Kevin Pietersen should have never played for England again.
That he did opened the door to a tragic ending for what was already one of the nation’s most sorry sagas.
Players still suffer from it today, Michael Vaughan says.
“It had a huge effect on English cricket for a while and I still think it has a massive effect on a few individuals,” the former England captain said, remembering the bitter end of Pietersen’s international career for foxsports.com.au’s latest lookback at infamous sporting feuds.
“I still think there are a few who have come out of this worse.”
Pietersen was part of four Ashes series wins including the watershed 2005 victory, and yet, he somehow left a sour taste in England fans’ mouths. He was an exceptional batting talent – a godsend, even – who arrived on their doorstep from South Africa to achieve success beyond their wildest dreams.
But it all ended for Pietersen in a tale of betrayal, jealousy and, ultimately, banishment.
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Pietersen and Andrew Strauss fell out over 2012’s textgate.Source:Getty Images
The now 39-year-old fell out with the entire English set-up, but at the story’s core was his feud with Andrew Strauss.
That came to a head midway through South Africa’s 2012 tour of England, when lone wolf Pietersen picked up his phone and texted players in the rival change room.
The full content of those messages remains unknown, although it largely centred on Strauss, namely Pietersen’s criticisms of him. Some say the South African expat went as far as giving fast bowler Morne Morkel tips on how to get him out.
“I’ve never seen 100 per cent clarification that that was the case, but if he did, I personally said at the time and have said it since, he shouldn’t have ever played for England again,” Vaughan said.
“If an England player, doesn’t matter who it is, (is) found to be texting the opposing international team how to get one of your own players out … I don’t think he should have played for England again.”
Pietersen texted players in the rival South African change room.Source:Getty Images
Pietersen denies ever giving the Proteas tips on how to dismiss his fellow South African-born teammate, although Strauss’ mind has long been made up.
“That hurt me,” Strauss said of those texts in 2019 Sky Sports documentary KP: Story of A Genius. “Certainly the stuff around how to get me out. I don’t see how you can do that personally.
“If you’re playing for a team and you’re potentially helping the opposition get one over your own players? Nah.”
One thing is widely accepted though; Pietersen called Strauss a ‘doos’. In Afrikaans, the word strictly means ‘box’, although it roughly translates to ‘c**t’ in English.
The fallout was spectacular. Broadly speaking, it would spell the end of Pietersen’s international career.
‘IT WAS VERY MUCH KEVIN AGAINST THE TEAM’
In truth, his relationship with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and his teammates had been souring for some time.
In 2008, the lucrative Indian Premier League was formed, giving the world’s best T20 cricketers the chance to earn a fortune for six weeks’ work. As one of England’s greatest ever multi-format batsmen, Pietersen was naturally a key target for franchises and he was snapped up by Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2009 for almost $2.5 million AUD.
Vaughan remembers that Pietersen’s ongoing pursuit of IPL riches became a sore point within the Test team.
“I think there was a lot of jealousy,” Vaughan said. “And the players will completely deny it now but I think there was at the time when Kevin was on a massive contract.
Pietersen’s relationship with his teammates had been souring for some time.Source:Getty Images
“There were all sorts of whispers and rumours of cliques in the team. There was a little band of a few; Graeme Swann, Tim Bresnan, (James) Anderson, (Stuart) Broad and Matt Prior. The whispers were they were on one side and Kevin was kind of standing on his own on the other side.
“It wasn’t anything other than that Kev around that time wanted to go to the IPL. That’s how it all started to blow up and that’s when those factions came into play.
“He was saying to the team he wanted to play because it would further the development of the one-day team and all the one-day players would get the chance to play there and improve their game. They deemed that he just wanted to go for the money. He was on a big contract while not many of the other players were even getting sniffed at.
“It was very much Kevin against the team in terms of that one.”
Widening the division between Pietersen and his teammates was a parody account on Twitter called ‘KP Genius’.
There was a clear divide in the England team.Source:Getty Images
The account posted tweets pretending to be Pietersen who would refer to himself in the third person, labelling himself a ‘genius’ and bragging about money.
Accounts needling sports stars are a dime a dozen, but this one wormed its way under Pietersen’s skin.
Swann, Broad and Bresnan were reportedly involved in it, leaving Pietersen “distraught”.
When asked why by Nasser Hussain on Sky Sports, he said: “Because players in the dressing room were associated with it.
“I was distraught. I just went completely insular. I went completely into my bubble – I was like, ‘I’m gone’.”
Pietersen was also asked by Hussain why he was texting the opposition in the first place.
“Because they’re my mates,” he said. “Andrew Strauss had said to us ‘under no circumstances will you go and talk to these guys’. I’m going ‘shut up you idiot’.
“Off the field I don’t need anybody to tell me I can’t speak to people. He was being a [insult] – he was.”
Better times.Source:Getty Images
PUNISHMENT AND REDEMPTION
After his insubordination, the ECB dropped the maverick for the third Test in extraordinary circumstances. Pietersen had just scorched a masterful 149 at Headingley, while England needed to win the final Test to salvage a series draw. South Africa went on to win by 51 runs and steal England’s No.1 ranking.
Nonetheless, Pietersen had behaved in a way the ECB wouldn’t stand for. Nor would Strauss, whose relationship with Pietersen was beyond repair.
In his autobiography Driving Ambition, the former England captain said he never fully trusted him again.
“For me, he had crossed the line,” Strauss wrote. “He seemed to be at best destabilising and at worst undermining our carefully cultivated team environment.”
Vaughan says the story should have ended there, but both the best and worst was yet to come.
With Strauss now retired and a public apology issued, Pietersen was later that year reintegrated under the new leadership of Alastair Cook.
And things appeared peachy on the outer.
England won a Test series in India for the first time in 28 years with Pietersen making two fifties and a 186 in Mumbai that Vaughan describes as “one of the greatest” he’s ever seen for the nation.
Months later, Pietersen had his hands on the Ashes urn again as England claimed a 3-0 win in mid-2013.
But the wins were just band-aids on an issue festering beneath the surface – one the ECB should have already put to bed, Vaughan says.
“In 2012 his text was bang out of order. Now, where English cricket were wrong in my opinion was they allowed him back in and he went to India,” he said.
“From (after the tour of India) on you felt like they used him to win a big series and then when it started to go pear-shaped again it was almost as if they had this excuse of why it was and it was always going to be Kevin Pietersen.”
He added: “Once he was back in for the India tour, they had to manage him. They knew what he was about. He’s a little bit precious, he’s a bit sensitive, he needs managing day-to-day, he can’t be managed as one of the team – that’s just not him.
“I just don’t think they were doing that. I think they were just putting it to one side … they managed players brilliantly for many years but I just feel around that time they just let it drift and they were looking for a scapegoat, and he was the perfect excuse …”
‘BULLSH**T’ EXCUSES AND THE BITTER END
Everything hideously unravelled over the Australian summer of 2013-14 for not just Pietersen, but England cricket. Out of nowhere, Australia whitewashed the old enemy in a trainwreck Ashes that would spell the end of Pietersen’s international career.
The ECB needed someone to blame for losing the series so horribly. Vaughan, who commentated on the tour, said the blame unfairly fell on one man’s lap.
“We were getting briefed in the comm box through messages from the England coach at the time, Andy Flower, that it was all (because of) Kevin,” he said.
“All I kept hearing was ‘Kevin Pietersen’ and I kept going ‘bullshit, can’t be just one person. Manage him. You can’t allow one person to derail 15. And it can’t be that it’s just him’.
“It was the saddest tour I’ve been on with an England side because it was just the team getting battered and all you could ever hear was fallout within the England camp.”
End of the line.Source:Getty Images
Jonathan Trott went home after the first Test on mental health grounds. Meanwhile, an underperforming Swann retired midway through the series and was later accused by Pietersen of being part of a bullying clique with the team’s bowlers – claims he denies.
He also took aim at wicketkeeper Prior for “slowly losing any sense of himself” as he “made himself the main man of the dressing room”.
Pietersen and Strauss may have been this story’s two biggest players, but it’s Swann and Prior who may have suffered the longest lasting effects, Vaughan says.
“I still think Matthew Prior to this day – he might deny it – but I think he struggles with it because he was a wonderful player for England and he’s kind of just gone into the wilderness really,” he said. “I can’t speak for him but I can see that he – even Graeme Swann as well, again a brilliant bowler for England but I still think that that moment and those times have really affected him.
“Because you don’t want to be involved in such a public fallout. You don’t want that and it was a huge public fallout with the group and one individual.”
The final casualty of saga was, of course, Pietersen. He was unceremoniously sacked after the 2013-14 Ashes despite topscoring for England, albeit with only 294 runs at 29.40.
A year later, Strauss would effectively confirm the end of his England career in his new capacity as Director of Cricket for the ECB.
Pietersen wouldn’t be considered for a recall, because Strauss said he simply couldn’t be trusted again.
“Now is the time for us to be really open about the Kevin Pietersen situation – people have been running away from it for years,” Strauss said. “The truth about Kevin is that he is a phenomenal cricketer. But over months and years, trust has eroded between Kevin Pietersen and the ECB.
“There is a massive trust issue between me and Kevin. While there is no trust between Kevin and the ECB, it is our opinion he cannot feature in our short-term plans. Long-term, who knows?”
Kevin Pietersen going BANG
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THE SPIN WAR
That wasn’t all Strauss had to say about his former teammate at the time.
Just months earlier, Strauss was left “mortified” when he made a commentary faux pas during the MCC’s bicentenary match against the Rest of the World.
Thinking he was off-air, Strauss was heard across the world calling Pietersen an “absolute c**t”.
A profuse apology would follow, but it was too late.
Strauss had lost the moral high ground and in the years that have followed, the spin war has waged on.
Pietersen was largely painted as the villain of the piece – the outsider who was more trouble than he was worth.
That interpretation may have been unfair to Pietersen who pointed out after his career that he was seen as an Englishman when scoring runs, and a South African when he wasn’t.
His teammates had largely abandoned him, too — something even Strauss regrets.
By his own admission, Strauss had been distancing himself from the batsman, whose friends in the team became few and far between.
“My regret – and I have thought about this a lot since it all unfolded – is that I had a good relationship with KP,” Strauss said in the Sky Sports documentary.
“When some of his other friends started leaving the team for whatever reason, I think I could have kept close to him and actually I became more distant from him.
“I think he got quite isolated as a result of that, potentially, and that was in my power to alter that.”
Originally published as‘Bulls**t’ excuses: The story of KP’s ugly England exit
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