One of the many consequences of England’s collapse to the Australians this winter has been the enforced retirement for playing for England of Kevin Pietersen, one of the most successful England batsmen ever. He’s only 33, has three, perhaps four, more years left at the top of his game, and wanted to continue in the England team. Apparently, however, the England team—or at least the captain and the management—didn’t want him in it. The decision by the bosses to tell KP that he’s no longer going to be considered for the squad for any version of the game—T20, one-day, or Test—has had commentators, ex-players, and the general public up in arms: How can England omit their most charismatic and destructive, and arguably best player?
The answer is murky (each side in the fracas has signed a non-disclosure agreement) but it looks as though the banners of KP feel he wasn’t a team player: he was arrogant, destructive of a team ethic, disloyal even, a destabilizing influence in the dressing room. So what? say KP’s defenders. You have to deal with mavericks, game-changers. It’s a failure of management and not Pietersen’s fault.
I (Martin) look at Pietersen much in the same way as I do Andrew Flintoff and Ian Botham: both of whom were similarly charismatic and crowd-favorite entertainers. When they were good, were very, very good, but when they were not—which was, toward the end, more often than not—they seemed to suck the life out of the team. Flintoff, especially: when he played, England lost, in spite of his heroics; when he was injured, England won, without him. As we’ve seen with Mitchell Johnson, a cricket side’s fortunes can be transformed by one member working at the height or his or her powers. Yet isn’t it better if ten + one members of a side are performing at their best?
England are at a very low ebb, yet they still contain some very good players. We will see this summer whether Pietersen’s absence matters or not. My bet is that it won’t. I’m not crying for him: He stands to make millions of dollars from the Indian Premier League, which begins in a few weeks.