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Kevin Pietersen and the rise of India

I am now recovering from an illness. While ill, the only thing I could manage to pay much attention to, other than the various pains in my head, was the Kevin Pietersen Affair, the contemplation of which, to an England cricket fan like me, is a not dissimilar experience to that of being ill.

Today at Lord’s, the sacred home of cricket, England are embarking on the third and final game in their five day test cricket series against South Africa, but without Kevin Pietersen. Pietersen scored a brilliant century in the previous game. But no, he is not injured. He has been dropped.

Pietersen sent out disloyal tweets about the England captain and coach, for which transgression he did apologise, but too late. You can read the details, in the unlikely event that you want to, in media reports like this one, where phrases like “underlying issues on trust and respect” appear.

Where my interest in all this (I could write about it for ever) and the interest of Samizdata readers (who would presumably prefer me to keep a lid on it) may overlap, or so I hope, is in the big picture background to all this. Which is, in a word: India.

From time to time, usually, as now, from a writer trying to use such circumstances as a metaphor, you read about planetary objects being subjected by much heavier objects in their vicinity to gravitational forces so severe that different parts of the smaller planetary object start to be pulled in different directions, perhaps so severely that the smaller object threatens to fly into pieces. This is what is now happening to cricket in England, under the influence of that much larger cricketing object, cricket in India. Cricket is now like a solar system, and the quite big planet that is England cricket is being yanked about by the gravitational forces being exerted upon it by the Sun. And that Sun is: India.

The background to the argument between Kevin Pietersen and the E(ngland and Wales) C(ricket) B(oard), the people who run the Engand cricket team, is that Kevin Pietersen desires to be both an England international cricketer, and also to maximise his income (and also enjoyment and ego-massage) from cricket by all other available means, while nevertheless contriving somehow not to drop dead from physical and mental exhaustion. In particular, Pietersen yearns to be both an England cricketer and a fully paid up (very well paid up indeed) player in the Indian Premier League, the Indian twenty overs tournament that takes place in April and May of each year.

The ECB treats the IPL as just another foreign cricket league, concerning which they need to care very little. It’s a nuisance to their arrangements, but no more. They do not – or such seems their attitude – need to contrive any “window” to allow England cricketers to neglect their early season England cricket in order to cash in from a meaningless foreign slogfest, and then allow them time off from England games, or preparations for England games, so that they can avoid becoming completely exhausted. They pay England players well, and that should be quite enough, is their attitude.

But for any cricketer good enough or lucky enough to get a contract to be part of it, the IPL can be the difference between an anxious transition, when the time comes, from professional sport to the rigours of real life, and being financially secure for life, especially if he does well in it and gets asked back several times. During the limited time when Pietersen was able to play in this year’s IPL (he had to leave before the tournament ended), he did very well, scoring another brilliant century, for the Deccan Chargers Delhi Daredevils.

The over-arching fact about cricket now is that the IPL is not just another tournament in a faraway country. It is the first great assertion in the cricket world – the cricket world – of the massive economic power of Indian cricket fandom. As I never tire of saying in my various cricket blog postings, there are more cricket fans in India than there are people in Europe. I remember when the millions of India were famous only for starving. Now, these same millions are striding towards twenty first century affluence. And they are taking cricket with them.

If India really, really wants to watch you play twenty twenty cricket for a month and a half, at a time when cricket in England is only getting started in weather that is often vile (despite anything the Met Office may have told cricket people about such months getting warmer), then if you are a cricketer, you really, really want to say yes. But meanwhile, the ECB been starting its test match programme each year earlier and earlier, so that they have enough test matches to pay for all those wonderful new stadiums that they have encouraged the English counties to build in such excessive numbers and on such a grandiose scale during the previous decade.

The BBC’s Jonathan Agnew sides with the ECB and against Kevin Pietersen:

Trying to manoeuvre things so he can play for England and play a full season in the Indian Premier League is not the way Pietersen should be behaving.

Certain New Zealanders do it, as does Chris Gayle of West Indies, but that is because their boards do not have the money to pay them well. They accept players can earn big sums in the IPL.

But English cricket can afford to pay their players well and that is why they are top of the world rankings and both New Zealand and West Indies are not.

England players are well paid and must be available to play. You sign the contract, like Pietersen did, or you don’t.

Why, I wonder, does Agnew not mention the South Africans, whose best players also now adorn the IPL, and yet who, despite that exhausting interlude of money-grubbing, are now very likely to topple England as the best test team in the world? (All the Saffers have to do to accomplish this is not lose this third game at Lord’s.)

The England cricket team is in the meantime top of the test rankings not because it is a team of great players, or even a truly great team, but because it is a very good team with some very good players, very well coached, skilfully lead, at a time when there are no truly great teams around as great as the Australians of a decade ago or the West Indians two decades ago. England are now the first among a number of equals, and very soon, probably, not even the first.

But unlike anyone else in this England team, and when he functions in top gear, Kevin Pietersen is a truly great player. The ECB now want all of us England fans to think that the only reason that both the ECB and the rest of the England team have such a bad relationship with Pietersen is because Pietersen is … Pietersen. But this is not the only reason. Pietersen is indeed (to summarise heroically) somewhat of a plonker. But he is also a member of a small cricketing elite, namely one of those cricketers who can set himself up financially for life by playing in the IPL. None of the other England players fall into that exalted category. Of all the current England players, only Pietersen is definitely, directly, suffering from the lack of an IPL window in the England cricket season. Other England cricketers can fantasise about how they might strike it rich in the IPL. Meanwhile, they are, as Agnew points out, being paid very decently. Pietersen knows he could double his money, if he was only allowed to.

And what is more, Pietersen knows he can switch to the IPL, if he has to. Given the flat out choice, he would prefer to stick with England, while hoping that the IPL window he so desires can somehow be prized open, if only for him. But the reason he has been doing so much brinkmanship lately is that he does have a truly lucrative alternative, unlike anyone else in the England team. If he gave up on England and played for the IPL, he could also play in lots of other IPL copies, in Australia, Sri Lanka, maybe even soon (whisper it) England. (At present England has a faltering T20 tournament scattered stupidly throughout its ever more stupid season.) So, Pietersen’s bargaining position is unlike that of any other England player.

See what I mean about gravitational pulls pulling smaller planetary objects into bits? Indian cricket is now tearing a chunk out of the England cricket team. And if any of the new crop of England hopefuls with a penchant for hitting sixes (Bairstow and Hales spring to mind) make the leap to true greatness in the next few years, they too will be subjected to just the same gravitational forces as Pietersen is now feeling. It is not that Pietersen is a South African mercenary, or a plonker, although his plonkerdom in particular does not help. Without the IPL he would be a contented member of the England team. With the IPL he is a frustrated super-talent, who knows that he is within touching distance of being twice the cricketer he is now, and being paid twice as much.

The interests of the England players who cannot be sure of getting the big bucks in the IPL but who would love to give it a go, are such they they now want to keep their heads down and just carry on being paid well to play for England. But, they would love it if Pietersen could somehow carve an IPL window out of the English season, on their behalf as well as his own. They would like him to win this fight, in other words, but dare not now say so. How do you reckon Pietersen feels about that? More gravity.

Football (aka soccer) knows all about this kind of yanking around of its national teams, by the pull of unimaginably rich foreign club tournaments. In football, international teams are almost all of them potential arenas of conflict between the few who can get lucrative club contracts in such places as Spain or England, and the rest who are good but not that good. But everyone involved in a team like, I don’t know, Senegal, knows this. They face the problem of, say, their two star players being tired from playing a full season for Real Madrid or Bayern or Man City, and they deal with it. A problem faced is a problem well on the way to being solved. The ECB problem is more basic. Their biggest problem in the Pietersen Affair is that they seem unwilling to face the fact that they have a problem. They think it’s personal. Pietersen can bat to die for, but he is a plonker. Make him knuckle under or get rid of him. They think Pietersen is the problem. No, the problem is India, and how to live with India.

What must be especially frustrating for Pietersen is that the alternative universe that the ECB still clings to is already such a proven absurdity.

That IPL window, which the ECB still refuses to open for England players is now a global cricket fact. No other countries bother with test cricket while the IPL is in session, which means that if England remains the only one (in its own eyes) in step, then even if in some Platonic sense they are “right” about the wrongness of the IPL and of people like Pietersen wanting so very much to play in it, who the hell are they going to play against?

We witnessed the nonsensical answer to this question in England earlier this year, when England, in vile English weather, trounced the West Indies second eleven. The West Indian team, the proper one, is now the opposite of England, being most definitely less than the sum of its parts, not the least of its problems having been that they have felt, for several years now, as Agnew notes, the full force of the IPL’s gravitational pull and have been pulled completely apart by it. They have a number of very IPL friendly players, with several potential Kevin Pietersens in their side and at least one actual Kevin Pietersen, in the shape of Chris Gayle, the current IPL batting top dog bar none. (Gayle has had just the same problems trying to gouge sense out of the West Indies cricket bosses that Pietersen has been having. Like Pietersen, he is a tricky man to deal with.) And these West Indian stars all played in the IPL, leaving their journeyman brethren to lose their meaningless test series in England.

I remember very little about that meaningless test series in England, but I do remember that on the first day of it, Chris Gayle scored an utterly brilliant century. I watched this brilliant century on my television. But Gayle did not score this brilliant century for the West Indies, against England. He scored it for the Bangalore Royal Challengers.

You would think that the ECB would have got the message. How soon before cricket fandom everywhere just hoots with derision at these “test matches” in the sodden and frigid English spring? Such tests test nobody except the out-of-their depth second-stringers sucked into them. With the star players of the touring side missing, these tests mean very little. Sport is all about meaning. Drain the meaning from a game, and the thing is dead in the water. Literally in the water, if you are playing in England, in May, and you don’t get lucky.

I haven’t done the sums, but it occurs to me to wonder if England would already now have been definitely toppled as the number one test team, if you exclude that meaningless 2-0 win against the Windies? My guess: yes.

For many decades, cricket was another kind of solar system, and England (in the shape of the M(arylebone) C(ricket) C(lub) (made world famous in a Monty Python sketch for having bested the Piranha Brothers – 3m51s into this)) was the Sun. Then for a few years cricket was just a gaggle of countries, the top few all being roughly equal. Now it is a solar system again, and now India is – to be more precise India’s fans are – the Sun. I guess if you were once the old Sun, having to cohabit as a mere planet with a new Sun is rather galling.

Nevertheless, it must be done.

This posting has only incidentally been about Kevin Pietersen. What it is really about is the rise to global prominence of India, and about what that is doing to the globe.

20 comments to Kevin Pietersen and the rise of India

  • South Africa 50-3! 2 wickets in one over from Finn. Smith and Amla (huge stand in the first test) both gone.

    Maybe dropping Pietersen has cheered up the England bowlers.

  • Now Kallis gone, and the commentators I”m listening to are convinced this was a wrong decision. But it’s 54-4.

    “Things are looking up for England.”

  • But note that the weather conditions are very English.

  • Jim

    My take on KP is twofold:

    – this is a man who seems to be able to create ill feeling against him very easily. Natal, Notts, Hants and now the England dressing room have all had their differences with KP. Notts to the extent his kit was hurled out of the changing room onto the pitch when he left. One falling out is unfortunate, two suspicious, three’s a trend, and four reeks of ‘its definitely you not them’.

    – whether KP desires money (or rather more money as he is very well paid by England) from the IPL or whether he desires to stamp his name on the game forever will determine what happens next. If he wants the money he’ll go to the IPL for the next 4 or 5 years, bag up, and forever be remembered as the man who had the world at his feet (in cricketing terms) and gave it all up for the money. If he stays in Test cricket he has a great opportunity to put his name up there with the greats of the game. He has 7000 test runs already, he can easily be the first ‘Englishman’ past 10,000, and continue beyond. No one remembers who hit what runs in the IPL, its all a blur of 4s and 6s that means precisely nothing the moment the game is over. Achievements in the Test arena mean something and will be lauded for decades if not centuries to come. People say ‘I was there when Botham hit 149 at Headingley, and Willis took those wickets, to beat the Aussies’. They don’t say ‘I saw Botham play in a Sunday league game once, he hit 3 fours and got out for 22’.

  • Jim

    I think you exaggerate the meaninglessness of the IPL. It may not yet count for as much as test cricket, but test cricket is being relentlessly devalued by series such as the England WI series I moaned about in the posting, and the IPL is piling up its own set of numbers and more to the point memories.

    The very first day of the very first IPL is still remembered vividly, because of Brendon McCullum’s 158*, which remains the highest score ever in a T20 game. Gayle’s heroics live in the memory. Well, in many memories.

    And what about how AB de Villiers ripped Dale Steyn to pieces in this year’s IPL?

    All of the above dramas to me mean more than anything that happened during Eng v WI early this year.

    Also, I am guessing you are not an Indian. I’m not either, but you surely get my point.

    I bet India contains many IPL geeks who remember everything.

    Meaning is a weird thing in sport, and it can change.

  • There is another issue here. Relations between Indian cricket and England cricket *at board level* are incredibly bad, and have been for decades. Whenever the English or the Indians officials meet to decide something, meetings tend to collapse into acrimony. The English officials have (at least in the perception of the Indians) a tendency to see themselves as the Sun and the Indians as supplicants, and the Indians have a tendency to become intensely resentful about this – there is a lot of post colonial resentment. Both sides refuse to see one another’s point of view, or at times even acknowledge that the other side has one. This has come to the fore at times such as when it is necessary to choose a venue for the World Cup, or the venues and schedule of an England tour of India, or of an India tour of England, etc.

    For instance, when England tours India, England would generally like to just play in Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, and a couple of other cities that are familiar and have good hotels and the like for visiting players, fans etc. India will come up with a tour schedule that includes only a couple of games in such places, and the bulk of the tour all over the rest of India. The English will decide that the tour schedule has been written by incompetent idiots, and will probably insult the places the tour has been scheduled at the same time. Acrimony will ensue.

    The actual situation is that India has a very similar problem to England. There are many state cricket associations, all of which have votes within Indian cricket, and many of which have built new stadiums that need to be paid for. Thus the Indian board is obliged to share games around a lot. Extra one day games are necessary etc etc. Rather than the two sides being able to acknowledge that they have reasons for what they are asking for and negotiating, things just break down. This leads to India and England not playing each other as much as they should, not enough English involvement in Indian cricket, and not enough Indian involvement in English cricket. When England ask for some scheduling concessions from the Indians due to the timing of their season, they don’t get a lot of sympathy,

    Australia, on the other hand, have done things differently. When Australia and India negotiate, and India produces a schedule with a game to be played in Rajkot, the Australians respond more with “There is perhaps some hardship in getting our team and fans there. On the other hand, if you paid us another 5 million rupees, we might be able to manage it”. Negotiations proceed from there. The advantage of this style of negotiation is that the Indians understand it, do exactly the same thing themselves, and are not insulted by it.

    As a consequence, cricketing relations between Australia and India have got steadily closer in recent times, and Australia have played many many many fairly meaningless one day games in various parts of India, Australia, and other parts of the world. (They have played many very memorable test matches, too). Australia have made vast sums of money playing India at the national level, and Australians have been very involved in Indian cricket. In fact, half the people organising and marketing the IPL seem to have Australian accents, which is also not unrelated from the fact that cricket has been run on a commercial basis by television networks and publicists ever since the end of World Series Cricket in 1979. Australia has also dramatically increased the pay of its cricketers in recent times, but this has come directly through cricketing relations with India. This may be to the detriment of the Australian national side – I don’t know – but the centre of world cricket is now in India and I like to be part of it.

    England’s increased player salaries in recent times have come from increased television money. As a price for this money, England have had to increase the number of test matches played every year. This means the tests in bad weather that clash with the IPL. For the moment England must continue playing these – they have contracts that go for several more years – but one wonders what the TV networks will do after a few years of bad cricket.

    On the other hand, the price of TV rights continues going up. The nasty little secret is that even English cricket is getting a steadily increasing share of TV and advertising money from India. Indian sports channels want to show cricket all the time, and have an almost insatiable apetite for it. Even when England is playing the West Indies, substantial money can be made selling the Indian television rights, and then the ground advertising to Indian companies so that it will be seen in India. Even when the IPL is on, Indian television networks will want the rights to weakish test series being played in England, as they will be on at a different time of day to the IPL. (Also, there is more than one Indian cricket channel. They want to compete with each other).

    Indian cricket isn’t going to go away. People like Agnew are idiots to want it to.

  • Jim: Plus … as another for instance (what follows was posted before I had seen Michael’s comment above) …

    I still recall Dhoni hitting an honest to God Malinga yorker stump shatterer for six over mid wicket, with that amazing helicopter shot of his. Dhoni was practically standing on the stumps, with absolutely no room to play any sort of shot at all. Yet he somehow got it away, for six. That was this year. I struggle to remember who either plays for, but I will never forget the shot.

    My point is, yes, the IPL is indeed meaningless for many, but by no means for all.

  • And one further point. Cricket has been peculiar in recent decades in that it has been a professional sport, but one in which national teams were the principal avenue for that professionalism, which is more the traditional structure of an amateur sport. (I would argue that it only really became a professional sport in the 1960s in England and the 1970s in Australia – before that cricketers had to have other jobs as well in order to pay the bills, generally). One of the consequences of that was that players were unable to transfer easily between teams. If an English cricketer fell out with the people running English cricket, he would have to stop playing cricket at the top level, and as a consequence he would lose his income as a top cricketer. He couldn’t just move from Manchester United to Real Madrid after falling out with Sir Alex Ferguson.

    In addition to this, how much a player earned depended very much on which team he played for. An Australian test player would earn more than a South African test player because the Australian board was richer, and there was essentially nothing he could do about it. This led to a situation in which cricketers were underpaid in general, and where some were much more underpaid than others. This made cricket horribly prone to corruption, and the sport has had far more than its share of betting scandals as a consequence. (That the most famously corrupt cricketers have come from Pakistan and South Africa is not greatly surprising).

    The rise of the IPL suddenly means that players no longer depend on their national boards for their continued income. A player such as Chris Gayle can fall out with his national board, and can continue playing in front of full stadiums and be paid huge sums of money. The players have much more negotiating power because of this, and the boards have had to deal with this in various ways. It makes the boards fundamentally less powerful, and they do not like it. I personally think it is a good thing, though. A great cricketer can be properly paid, regardless of where he comes from. There will be less corruption as a consequence. Cricketers in general are no longer underpaid, and if cricket continues to be one of the world’s great sports (as I want it to be) this is necessary.

    The boards don’t like this though. The England board likes it less than any of the others.

  • I am slightly concerned that Brian and I will be leaving comments here all afternoon, but anyway….

    Malinga plays for the Mumbai Indians, *of course*. And if Chris Gayle is the great batting star of the IPL, Malinga is its great bowling star. Malinga is a wonderful player, and has been for years, but as a Sri Lankan he never really got the credit he deserved. Sri Lanka is a small country, and this makes it relatively insignificant in world cricket, regardless of its ability to produce (and properly pay) great players and field unexpectedly good teams.

    But now, Malinga plays for the Mumbai fucking Indians. His exposure (and pay) is vastly greater there. It is his IPL performances for Mumbai that he will mostly be remembered for.

    If cricket remains what it is today in India, I find it unimaginable that in a few decades the Mumbai Indians will be any bit less storied than the New York Yankees or Manchester United. And the fans will certainly remember what Malinga did.

  • I’m pretty sure KP was playing for the Deskjockeys this season. Minor point.

  • Patrick

    I am genuinely baffled. Deskjockeys?

  • Yes, Brian, I too salute the brilliance of Patrick. He has managed to make a comment that the only two other people here who are interested in cricket are completely mystified by, and hence which will be understood by absolutely nobody.

  • Yes I thought that must be what it meant, but had never heard that usage before. Is that common in India?

    I have corrected the posting.

  • England now 39-3 in reply to SA’s 309. Steyn 2 wkts.

    A Pietersen century would be quite handy, right around now.

    Seriously, if England’s batting now crumples further, that would suit him just fine.

  • Saxon


    Great post! Every bit of it absolutely well written and sounds right.


    Nice comments – informative and well analyzed. I came here to add my 2 cents, but now find that unnecessary:)

  • Saxon

    Jim (who thinks IPL is meaningless),

    IPL cricket may or may not be meaningless, but what matters is the ability of the professional cricketer (especially the stars) to provide for themselves and their families. In that respect IPL allows most players to be set for life. That is an opportunity the Boards should not take away from their players.

  • “Yes I thought that must be what it meant, but had never heard that usage before. Is that common in India?”

    Not that I know of. It is just how I mentally refer to them. There is a certain naffness to a lot of the teams’ nicknames so I feel obliged to come up with something a) more accurate and b) insulting. See if you can guess who the Moneybags and Code Hackers are.

    Insults are important. If, as I hope, IPL is to prosper the games need a bit of “edge”. The teams need to build up a rivalry. Insults are by far the best way to do this. Sadly, the Indians themselves are a bit too deferential, so I feel obliged to fill the gap.

  • Andymo

    And South Africa wins the series 2-0.

    As some bright spark in the crowd commentated: “Their South Africans appear to play better than ours”

  • They South Africans were actually playing, too, which no doubt helped.