The unbearable vanity of Kevin Pietersen

His latest autobiography is a self-portrait as a wronged genius

11 October 2014

9:00 AM

11 October 2014

9:00 AM

Seven years ago Kevin Pietersen produced his first attempt at autobiography, Crossing the Boundary: The Early Years in My Cricketing Life. Atrociously written, it demonstrated no awareness of the world outside himself.

This time round Mr Pietersen has taken the precaution of hiring an excellent ghost writer, David Walsh of the Sunday Times. It is hard to overpraise Mr Walsh’s vivid prose. The book is a brilliant portrayal of Pietersen as a misunderstood genius continually brought down by lesser men: a Mozart beset by a sequence of Salieris.

Three of his England teammates fare especially badly: Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann and Matt Prior. He describes their behaviour as egotistical, bullying and treacherous. They undermined him repeatedly with management, the media and the public, and left him depressed and isolated within the team. Meanwhile he got no support from his two captains: Andrew Strauss was out of touch and Alastair Cook a yes-man. ECB officials were self-interested and hypocritical. They regularly briefed against him and disclosed confidential discussions.

His harshest words, however, are reserved for two England managers, Peter Moores and Andy Flower. Both were control freaks, box-tickers and micro-managers who refused to let their players enjoy or express themselves. Flower (says Pietersen) ‘ruled by fear’.

The book has almost no description of actual cricket, although it is over 300 pages long. Instead, each chapter describes some new torment for Pietersen at someone else’s hands. In one, two ECB officials, Paul Downton and James Whitaker, blame him for England’s 0-5 whitewash in Australia last winter. Then, flashing backwards, he is worn down by Peter Moores and unfairly sacked as England captain in a self-seeking manoeuvre by another ECB official, Hugh Morris, and the media turn on him. He is then betrayed by Paul Newman of the Daily Mail. Flower denies him the support of his family when he needs it. No one can understand his thoroughly reasonable request to play in the Indian Premier League: he is deserted by other players who want to do the same and singled out unfairly as a mercenary.

The prime enemy is Andy Flower. He allows the England bowlers, with Matt Prior, to set up a bullying clique in the England dressing room. Flower ignores Pietersen’s wise counsel about the torments of Jonathan Trott. Flower makes light of Pietersen’s pain from two injuries. Above all, Flower puts the preservation of his system and authority ahead of Pietersen’s success, and England’s.

Pietersen gives no credit whatever to Flower as a manager. The reader would not know that he took England to the top of the ICC rankings. That omission undermines belief in Pietersen, and he does not sustain his biggest charge that Flower actually wanted to deny England the benefit of their biggest matchwinning batsman. This would make Flower not only a bad manager but vindictive and irrational.

Pietersen’s story is already starting to fall apart. Fellow players like Graeme Swann say his account is ‘fiction’. The claim of dressing room rivalry in Australia has been undermined by the revelation that after the first Test last November Pietersen said that ‘this is the best England dressing room environment I have ever experienced’.

The claims about bullying have not been sustained, while giant question marks surround Pietersen’s own treatment of junior players, including James Taylor and Michael Carberry. Can one believe Pietersen on the subject of Flower? It is worth remembering that Flower was a Test cricketer of immense character and dedication. He has a higher Test average than Pietersen, although playing for a much weaker Test country and with the added strain of being wicketkeeper.

Flower ended his international playing career with an act of courage and moral grandeur — putting his life at risk by wearing black armbands at the 2003 World Cup (in company with Henry Olonga) to protest against Robert Mugabe’s extinction of democracy in Zimbabwe.

By contrast, Pietersen turned his back on Mandela’s rainbow vision of post-apartheid South Africa, and in questionable circumstances. His greatest champion is Piers Morgan, the former editor of the Daily Mirror.

Pietersen has played some of the most brilliant innings in world cricket over the last ten years. Those innings will stay with cricket lovers for ever. This book won’t.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments
  • John Carins

    Is this a second innings for this article?

  • Malus Pudor

    Pietersen is a classic example of a sociopath…

    The South Africans must have far more sophisticated mental health resources and, having realised the extent of Pietersen’s mental health issues, decided to dispense with his services… whatever his sporting talents.

    He is, without doubt, one of the nastiest individuals in global sporting arenas and the sooner he is consigned to history, the better.

    • Ryan Wulfsohn

      As a South African I am personally eternally grateful that this idiot decided to leave my country, no matter what his cricketing talents. He just isn’t worth the aggravation of having him in your team.

  • Fergus Pickering

    Strauss has it right. Pietersen is a complete cunt. An, oddly, he’s not much missed with the bat.

  • Guest

    “Pietersen turned his back on Mandela’s rainbow vision of post-apartheid South Africa”. The rotter, the swine, the absolute cad – how dare he desert Mandiba’s earthly paradise and play for the pure unsullied ranks of the England team alongside Prior, Strauss and Trott – all born in SA. I recall the Oval in 2005 when KP was batting alongside Garaint Jones (Papua New Guinea via Australia). The Aussies were quite fairly singing: “there’s no pommies on the pitch”. Its not even a modern phenomenon – Nasser Hussain, Graham Hick, Robin Smith, Alan Lamb, Andy Caddick, you can go on all night but only KP gets this nonsense thrown at him. He has achieved and given more to English sport than any footballer ever to draw breath and all but a handful of rugby players in the 2003 world cup winning team but still the knockers whine and whinge and snipe.

    • ChrisB

      “only KP gets this nonsense thrown at him” – Yeah mate, only KP has that arrogant FIGJAM attitude and none of those others *ever* made the disparaging remarks about South Africa that KP has made. He is just as reviled here as he is in England.

  • Warwick Onyeama

    I haven’t read the book but have listened to the interviews with KP that have followed publication. I am not the least surprised by his querulous and self righteous tone. Pietersen has always been totally up himself and has been encouraged in his vainglory by the extravagant encomia offered by the sporting press. Pietersen seems to have always been a flawed item as a team player. The reaction of the other England players he has traduced, suggests that he was never popular with the other senior players in the English test team.

    • Fergus Pickering

      Or in any team that he has played in. Mind you another complete cunt was Sir Donald Bradman. Nobody liked him. But he was a rather better bat than Pietersen. Neither of them was very good against extreme pace.

  • Malus Pudor

    Pietersen is symptomatic of all that is worst in South Africa…. an utterly loathsome man ….

  • Ian Hall

    I remember all the great innings he played with Paul Collingwood, and then looked it up it in his book. Collingwood is mentioned on 6 pages out of 300, and then barely.
    My guess is that it will always be somebody else’s fault than his.

  • Freedom


    • sir_graphus

      It’s one of the more depressing aspects of The Spectator that every single week there are at least three reviews of books I would very much like to read, but know I never will. What a relief to read the review of this one.

  • Cartique Rajn

    A biased review. James Taylor confirmed to Dobell that he did not hear Pietersen talk about him in front of the whole team. Not sure why everyone else in the england set up (who haven’t done as much as KP) is entitled to an ego.

  • Fraziel

    Cricket, possibly the most tedious sport ever invented and nowhere in the world, not previously invaded and occupied by England, does anyone give a toss about it. As Robin Williams once said ” its baseball on valium”.

    • ChrisB

      And this is relevant…how? If you are trying to tell us you don’t care about cricket, don’t comment. By having something to say you indicate you actually do care.

      Your remarks could be applied to baseball, or American Football, by just taking taking the converse of where those sports are supported. Or Ice Hockey or Basketball for that matter – sports that enjoy huge followings on the North American continent and vitually nowhere else in the world.

      I know it’s hard for an American to believe no-one else gives a toss about your incomprehensible sports (games that include maybe 90 minutes of play but take all afternoon because of stoppages, that involve more body armour than a soldier in a war zone, or that derive more entertainment from the participants beating the living shit out of each other with 6-foot long sticks) but you know what – we don’t. Live with it, move on.

      Only a truly self-centred nation could call their national championships the “World Series”.

  • Fair article. Doubt that the headline is Mr Oborne’s though.