Getting topside.

I’m as fed up as you lot with the KP saga and can only justify writing about it by saying… consider this a fly swatted.

The major difficulties here, for me, are issues of timing and lack of clarity – and here I’m not talking about the actual batting.  KP should have been sacked (it would have been easier, England would have moved on) after the South Africa Strauss-subverting text fiasco, when it was plainer than ever that the man really has no conception of what the loyalty thing, the team unity thing is all about. There was a more genuine pretext then. Now it’s messier, partly because the ECB can’t say ‘look sorry we should have done this ages ago but… ya know…’

We’ve all always known Pietersen to be some either gorgeously or repellently exotic island – you make your case. But the fact that many of us would prefer to abandon a marooned KP to his own rather silly pomp than gather him in for a rescue, a singalong maybe and that chummy outward haul through the surf, speaks volumes. Many of us feel he’d never do his fair share of graft… and not all of that is envy of his gifts.

So the man’s a drain on the energies. He makes himself central. He does have an ego. Plus we’d be kidding ourselves, would we not, if we failed to acknowledge the politically sensitive subtext? That not only has the gifted one not generally truly been with us, he’s not truly one of ours, is he? Is he? (Make your case – I ain’t going there.)

And yet – depending on your personal location in the spectrum of tolerance/nationalism/downright bigotry – he’s either arguably England’s finest batsman ever, or (just) the finest batsman to play for England. Or the biggest talent? Or could take the game away from the opposition more dramatically than almost anyone we could think of – I think? Or not.  At least… he’s been really big. Like I said, he’s a drain on the energies.

I’m glad he’s gone and I want it to be over now. But the sniping persists because the Powers That Be have relinquished their power to control. They’ve shut up shop or just shut up. On the one hand I understand this; we know (really) that they can’t say the unsayable – why put yourself in that position? However, in the hugely frustrating void hooligans and Michael Vaughan and ooooh Piers Morgan have railed against their perceived cowardice , their lily-livered, old-school namby-pambi-ism.

You old farts just want Yes Men! Ya daren’t pick a bloody indeeviduall – a talent! Why dya drop ‘ im? We have a right to know! And by the way FREE NELSON MANDELA!!

Some of this stuff is fair enough. Which is why I come back to the timing – that and poor management of KP earlier in his England career.

Sir Geoffrey was really good on this in a column fut’ Telegraph. He argued well that KP should been slapped about a bit, or dropped, when he played shockingly irresponsibly. Good shout. For me, Pietersen, despite his impressive stats, has underachieved significantly for exactly this reason. Wickets thrown away in a moment of arrogance. That whole argument that he ‘must play his own way’. Cobblers. The essence of Test Cricket in particular, is the tactical and intelligent building of an innings; seeing and feeling and recognising the bigger picture rather than determining to show that chopsy bowler a thing or two and then blast on to glory.

Even in his alleged maturity, Pietersen has too often failed to see this. Because he’s KP. Somebody should gotta hold of that one early – got’ topside of ‘im’, as one of my old coaches would have said. Instead Pietersen has got away – sometimes majestically, sometimes infuriatingly – with just being him.

Being you is essential, of course in any endeavour, sporting or otherwise, but because there are pretty significant talents opposing you at the international level you have to have an appreciation of context, of the moment in the game. (I might add incidentally that at any level you also owe it to your mates, by the way. That minor sacrifice is one of the wonders of team sport.) Kevin Pietersen hasn’t been big on the team thing, though, has he? Ultimately, that’s caught up with him.

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Shine on

It’s a good time for cricket. Here in Wales, in GB and Ireland generally, it’s a good time. At my own club we have both alarmingly good activity and back-up for the kids and the seniors playing every week. Good people – and the ECB talks unashamedly loftily and ambitiously about producing better sportsmen and humans as well as better cricketers – with coaching which is typically helpful, fair, instructive, well-judged. Some of us, by current coaching protocols talk too much, but in general I am pleased to report strong numbers of boys and girls committing to the sport and a universally great attitude. (My own possee are brilliantly, refreshingly up for it and are supported superbly by parents or guardians.) Consequently, it’s a pleasure to be involved.

But where has this swell feeling come from? How much of it is due to the gathering momentum provided by successful England sides? Has the near-sensational TV coverage of recent times – where the poetic/dynamic/mesmeric nature of the game is literally being seen more clearly than ever before – had an energising effect? Does it matter why stuff’s going so well… and being rewarded by bums as it were, in pads? Possibly not.

Yet clearly having pretty close to the best women’s side in the world and now the male equivalent is at some level inspiring. Winning draws attention, attention can be good – especially if you have great role models/characters/guys or gals fans rate. Regrettably, even with an outstanding record over the last couple of years, our women stars are traceable only to the very few who follow further/deeper than the occasional media coverage deems worthy. A brilliant team remained sadly and predictably relatively faceless – even when Aussies were getting relentlessly tonked out of sight. For the blokes, it’s different.

And this may be inexcusable, but I would nevertheless like to make some comment on The Best Cricket Team in the World.

(I leave a para’ entirely out of smugness; for emphasis, in the unlikely hope that an Australian will ever read this blog).

Firstly, my pet theory. At the top level cricket is now a game for athletes; guys and gals who throw themselves around the place, who can sprint/dive/convincingly high five, or sport fashionable haircuts and go to hip nightclubs rather than the village pub. Or as well as the village pub. Occasionally. After important series have been won. None of this was achievable by Mike Gatting/Colin Cowdrey/generations, actually, of cricketers until about 2000. When it apparently became important to train for the thing.

Now, wonderfully, a kind of gnarly litheness is pretty much non-negotiable – Strauss being arguably the least gymnastic of a side full of tall, lean, cool(ish), good-looking, finely –honed sportsmen. And ludicrous as it might sound I am absolutely clear that this dramatic gearing-up in terms of dynamism, the dive around like a loony factor, has been essential to drawing in and keeping young hipsters involved. (Is it spooky but appropriate that I have associated cricket (of all things!) with ‘hipness’ twice now in two paragraphs?) See! Cooke is tall, dark and Englishly cool; Pietersen tall, near smouldering and transvaally gifted and cool; Swann tall, chopsy and mercurially sharp; Anderson creamy, athletic vanilla. Because they can all react like a bird-chasing cat and they love to dive round the place. Like kids.

Beyond this, I can tell you from personal experience that the system for developing coaches in UK cricket is particularly good – possibly the world leader? – and that the clobber/the kit/the facilities whilst inevitably variable, are generally adequate or substantially better. So it is a good time.

I find it kindof reassuring that in an age when the web of distractions/opportunities/pressures provided by the weapons of capitalism might either suffocate or entrance many kids back to the death-womb of their bedrooms (to ‘play’ with the latest weapons of capitalism), that increasing numbers of boy and girls are chucking a cricket ball about. A cricket ball, a proper one. That lovely aesthetic shiny red thing with a seam.