‘I’ factor rules out Kevin Pietersen from being part of the team
Alastair Cook declared yesterday that he was not consulted on the fate of Kevin Pietersen. In truth, he didn’t need to be. Pietersen’s unsuitability for continuing as an England player is all laid out in black and white and Technicolor, if only even his staunchest supporters could see it.
Test cricket is an X-ray of the brain. It is an examination of character as much as it is of talent and technique. It exposes your anxieties, magnifies your emotions, tests your mettle. Five days of intense competition ask you such fundamental questions as: “Do you think you have the right to be out here?” and: “Do you have what it takes?” It is a test of mental strength, of desire, of total commitment. It is sport that bores into your soul.
Test cricket offers no hiding places for the weak or the wayward. Any flaw or fallibility will be revealed, if not today, then tomorrow or the day after. This is not to say that mavericks or eccentrics cannot be accommodated. In fact, they should be welcomed. Some selfishness is also allowed, within reason. As long as personal goals do not supersede those of the team.
Cricket is also different from other team games in that there is a strong individual element to it. A team’s batsmen are out there on their own, being preyed on by 11 remorseless opponents. A team’s bowlers have six balls in a row to make their mark. You have to rely on each man to make good judgments, to do the right thing for the common good. You have to be able to trust them and believe in their loyalty. The team’s ultimate survival, at least temporarily, is in their hands.
That is where Pietersen overstepped the mark. For the first half-dozen years of his Test career, he was an outstanding player whose commitment to the team’s goals outweighed his commitment to himself. Gradually, personal agendas appeared to take over. There were the special permissions he sought — to remain in India and play in the IPL for extra time, to miss warm-up matches, to take the family out earlier on tour than other players , the “retirement” from one-day internationals. Satisfying sponsors became a priority.
His I-factor took over. He still practised hard and played brilliant innings, but if he got out to an ill-judged shot he justified it by saying: “It’s the way I play.” He never apologised or admitted errors. Everything was about him — from the manic way he sought to get off the mark, to the extravagant (and sometimes failed) attempts to go from 96 to 100, and most things in between. He was generally a man apart.
When he sent uncomplimentary text messages about his captain to friends in the South Africa team, he had completely betrayed the team’s trust. If you spend £30 million a year on a team, using all the technology and personnel available to try to find the extra 5 per cent to win, you cannot afford that level of disloyalty to jeopardise your goals.
The most successful international sporting team in history — the All Blacks, who have a remarkable 75 per cent win ratio over 100 years — abide by the Maori concept of whanau, meaning “extended family”. They value humility highly and have a “no- dickheads policy”, as the presence of difficult or divisive types would be detrimental to the whanau. Some of the most talented rugby players in New Zealand have never pulled on the All Blacks jersey for this reason. They cannot be trusted always to sacrifice personal interest for the common good.
During a cricket Test match, you spend up to 14 hours a day in close proximity to your team-mates for virtually a whole week, so harmony in the whanau is even more important. It doesn’t mean you have to like each other. But mutual respect and trust are vital.
You can be unfaithful once and perhaps get away with it. Pietersen’s infidelity was compounded by his book, in which he assassinated the characters of many of the people with whom he had shared dressing rooms.
He cannot see the damage he has wrought. He still believes that he has a certain entitlement to be in the team, continuing to see it only from his point of view — “I am desperate to get back in the team” and “I really want to play Test cricket again”. And when he does not get his way he tries to undermine the status quo. He practises a sort of sporting anarchy. How can you trust someone who does that to be part of a team? And what message would his rehabilitation send to the rest of the team?
He can recruit all the lawyers he likes to try to prove that he has been treated unfairly, but, sadly, until he shows considerable levels of humility and contrition, he can never again be part of the whanau.