One Test series down, one to go. It’s been fun to have the West Indies here this soggy summer. They are not yet fit to lace the rum punch of their predecessors but they’ve been better than some recent vintages of Caribbean cricketer. Now we wait for the main — if truncated — event of the summer game: the three Tests against South Africa. The best team in the world against their nearest rivals, and 19 July can’t come soon enough, but until then cricket goes short-form and England will have to live without ‘KP’.
To many, Kevin Pietersen’s decision to retire from international limited-overs cricket makes it a little easier to be cross with him. As Vic Marks pointed out the other day, Pietersen is one of those players who divides opinion: some people hate him, others simply dislike him. We don’t go a bundle on confidence; we often confuse it with arrogance. But whatever we may think about KP — and you can guarantee he thinks very highly of himself — what is beyond doubt is that he is a sensational cricketer. When KP heads to the crease the queue at the bar suddenly shortens, eyes are drawn to television screens. He’s not just good, he’s a showman, a man for the main event. And that is why he has made his choice to ditch the limited overs stuff in England colours. Limited-overs cricket counts for little when you are trying to make history.
Between this weekend and 10 July England have eight one-day internationals and Twenty20 matches, five of those against Australia. The men in the baggy greens used to appear here once every four years to contest the Ashes; now they drop by every ten minutes to play in the pyjamas. It’s no longer special because these are games of very little consequence and you sense that KP knows this. Why play if no one cares? It used to be that the one-dayers were the amuse bouche for a Test series; now they are the staple for what counts as high summer. There is so much crash, bang, wallop that the results are almost meaningless, both domestically and internationally. A Lord’s final in front of a full house was a major event as well as a farewell to summer, but now I couldn’t tell you when it is or even what the competition is called. One-day cricket has chosen the path it wishes to take: it is there to make money, not reputations.
KP likes to make money, and now he has freed up plenty of time in his diary to play lots of inconsequential cricket and be paid handsomely for it. Big Bash, IPL, Pro20 — KP can now provide his account details and head on over. No one cares who wins those either, so he might as well be his own boss and coin it at the same time.
If KP had been blessed with any footballing ability, the one tournament he’d retire to avoid is the Olympics. Even the greatest show on Earth could do with streamlining and Gabon v. South Korea at Wembley and Belarus v. New Zealand in Coventry are examples of the kind of excess baggage the Olympics could shed. There are 58 football matches scheduled for London 2012 and empty seats could be the backdrop to many of them. Football is simply not an Olympic sport, because winning a gold medal in it is not the biggest thing in the game. It should go the same way as baseball and take tennis with it on the way out of the door, advising golf to follow.
Novak, the grand slam or Olympic gold? Tiger, more majors or Rio 2016? We already know the answer. A cull of some Olympic sports would open the door to the more deserving. To squash, for example, which is wonderfully accessible to spectators and television viewers. It is also global, and an Olympic title would be the pinnacle of a player’s career. It would have meaning, and that is what all top sport should have. KP understands that.
Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times.