Kevin Peter Pietersen’s life both on and off the sacred turf has been a confluence of contradictory ‘Os’. A febrile blend of outrageous talent, outlandish makeovers, outstanding athleticism and an outspoken personality colluded to make this mercurial cricketer one of England’s best ever talent. However the one defining ‘O’ that has continued to hang over the head of this aggressive right hander throughout his playing career, a la the proverbial sword of Damocles has been opprobrium. No modern cricketer has been subject to such scurrilous criticism as Pietersen. His life has been dissected by fans, foes and friends alike with a surgical precision that would have accorded the approval of any famed medical practioner. The merciless scalpel at times has been employed not with dexterity or diligence, but with an attitude of sheer indifference.
Simon Wilde in his economical but extremely readable book provides a sneak peek into Pietersen the player; Pietersen the prodigy; Pietersen the personality and Pietersen the petulant rebel. Although not a definitive biography, this book serves as an alluring appetizer to a mouth watering main course. Reading Wilde’s book is akin to devouring ‘The Hobbit’, prior to traversing the enchanting maze of ‘The Lord Of The Rings’. Simon Wilde has managed to attain that judicious and desirable balance between petty introduction and pernicious overkill. Recognizing (and respecting) the fact that the world of cricket is not starving for an ‘Idiot’s Guide To Kevin Pietersen’ (what with the man’s life almost being an open book, albeit a disconcerting one), Wilde provides a fascinating insight into the heroics and hubris of arguably the world’s most entertaining batsman, by taking recourse to relevant facts and rare details.
Tracing the career path of this champion from his blistering entry into the cricketing world as an enfant terrible, to his inglorious exit on flimsy as a well as firm (yet another paradox) grounds, poses a formidable challenge to any able writer. Wilde not only takes up this challenge but comes up triumphant too. Organising his Chapters into distinct themes, Wilde succeeds in providing to the reader an unbiased and impartial perspective both on the man as well as his machinations. An assiduous description of the phenomenal ability of Pietersen to reach close to the pitch of the ball (as a result of his towering frame) and to take on the spinners at their own game makes for some invigorating reading. But as the reader will soon grasp, it was not merely the ball which Pietersen was reaching out to. Courting controversy came as easily to this plunderer of bowling attacks, as playing his trademark switch hit. Whether it be sending text messages to an opposition side maligning his own team mates, or haranguing with the ECB over his right to play out his contracted duration in the IPL, Wilde demonstrates in stark detail the innate ability of this wonderful cricketer to both conjure moments of indescribable rhapsody and evoke wild recriminations and revile.
Pietersen is reported to have disparaged a team mate in whose ability he did not place much trust by telling him: “I’ve got more talent in my little finger than you have in your entire body”. While his talent was unquestionable, his temperament, especially of the field was to say the least – suspect. More than the searing pace of Mitchell Johnson or the seraphic contrivances of Shane Warne, the microphone and the media have been Pietersen’s most gullible Waterloos. That astute and articulate English Captain Michael Vaughan recognized this when he mentioned that keeping up a dialogue with Pietersen and keeping him away from microphones was an important part of managing him. As Simon Wilde aptly puts it, a failure to do both was ultimately England’s unfortunate failing.
The book also contains a dash of memorable anecdotes. A personal favourite is the one attributed to Michael Vaughan, one of KP’s ardent admirers, mentors and supporters. When Pietersen burst on to the cricketing stage in a meteorite manner, replete with dyed hair, Vaughan is supposed to have remarked thus: “Anyone that arrives with blue hair has got to be able to play a bit”. And play Pietersen could! Pietersen’s interpersonal relations and professional equations with his captains, managers and team mates have also been brilliantly brought out by Wilde in his offering.
Reading this book made me reminisce about a cherished personal memory involving Pietersen. During the frenzied World Cup of 2011, I happened to be a part of an esoteric conference organized to thrash out the perils and pitfalls characterizing the intricacies of International Taxation and the travails of Transfer Pricing – a legislation ushered in to put paid to the perfidies of profit shifting and tax evasion. This prosaic conference was coincidentally hosted in the same grand hotel in which the Indian, English an Irish teams were put up. It was on the day succeeding the one in which Andrew Strauss and Sachin Tendulkar had combined to manufacture a pulsating game of cricket at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. Privy to a fortunate piece of insider information (one of the perks of being employed in a Consulting set-up), I staked my claim to a corridor leading to the breakfast table. A steady procession of English cricketers ensured that my note pad originally meant to record the orations of eminent tax practioners was instead decorated with the indecipherable scribbles, courtesy the practioners of the game that I live to love.
Just when it seemed that the stream, which by now had been reduced to a trickle, would finally dry up, I viewed an imposing frame of 6ft 4 in taking measured steps towards me. The sight of the man clad in a sleeveless T-Shirt and track pants, with bold tattoos adorning his skin was to say the least awe-inspiring. At that time I realized what it would have meant to be a spinner (even a left-armer), trying to bowl to a natural predator. Drawing my puny frame of 5ft 4in to its maximum elongation, I approached Pietersen tremulously and queried “KP can I have an autograph and a picture with you?” A brusque affirmative nod and a stretch of the right arm (yes the man had some reach) gave me an immeasurable degree of encouragement. Once he had done putting pen to paper, he was the epitome of impatience. “Where is the camera mate?” I hailed my colleague and a fellow perpetrator in crime, gave him my Samsung Note II and asked him to click a picture of Gulliver overshadowing Lilliput. As fate would have it the vagaries of technology ensured that the bloody expensive piece of gadgetry decided to hang and switch off by itself! ‘Sorry KP just give us a minute” I whispered in an embarrassing murmur. “Please make it quick” was the irascible response. In the confusion that ensued, I had chosen a spot where sun competed with shade for recognition. When the photo was finally clicked and KP had trudged away barely acknowledging my sincere appreciations, the cricketer was ensconced in the shade and the unashamedly adoring fan was basking in sheen of light with unbridled happiness. This must have been the only instance when Kevin Pietersen was ‘overshadowed’ literally by a non decrepit Homo Sapien!
Every once in a while a genius cricketer appears leaving within his wake in comet fashion a blazing trail suffused with beautiful memories. Memories those are immortal. While our generation has not been blessed to view the ballistic Victor Trumper or the tragically beautiful Archie Jackson, we can count ourselves lucky to have seen the unmatched belligerence and natural brilliance of Kevin Pietersen. A sheer genius, albeit a flawed one.
Simon Wilde’s “On Pietersen” – a candid tribute to a flawed genius!