By Madan Mohan
As if Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt hadn’t done enough to overshadow the England vs South Africa Test series, ‘action’ off the field has completely hijacked debates over possible combinations and strategies for the decisive third Test that starts on August 16. Having fought England into contention with a brilliant innings, Kevin Pietersen promptly threw the toys out of the pram and supplied fresh ammunition to the player vs establishment discussion.
On the face of it, Pietersen’s complaints about the international cricket schedule are legitimate and only echo the views expressed in many articles on the subject. What queers the plot, though, is that apparently he wants to play the entire Indian Premier League (IPL) - which partly overlaps with the English cricket season - and that as recently as last year, he had voluntarily signed himself up for said international cricket calendar via the English central cricket contract.
Considering that Pietersen has regretted the English summer coming in the way of the IPL before, these developments are not very surprising. Such seemingly brazen pursuit of his self interest might be disturbing to the traditionalist’s gaze. But expectations of unstinting loyalty from the player who chose to play for England because South Africa didn’t choose him may have been off target all along.
Pietersen is the first true professional cricketer of the 21st century. Comparisons can be made to Tony Greig in the 1970s, who wanted to choose who he could play for rather than timidly heed the establishment. For sheer impact and drama, Chris Gayle has since upstaged him in paving the way for more such professionals - or mercenaries, as they are somewhat derisively referred to.
Gayle’s turbulent relationship with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) may have played a role in forcing a showdown and his prolonged hiatus from the West Indies cricket team. The relative comfort and stability of a place in the English cricket team may have kept Pietersen at bay - but not for very much longer, it would appear.
Pietersen has blown hot and cold ever since his infamous bid to oust Peter Moores. The knowledge that he may never again get the top spot in the English team in his career seems to have made him even more restless. Not being as much a part of IPL as he would like hasn’t helped. Pietersen is quite transparently guided by the ‘I’ factor in his actions. It’s all about what he stands to gain from a given position and if it is not enough to satiate his appetite, he will want out.
If that sounds distasteful, the myopic and questionable schedules drawn up by cricket’s administrators aren’t exactly the epitome of great taste either. The battle between cricketers – the prima donna types like Pietersen, that is – and the establishment is a bit like the Eurozone stalemate. Both sides try to say the right things, both sides avoid outright confrontation but don’t shy away from threats and both sides seem insincere about resolving the matter.
Getting into the details of the present situation and how we got to it would be a whole article by itself and one you’d have already read several times in different words. What is becoming clearer is the Gayles and Pietersens are not going anywhere. If the experience of other team sports is anything to go by, they are here to stay and will gradually wield more authority and have their way more often.
Pietersen may have to bite the bullet in this battle and abruptly bid adieu to his international career. But in the not so distant future, it may be the establishment that is brought down to its knees by superstars who refuse to toe the line and know how to use the power of their popularity to their advantage.
(Madan Mohan is a 26 year old chartered accountant from Mumbai. The writing bug bit him when he was eight and to date, he has not been cured of it. He loves music, cricket, tennis and cinema and writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake. He also writes a blog if he is not feeling too lazy at http://rothrocks.wordpress.com/)