Pietersen's grand entrance follows a dubious passage

Tanya Aldred
Monday February 14, 2005

What an entrance. Kevin Pietersen, in his first 11 one-day internationals, averages 139 with a strike rate of just over 100. But has he gone through the wrong door?

There are 246 Google entries for "Kevin Pietersen traitor". "Hansie Cronje traitor" brings up only 56. As Pietersen has been an international cricketer only since the end of November, that is pretty impressive.

He has a record of pissing people off. Jason Gallian, his captain at Nottinghamshire, threw his kit bag out of the window. His team-mates did not shed many tears when he left to go to Hampshire for the forthcoming season. His reaction to being sledged while playing against South Africa A was to denigrate the opposition as being "barely able to speak English" and he left the three lions on his helmet struggling for breath after a vigorous kissing session when he scored his first international century at Bloemfontein.

He is also cocksure. He has a dubious accent - a frothy cocktail of the Bow bells, Sheffield town hall and Durban beach. His hair had an accident with a bleach bucket. He is good, really good, and he knows it.

And of course he left his place of birth because he felt the quota system, introduced to try to right the wrongs of decades of apartheid, had worked against him. Thousands of white South Africans have done the same, but Pietersen - like the Durban-born Australian rugby union player Clyde Rathbone before him - has done it in the limelight.

Inevitably, his former compatriots, and a fair few of his new compatriots, do not like it. He has to live with the big three insults - mercenary, traitor, racist - and more beside. It is hard not to feel sorry for him when he has to suffer more taunts than Kepler Wessels - who played Test cricket for Australia before returning to captain South Africa - ever did.

So he is a tough cookie but face to face Pietersen is friendly, even a bit shy. Rodney Marsh praised him on the A tour of India in 2003-04, and not only for his ability: he was "always first on the coach in the morning and the last to leave practice". One can sense his desperation to fit in, which reached its epiphany with the promise to be tattooed with the three lions at the end of this tour.

"That's not a Christmas present, that's for life." he said. "If anybody comes up and tells me I'm not English, I'll be able to point to it and tell them they're wrong."

He should probably be told that most people who saw a man with that tattoo would walk the other way - sharply.

But, for all his talk and the rights or wrongs of his decision, one cannot help feeling that in the end Pietersen will miss out. If his talent keeps burning with the same fervour, and those in the know think it will, he has many years as an international cricketer ahead. That is a long time playing for a country that he decided to make home only as an adult.

If as a 21-year-old he had closed his ears to the entreaties of the former South Africa captain Clive Rice, then in charge of Nottinghamshire, and stuck it out at home, he would surely have made the team being built under Graeme Smith out of the ashes of Cronjegate.

He could have been the hero, to whites and blacks, been part of building a new nation. He could have walked out to roars at The Wanderers and not had to see his parents in tears as they heard their son being jeered by his former fellow countrymen. He could have sung the national anthem of the country of his birth and spent his time off surfing in the sun.

Instead he will be English but not quite. The wall of sound that greets Andrew Flintoff at Lord's will never be his, even if he repeats his wondrous winter in southern Africa against Australia this summer. And however passionate he is about his new country, and he is certainly putting in the hard work, how much would it really mean for him to be part of a team that finally regained the Ashes?

More trivially he will have to suffer long hours of dressing-room talk of old television programmes and schoolboy number ones without joining in. And, as Graeme Hick or Andrew Caddick could tell him, being a foreigner in one's own team means the knives are sharpened more quickly when a bad patch is hit.

No comments :

Post a Comment