A typical Merchant-Ivory film, their biography informs me, features ‘genteel characters’ whose lives are blighted by ‘disillusionment and tragic entanglements’. No surprise then that Kevin Pietersen is proudly revealed as one of their biggest admirers. In an unusual choice of images in his, er, thoughtful new autobiography, ghosted by the redoubtable David Walsh, KP says comparing English cricket with the Indian Premier League is like comparing Merchant-Ivory with the latest Bruce Willis.
It’s a fair point, but hard to imagine the teenage Kevin trawling the arthouse cinemas of Pietermaritzburg in the 1990s for the latest offering from the wistful duo. Few people of course know more about disillusionment and tragic entanglements than KP: Room with a View, anyone? Or maybe Howards End? More like Flower’s End. A Passage to India? Ah, now you’re talking, KP. Delhi it is.
In fairness to poor old Kevin, amid the bleating, boasting, moaning and self-absorption, he does have a point about the dressing-room bullying and the fake KP Twitter account. It would have been perfectly obvious that Bresnan, Swann and Broad were endlessly popping little bits on to Twitter as @kpgenius — ‘Hey Swanny, this is a good one’ — but the management chose not to stop it.
It was a failure of leadership by Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower, not to mention the ECB hierarchy, not to sort it out. I think they chose not to deal with it because they were secretly hoping that Pietersen would fail, and then he could be dropped. It is a rum state of affairs when a handful of people in a very small elite group are allowed to undermine a fellow member.
In related cultural news, it is fascinating to see that Roddy Doyle, heavily garlanded Booker author, had written the other sporting neutron bomb of the week, Roy Keane’s memoirs. Keano, not a man to argue with, revealed that he decided not to sign Robbie Savage for Sunderland when he was put through to the heavily inked blond bombshell’s voicemail, which shouted, ‘It’s Robbie, whazzup?’, imitating a Budweiser advert of the time. Roy, quite rightly, thought, ‘I’m not signing that’ and put the phone down.
But it shouldn’t just be one-way traffic with literary titans and sports people. Couldn’t footballers start helping out with Booker-nominated writers’ books? Petr Cech has a lot of time on his hands: dependable shot-stopper, commanding presence, and brilliant reader of the developing play. Not to mention an unusual name. Surely something there for Neel Mukherjee. Or Frank Lampard: a great engine, masses of experience, and the ability to get into the danger areas. Plenty that Howard Jacobson could call on. And Will Self, arch exponent of the anti-novel novel, guilty of unfathomable over-elaboration in the final third of the book, and also in the first and second thirds. Any of the Arsenal midfield would feel at home helping out.
Sympathies to poor young Raheem Sterling, the gifted 19-year-old Liverpool winger, who was too knackered to start for England in the European qualifier against Estonia. Nobody wants to see a teen burn out, and we all know football is much quicker, and you have to concentrate a bit more, but quite how tiring can it be? It is the day job, after all, and nowadays a forward isn’t spending every match being kicked up in the air by Chopper Harris or Norman Hunter.
Fatigue didn’t seem to trouble Sam Burgess, who smashed his cheekbone in the first minute of the Australian rugby league cup final the other day. He got up spitting blood and carried on playing for the remaining 79 minutes, picking up the man of the match award on the way. ‘I did feel a little bit dizzy,’ he admitted afterwards.
Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times