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.