietersen’s misdemeanours, on which the decision to let him go had been based. Pietersen alleges in his book that the dossier did not exist. The document leaked to the media, while not a dossier, does accuse Pietersen of having berated team-mates in meetings and having threatened to go home from the Ashes series if England did not win the third Test.
The overriding reaction to the book, though, is one of sadness that the autobiography of a man who is, after all, England’s leading run-scorer in Tests, and one of the most talented batsmen of our times, contains so little cricket and so much bitterness.
KP: The Autobiography is published by Sphere. It is available on Amazon for Rs 1,477. The Kindle edition costs Rs 999.