Kevin Pietersen, the Misunderstood Maverick
When the axe fell on Kevin Pietersen's decade-long England career following last winter's 5-0 Ashes humiliation, everyone involved in the gentleman's game knew that the one thing the maverick batsman was not capable of was staying tight-lipped.
Maverick, innovator, game-changer, big-hitter, showman - accolades that Kevin Pietersen has lapped up ever since he decided to up sticks from his native South Africa and try his luck in England. (Vaughan Slams ECB Charges Against Pietersen)
But when the axe fell on his decade-long England career following last winter's 5-0 Ashes humiliation, everyone involved in the gentleman's game knew that the one thing Pietersen was not capable of was staying tight-lipped.
A gagging order imposed by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) might have kept waters calm for eight months but this week a tsunami of tales have been unleashed ahead of the launch of Pietersen's biography - KP - with the explosive revelations matching his blistering batting style. (Kevin Pietersen Slams 'Bullying' Culture)
Tales of betrayal, back-stabbing, playground bullies, coaching tyrants and unfair dismissals span 317 gripping pages in the book and in the process have ripped the heart out of English cricket. (Read: Ponting backs Pietersen's claims)
Pietersen accused former coach Andy Flower "of ruling by fear", while team mates Matt Prior,Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad were accused of bullying other members of the team. (Also read: Pietersen allegations saga rocks English cricket)
But despite the abrupt ending to his career, with Pietersen claiming he was made a scapegoat for voicing concerns about the workings of the team, the 34-year-old has no regrets about his decision to represent England rather than the land of his birth.
Sporting a rainbow-coloured loom band made by "my boy" -- his four-year-old son Dylan -- on his right wrist and a black diamond pendant he bought in India around his neck, Pietersen sat down for a chat with Reuters to discuss why he is such a polarising figure.
And why the ECB "can't have the maverick ... who does extraordinary things on the field and then have a choir boy off it".
REUTERS: Do you feel betrayed by England?
PIETERSEN: "No, no, no, I had an unbelievably amazing career. I don't feel betrayed at all. It's the only route I have known, here in England. An opportunity to come to England, to play professional cricket, I didn't believe or realise that I'd end up with a career that I've had. I've lived the dream for years and years and years.
"It's a question about betrayal because of some little patches where I've been unhappy and a few things that have gone wrong.
"But the majority of the time it's been amazing. Absolutely amazing.
"I've played cricket all around the world. I've played at Lord's, Surrey's my home ground, I've played at all the South African grounds, the Indian grounds, the West Indian grounds, Sri Lankan grounds, the New Zealand grounds, the Australian grounds. You name it, I've been there.
"I've ticked all the boxes and I've won so many trophies with England. Why on earth would I sit here and say I have been betrayed? No chance."
REUTERS: You are the highest run-scorer for England, you are known as an innovator in cricket with the switch hit and the public still rate you highly - was it simply a clash of personalities or jealousy or misunderstandings that caused things to go so wrong with your some of your England team mates?
PIETERSEN: "We'll leave the team mates out of this for now and we'll just talk about the coach (Flower). The coaching issue was a big issue. The coach didn't like me. Coach wanted me out. At any opportunity that he got he would collect his notes and he'd eventually get me one day. It's incredibly unfortunate that it ended the way it ended. But I had an amazing journey."
REUTERS: But you've said in the book the team mates played a part in it.
PIETERSEN: "The team mates played a part in it because they were allowed to play a part in it. But a decent man manager, a decent coach would have sorted the situation out and none of this would ever have happened. If a great coach was in charge of England, none of this would have happened."
REUTERS: What is your reaction to the leaked ECB document? Some of the accusations made against you are that:
*You disobeyed "express instructions" to not to stay out late before the Adelaide test.
*You were "looking to do anything to go home" if England lost the third test in Perth
*And that you made a number of disparaging comments that undermined team morale
PIETERSEN: "It's embarrassing that a board can actually send stuff like that, leak it and then say no, no, no, no, no, no, no - it's been copied and pasted and this and that.... On social media you can see how it went down with the public, I've got no interest in commenting on it. It's just one of them situations when you let the public decide for themselves."
REUTERS: There have been numerous South-African born players who have represented England, why do you feel you polarise opinion so much?
PIETERSEN: (Loud sigh, takes a deep breath and stares at ceiling for a few seconds thinking about his answer) "I don't know, I haven't got a clue. It's maybe the way that I played. Maybe the way I played the game. Maybe the weight of expectation that I carried every single time that I batted. So on days I was going to let people down and people were going to be so frustrated with me. On other days I was going to make people so happy with stuff that I did.
"(In a) world of social media, people's voices can be heard straight away (he said snapping his fingers). The world has changed. Who knows? You have to look at Beefy (Ian Botham) - whatBeefy got up to. Imagine if social media had been around with Beefy.
"Everybody's got an opinion and not everybody is going to be liked. But you have to live with that. You have to understand that. And when you understand that, then you're cool. I love Twitter."
REUTERS: Bearing in mind the turmoil you've gone through with the ECB, in hindsight do you regret deciding to represent England and not South Africa?
PIETERSEN: "Never, no chance, absolutely none. I've loved the journey. It's been the most amazing experience."
REUTERS: What about the fact that if you had represented South Africa, you might have still been playing internationally?
PIETERSEN: "If I played in South Africa, I might not have played international cricket. Who knows? No one knows what would have happened. I know what has happened over the last 15 years. Has it been amazing? The best.
"If I didn't like this place, I'd leave. I am never leaving here. My wife's English, my little boy is English. We're incredibly happy here in England. It's just a no-go area."
REUTERS: Do you feel in this day and age, officials want athletes to be robots? Because as soon as a player has an opinion, all hell breaks loose.
PIETERSEN: "With some coaches yeah. Bad coaches. Bad boards, for sure yeah. They want the characters, they want the personalities on the field, they want the headlines, they want the guys to perform and they will very happily accept all the big endorsements and the companies that will sponsor them.
"But goodness, anybody who dares say anything, other than strict regime line, you get in trouble. Unfortunately, you can't have the two. You can't have the maverick or the great player who does extraordinary things on the field and then have a choir boy off it. It just doesn't work."
REUTERS: I know you like golf so I presume you followed the Ryder Cup?Â What did you think ofPhil Mickelson publicly criticising the tactics employed by U.S. captain Tom Watson?
PIETERSEN: "He's allowed his own opinion. Let him say what he wants. I don't really know the golfing world in terms of etiquette... but Phil Mickelson's around 45, he's his own man, it's an individual sport, he's allowed his own opinion, fair play to the geezer."
REUTERS: He was roundly criticised for lambasting Watson in public rather than behind closed doors. Do you think he crossed a line?
PIETERSEN: "I don't know all golf etiquette and rules. I know not to stand in somebody's line when they are putting! You've got to keep quiet when a guy is on his back swing, unless he's a mate and you are trying to beat him! But that's as far as my golf etiquette goes so I'll reserve right to comment on that."
REUTERS: He is considered as a golfing rebel, are you the Mickelson of the cricket world?
PIETERSEN: "I wish I was as good as him. He's an absolute star."
REUTERS: Do you feel you might have been better off pursuing a career in an individual sport like tennis or golf - as then your opinions would not have had such career-ending consequences?
PIETERSEN: "No. I've had the most amazing experiences. I've won an Ashes in England. I've won an Ashes in Australia. I won another Ashes in England. I won a World Cup with the team in theCaribbean. I got to number one in the world with the team. Nah (shaking his head). Absolutely not.
"But you know what, I might be in the Ryder Cup in 2016 if my golf keeps improving the way it is (laughing). But that's a team sport - no, no, no, no! PGA (championship), possibly. I'm getting good. My tennis is not so good. So we won't do Wimbledon. Augusta, Pebble Beach - all them beautiful courses."
REUTERS: You are known for usually speaking your mind, why did you agree to an eight-month gagging order with the ECB?
PIETERSEN: "Confidentially agreement. I didn't mind. No problem. It was actually good for me. It made me think, gather my thoughts, go through everything systematically. Not just go and say something right there and then. I've been calm, I've written a book. It's come out. I stand by everything in my book. Think it's been a brilliant process."
REUTERS: In that case did that agreement turn out to your advantage?
PIETERSEN: "It's been a very, very positive few days and it's been a pretty positive nine months."
REUTERS: Since the ECB has not given you a satisfactory answer about why you were sacked, did you consider going down the path of suing for constructive dismissal?
PIETERSEN: "They were clever in their reasons and clever in their reasoning."
PIETERSEN: "They just said it was cricketing reasons and there is nothing you can go on on cricketing reasons."
REUTERS: Did suing cross your mind at all with all the anger you had about being forced out of a job?
PIETERSEN: "People say sue him, sue him, sue him, why don't you sue him? It's very easy to tweet, or to text or to say 'sue somebody'. Do you know how hard it is to sue somebody? Do you know how hard it is to get something across the line? Do you know how much money it costs? A court case like this could cost half a million, a million pounds in legal fees. You are not guaranteed to win anything."
REUTERS: But people do go down that road when they feel they have been wrongfully dismissed?
PIETERSEN: "Of course they do. But I didn't go down that route because if you think this book week is pretty big, a court case would last a lot longer and it would be like this every single day. I would have definitely pursued something if I knew there was something going on for sure. I'm not frightened of it at all but I didn't pursue it."
REUTERS: So you didn't pursue it because you didn't think you would win a case like that?
PIETERSEN: "It's not about winning. It's got nothing to do with winning a case. It's just a wait and see scenario."
REUTERS: With the benefit of hindsight, would you have done anything differently?
PIETERSEN: "There are a load of things I would have done differently. Getting involved in the texting stuff (with opponents South Africa during the 2012 series), ruining Straussy's 100th test match (with the fallout from leaked texts between Pietersen and South African rival players about then England captain Andrew Strauss). But I'm me. I don't want to be somebody else. If you try and be somebody else, you are going to come short and you're not going to enjoy yourself and you're not going to be happy."
REUTERS: Do you want to go into coaching when you finish playing?
PIETERSEN: "My international cricket school opens in Dubai next month. My foundation kicks off in November. I'm going to be hands on in Dubai for a number of days a year and it's my most exciting project I've got going on at the moment. I love the coaching side of it."
REUTERS: What do you feel are the dos and don'ts of being a successful coach?
PIETERSEN: "Letting individuals be individuals. You can't try and clone everybody in the same way. Clearly it's a team sport but unfortunately team sports are made up of individuals.
"It doesn't matter whether you play football, rugby or cricket, however you perform, it is monitored. You are an individual out there. You can't get away from the fact that whether you had a good game or whether you had a bad game. So you've got to try and get the best out of every individual. Not everybody is the same so you've got to treat people differently but lay boundaries. Then do the business."
REUTERS: What's the best shot you've ever played and the best knock you've ever had?
PIETERSEN: The best shot I played was the second reverse switch-hit I hit off Scott Styris inDurham (for a six in a one-dayer in 2008). The first one was just change your body around, change your hand around, hit and the timing was perfect. The second one few balls later, I changed my body around, I changed my hand around but he held the ball up in the air and it was a bit slower and I was like oh no, no, no. So I had wait a little bit and then hit the ball, which took a heck of an amount of discipline to wait for it and skill to execute it. That's the hardest shot I've played and very lucky to execute.
"Innings, Sri Lanka, 2012, in Colombo, 45 degrees. I cannot handle the heat at all, I am horrendous in the heat, never thought I'd be able to do that (score 151 in the second Test). Just from a mental perspective and fitness perspective."
REUTERS: How realistic are your hopes of playing for England again after a fallout like this?
PIETERSEN: "I live in hope. I came to England 15 years ago as a little off-spinning kid who batted a little bit and I ended up achieving some pretty good stuff. So who knows what's possible, the world moves at an incredible paces these days, the world flies."
REUTERS: Knowing what you do about the England set up, how would you feel if your son wanted to follow in your footsteps?
PIETERSEN: "He can do whatever he wants to do. I will not put any dampener on anything he wants to do. I want him to be the best person he can possibly be at whatever he chooses to be."
REUTERS: Ten years from now, what do you think your sporting legacy will be?
PIETERSEN: "I know a lot of stuff have gone on this week but when you look on social media, people say they 'we miss you batting' and 'we want you back batting'. I don't think I will be remembered for this (the controversy caused by the allegations made against Flower and his team mates). I think I will be remembered for my cricket and that makes me happy."
KP - The Autobiography is published by Sphere on Thursday.