Martyn Corrin | 8:29pm gmt 21 Apr 2009
Over the past couple of generations, sensationalism has become a hobby of the national media. In this time, sports journalists in England have decried a continued lack of talent representing the national sides. Footballers and cricketers (amongst countless others) alike have been ridiculed for not cutting the mustard.
In 2004, a footballer, David James, was panned by the media for a mistake that cost England a couple of points in a World Cup qualifier. In response to this criticism, the players refused to speak to the press after the next game. This was seen as an even greater offence than adultery or inability - thou shalt not ignore us!
In 1997, the UK had had enough of John Major's Conservatives and voted in Tony Blair's New Labour. People were fed up with many things from the Tories, but one factor that certainly played its part was a series of sleaze scandals; Conservative MPs seemed to be cheating on their wives left, right and centre, and the British public would and will not stand for that!
It's 2009 now, and there is a batsman who plays cricket for England, his name is Kevin Pietersen. At the time of writing he averages 51.09 in Test Cricket and 46.67 in One Day Internationals. These are averages which are untouched by his English contemporaries, and those in the recent past. His ODI figures are actually the 5th best of all-time, in terms of average alone. Who can remember who the last England batsman was to finish his career with a Test average over 50? Yeah, me neither. Of course, Pietersen's career is not yet over, but even if you think he will wind up averaging below 50 when he calls it a day - can you think of another recent English batsman to average 50 after 50 Tests?
Kevin Pietersen has been at the centre of a lot of media attention this year. He began the year as captain, but a few days into 09 found himself tendering an imaginary resignation, a resignation that was forced upon him. Pietersen is not like a lot of other sporting figures in the English spotlight though. If you ask him a question, he answers it. He answers it with what he believes to be the truth. This has caused an issue or two in its time; last year when he was captain, an interview he had conducted a few months earlier as a player created a stir when he questioned Mark Ramprakash's mental toughness. Without needing to discuss the rights and wrongs of Pietersen's opinions, it was the fact that he said it all that upset people. Ramprakash was still being touted as a possible in the England team at the time, and it was felt by some that Pietersen shouldn't have spoken ill of someone who might join him in a team. He was asked a question and he answered it. You shouldn't have done that, Kevin.
Of course, a far more quoted interview was the recent one in the West Indies where Pietersen talked of how he missed his wife. The public outrage at this statement was matched only by the contempt that minority groups like binge drinkers and motorists normally receive in England. It was a statement which caused mass offense. A well-paid England cricketer dared to speak of his basic human emotions. The cheek! If you read some of the reaction to Pietersen's comments you would have thought he called a press conference to announce it. But no, he was asked a question, probably one that went something like this:
"So Kevin, have you missed your wife on this tour?"
Pietersen responded by saying that he and his wife had agreed that they should never be apart for that long again. The same media that was quite rightly outraged that our MPs were cheating on their wives a decade earlier were furious that a cricketer could possibly have any such feelings towards his own wife while away representing his adopted country. These were also the same journalists who were highly critical of Pietersen's playboy lifestyle when he burst onto the scene in 2005. Pietersen quickly grew out of that lifestyle and settled down - and improved as a batsman in the process - so you have to wonder what these people really want from him?
Another act Pietersen received a lot of stick for of late was the way he "held the ECB to ransom." There is no doubt that it sounds like Pietersen was naive in the way he went about his business this winter. Yet in England we have had more than enough yes men over the years. Do we want our captains to nod and smile politely while they disagree with everything going on around them? Pietersen is someone who sees himself as a naturally born winner and he quite simply won't stand for mediocrity. He was made captain and rightly or wrongly felt that he had the backing of his employers. He found the situation unworkable, and he told them so. Well that won't do, back to the ranks for you sunshine.
Pietersen is everything that the English sport-viewing public and press cries out for, all the time. He is talented. But he is too cocky about being talented - that switch-hit, it's just not cricket! He is honest. But he needs to think about the consequences of his words! He is a family man. But he should be focused on the game! He won't stand for susbstandards. But he needs to stand in line! He plays for England and is one of the best in the world at what he does. But he isn't English!
Maybe that's the problem, or maybe it isn't. His motives are routinely questioned whenever the press feel like rounding on him, but he has stood up and performed for this country more than any other cricketer has in the last five years. He has been reliable, he has been consistent, and he has scored sixteen centuries - this is at a conversion rate of 53.33%, the 6th highest of all-time (the men ahead of him are Bradman, Headley, Prince, Strauss and Ponsford). There is nobody else in England who is capable of scoring as many runs as often as Pietersen. Why do the media, and sections of the public wish to chase him away? If Pietersen was ever driven away, we would be crying out for someone just like him. They say you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone - but with Pietersen, we do. At 28, he can still get better. He can become the very best batsman in the world. But why let that get in the way of a good bashing? Let's chase him away!