It is hard to believe the career of Kevin Pietersen could ever be at a lower point than it reached yesterday. After a tumultuous couple of weeks in the life of one of the greatest talents in cricket over the last decade, it reached rock bottom at the Ageas Bowl when he was booed to the crease, fell for a first ball duck playing for Surrey against his old county, Hampshire, and then cheered off.
The man who left his country of birth to further his chances of having a fruitful career has appeared to take controversy with him as if it was packed at the top of his kit bag alongside his meaty piece of willow. Feeling he wasn't getting the chances he deserved out in South Africa due to the racial quota system, he found an opportunity awaiting him in England. With no such system on these shores and an English passport courtesy of his mother, there was a clear chance to reach the pinnacle of the game.
Pietersen first came over to England in 2000 where he played for the Midlands club side Cannock CC. He was predominantly an off-spin bowler but was an ever-improving batsman. What he has never lacked is self-belief and one would suggest that this is due to having always felt he has had something to prove and it is rumoured during his time at Cannock he would carry business cards simply saying "Kevin Pietersen: Professional Cricketer". Affectionately known as KP, he did enough to impress the selectors at Nottinghamshire CCC and they gave him the chance he craved.
In 2003, Nottinghamshire were relegated from Division One of the County Championship and Pietersen did not have a good season. He blamed the pitch at Trent Bridge on his lack of runs and this lead to a public falling out between KP and Jason Gallian, the then Nottinghamshire captain. Having been forced to see out the final year of his contract, he then joined Hampshire in October 2004, where Australian legend Shane Warne was captain. It is no surprise they became close friends - both highly talented and seemingly controversial characters.
KP made his One Day International and Test debuts for England in 2004 and 2005 respectively and apart from the expected abuse from opposition players and supporters, the South Africans in particular, there wasn't much controversy surrounding the him. This can be put down to the fact that he had reached the top of the game, he was happy, and ultimately he was consistently performing and at the same time putting two fingers up to those who didn't pick him in South Africa. The first bit of controversy came once he was made captain of the England side. Having struggled on the tour of India at the end of 2008, Pietersen called for an emergency meeting with the ECB to discuss the future of the then coach Peter Moores. There were several issues which had lead to a rift between the captain and coach. It appeared as though Pietersen had gvien the ECB an ultimatum of "Moores goes or I go". As it turned out, Moores was removed by the ECB and Pietersen was forced to resign which is unlikely to be the result he had hoped for when trying to oust the coach.
The introduction of the IPL in 2008 which lead to lucrative gains over a short period of time was always going to appeal to the egotistical showman types like Pietersen. The way of life he leads was clearly the main factor in his move from Hampshire to Surrey in 2010. Wanting to spend more time in London amongst the glitz and glamour of Kensington and Chelsea is far more the Pietersen way of doing things compared to life in Southampton or having to commute up and down the M3 every day. Pietersen first played in the IPL in 2009 however he didn't play the whole tournament due to international commitments, something which would change over the following seasons. The IPL creates a big conflict of interest in terms of looking out for number one or doing as your country wishes. In Pietersen's case, he would much rather be paid over one million dollars for three weeks work than play against the lesser countries in a two or three match Test or One Day series.
It is thought there have been simmering tensions for a while between Pietersen and England coach Andy Flower. KP retired from One Day International cricket on 31st May 2012 and due to terms of the England central contract this also meant he retired from T20 International cricket. Pietersen cited the demanding schedule but the majority of people believe it was more to do with wanting to play in the various high-salary T20 competitions around the world. The most controversial episode however was yet to come. As is the modern social-media orientated society, it was to play out in full view of the public eye.
At the start of the Test series against South Africa rumours had started to go across the cricket community concerning a potential falling out between Flower and Pietersen. There aren't many people you can compare Pietersen to in terms of his on-field ability, but also his background and life off of it. He has always complained of being misunderstood and has said "it's difficult being me". To the spectator he appears to be very confident, or should we say arrogant, he's content in his ability, and he wants the respect of his team mates and allies. The truth of it is that he alienates the people around him, is most of the time only focussed on himself, and is in fact very insecure. He wants to be loved and doesn't understand why people don't love him. A parody Twitter account aptly named "KP Genius" was gaining a large following and so insecure is Pietersen that he believed one of his England team mates was invovled in it. Such is his relationship with his fellow England players that mates has to be used in the loosest sense. He has grown further and further apart from them and potentially his relationships with certain people will never be repaired. Such were the problems being caused that Pietersen managed to get the account closed down. To put it in perspective, there is also a parody account for England captain Andrew Strauss but he is not on Twitter himself. He is not fazed by having the mickey taken out of him because he is secure in himself and also knows he has the respect and trust of his colleagues in the dressing room.
The worst of this episode is yet to come however as revelations in the media during the second Test match appeared to show Pietersen had sent derogatory text messages about Flower and Strauss and it is believed he sent South African players tips on how to get his own captain out. He was also apparently spotted having drinks in a London bar the evening after England had lost at The Oval. The questions have to be posed - what was Pietersen trying to achieve and what was going through his head at the time? It is unwise to think the South African players wouldn't discuss the content of the texts and if they didn't pass them on then it is likely they could have been overheard. It is also thought he complained to people about the way that Flower runs the England set up. He can be strict and Pietersen does not like being told how to do things. He is his own man and in some ways a maverick or at least that is what he wants us to think. He wants to be loved in the same way previous England greats such as Andrew Flintoff and Sir Ian Botham were loved but they did things far differently to Pietersen. Yes they had run ins with the people in charge but the public could relate to them and they always played with the team at the forefront of their minds.
KP showed us what true genius on the field was in the first innings of the second Test when he scored an imperious one hundred and forty-nine. What most normal players would have done would have been to laud the post-match praise headed his way and use it to take the momentum into the crucial third Test match. But Pietersen is not normal - as it was, due to the text message scandal, Pietersen managed to turn the post-match press conference into a fiery exchange between himself and the journalists present. When asked if he would wait for Andrew Strauss to join the press conference he said, "I've got to get home, I wasn't waiting for Strauss". Is this not a clear indication that something was wrong between the captain and star-player? The press conference continued with Pietersen explaining there were various issues which needed to be sorted and that the third Test at Lord's may well be his last. It wasn't about the money and instead there were other more important issues. The way he spoke clearly meant he felt he would be playing at Lord's. Was he trying to dictate terms with the ECB again and does he really think he is bigger than the team?
The weekend before the Lord's Test turned into a farcical merry-go-round of events. A bizarre PR stunt from Pietersen did little to change the views of the ECB, players, and spectators alike. A staged interview saw Pietersen sat in a sponsor's top, rather than England kit, with some very scripted answers given. There was no sign of an apology or denial concerning the text messages and all Pietersen did was to make himself available for England in all three formats of the game. Had he been advised to say this? Could he not have denied the text messages? Surely South Africa wouldn't have called him a liar? As it was the ECB even gave him another chance to clear his name whether he sent the texts or not. The day after the PR stunt was published, the ECB delayed announcing the squad for the third Test by six hours but Pietersen wouldn't sign it. It was meant to give him a simple way of closing the situation which would allow him to carry on his 'dream' of playing for England. In a twisted moral way he refused to sign it and unsurprisingly he was then dropped for the final Test against South Africa.
Has Kevin Pietersen played his last game of cricket for England? Your guess is as good as mine, but one thing is for sure is that if he has then he won't go into the wilderness quietly. The soap opera that is Kevin Pietersen against the world is far from being over; watch this space.