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By Suresh Menon
What a wonderful weekend! There was the Jamaican relay team's world record at the Olympics and wrestler Sushil Kumar's silver medal. There was Indian officialdom's modest acceptance of credit for the medals in London. And above all, there was Kevin Pietersen's video on youtube which for self-justification, refusal to accept facts, and sheer unintended entertainment topped anything India's Sports Minister had to say.
It is possible that with better acting, script and choreography, Pietersen might have got away with it. Even without such props, he might still have, had he said 'sorry' even once during the nine-minute 'interview' with his agent. But no rules for our Kevin, on or off the field.
Asked pointedly if he regretted his actions, Pietersen said, “I am who I am, shooting from the hip,” and the closest he came to admitting he might have been in the wrong was with this: “I said things I probably shouldn't have said.” He also said at one point, “Money is not everything,” forgetting that part of the problem was his insistence on playing the full IPL next year during an England series.
For the most part it was platitudes as usual. On the need to care for the family and how one should look after one's family. On the fact that he is not going anywhere, and his only aim in life is to play for England in all three formats. And how he can't wait to play “Straussy's 100th next week.”
Well, he won't be playing Straussy's 100th after all, for the selectors, who waited five hours for his version of the texting story – he sent out derogatory texts about his teammates to the opposition – have dropped him. Is this the end of the road for Pietersen, England's best batsman? And did, ironically, the team from the country of his birth accelerate his demise by releasing the texts knowing the ECB would react and remove the biggest hurdle on the way to a series win?
If South Africa did, cynically, claim Pietersen's wicket before a single ball had been bowled at Lord's, Pietersen might quickly discover who his real friends are. If the ECB thinks it is being manipulated rather than acting in the team's interests, it could still overturn its own selection and recall Pietersen.
The England batsman, legendary for his big hitting and for his inability to see beyond his nose, might see that merely as his due. After all, he told the world only the other day how tough it is to be himself. But the fact remains that it is not his complex nature that is the problem so much as his child-like belief that he is the centre of the universe and he cannot be expected to play by the rules that bind everybody else.
Which brings us to the larger question: should stars be allowed a margin of irresponsibility? This is one of sport's oldest questions. How do you handle a George Best or a Maradona? Should you turn a blind eye to their behaviour merely because they can do things on the field of play that no one else can? There are no easy answers. Discipline is important, teamwork is necessary, respect for colleagues is paramount. Yet, there is nothing like actually winning. Ian Chappell has suggested that with two back-to-back Ashes series coming up, it is difficult to see England sacrifice their newfound superiority over a matter of principle.
It is amazing that at the international level, Indian cricket has not faced such disciplinary problems in years. One reason is the class of men like Tendulkar, Dravid, Kumble, Laxman and others who have been conscious of their roles in a team sport. Another has been the fact that the Indian players are financially well looked after by the Board.
Are international players outside India being emboldened to take on their cricket boards thanks to Plan B, the lucrative IPL? Chris Gayle and the West Indies board might have buried the hatchet, but Gayle was laughing all the way to the bank while things were being sorted out, thanks to the T20 leagues around the world. In his 'interview' on youtube, Pietersen paid rich tributes to the IPL and all that it has done for him (while reminding us that the money is not important).
It might be tough being Pietersen, but the player himself is making it tougher by trying too hard to be Pietersen.