By Karthik Parimal
There is no denying the fact that after Kevin Pietersen’s controversial press conference, it will be an uphill task for the English team to circumvent off-field issues before the all-important third Test at Lord’s. Former England all-rounder Ian Botham, who himself was in the midst of several controversies throughout his playing career, urged the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and Pietersen to bury the hatchet ahead of the crucial deciding Test against South Africa.
There are quite a few similarities in the careers of both the maverick cricketers.
Botham too often found himself clashing with the head honchos of English cricket. According to his autobiography, Head On, he reveals how he often got in trouble with the then Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB), and mentioned that he was always singled out for every little thing, whereas the board always turned a blind eye to other players committing the same folly. He was also very critical of the media in his book, stating, “The British tabloids were looking for scapegoats and I fitted the bill nicely.”
Now, couple of decades later, Pietersen has spoken on similar lines saying, “I never spoke a single word to a single journalist about anything that happened behind closed doors that I thought were closed doors. So you guys are always going to speculate and make me out to be the bad guy. No problem."
The similarities in the playing careers of Botham and Pietersen don’t just end here.
Botham was the captain of the English cricket team for a brief period of time during 1980-81 for 12 Tests. Under his tenure, the team drew eight and lost four matches. Considering his poor run as a skipper, and having weighed his options, Botham decided to forgo his captaincy. He’d already written his resignation letter before the final Test of the 1981 series against Australia, but Alec Bedser, the then chairman of selectors, hastily convened a press conference, and as soon as the reporters were seated he told them the news of Botham’s resignation. He then added, “But we were going to sack him anyway.”
Botham writes in his book that he will never understand why Bedser felt necessary to take that cheap shot.
Pietersen’s time as captain too was brief and mired in controversies. England never really fared that well during his span as a leader, but the differences within the camp was there for all to see. Following England's back-to-back losses in India, the British media reported that Pietersen had asked the (ECB) to hold emergency meetings to discuss coach Peter Moores' role in the team. Whatever was discussed during that meeting was eventually leaked to the press, and soon thereafter Moores was removed as England's coach and Pietersen unexpectedly resigned from captaincy. Several days after resigning from the post, Pietersen said that he never intended to step down as a skipper, but was told to do so.
Both Botham and Pietersen are known for making bold statements that eventually had its repercussions. While the former was fined £1000 in those days for saying “Pakistan is the kind of place to send your mother-in-law for a month, all expenses paid,” the latter too was slapped with a heavy fine recently when he tweeted, ‘Can somebody please tell me how Nick Knight has worked his way into the commentary box for the Tests? Ridiculous.’
Moreover, the two have made many such statements and performed actions that have constantly drawn flak from the English cricket authorities.
A couple of days ago, Pietersen opened a can of worms, yet again, by revealing that some of his fellow teammates were operating a parody Twitter account and having fun at his expense. It was later proved that none of the English players were behind this, and that whoever has been tweeting from the parody account has no other motive except humour. However, Pietersen failed to see the lighter side of this.
Botham too was no stranger to such acts, except that he’d faced things far more serious and gross. In his autobiography, he writes “Some charming soul once sent human excrement through the post to my mother, and someone else sent me some pubic hair and invited me to ‘Smoke this, you bastard’.”
Botham, nevertheless, made no big deal of this issue. It’d augur well for the English cricket team and Pietersen himself if he learns to take such things in lighter vein.
However, one thing is for certain. In Pietersen’s presence, there is no end to drama even off the field. Andrew Flintoff too had his fair share of tryst with controversies, but it’d be safe to say that after Botham, Pietersen has been one of England’s most controversial cricketers.
(If cricket is a religion and has many devotees, Karthik Parimal would be a primary worshipper. His zeal for writing and love for the sport of cricket is what has brought him here. Karthik can also be followed on Twitter)