TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
KEVIN Pietersen is unarguably the most divisive figure in English cricket but SA opinion on him seems to be unanimous: live with his elephantine ego and tell him to pad up.
Pietersen, who was born and raised in SA but has become the most attacking England batsman of his generation, had the dressingroom door slammed in his face on Monday by England’s new director of cricket, Andrew Strauss, who said there was a “massive trust issue” between the two men.
During SA’s tour to England in 2012 Pietersen sent members of Graeme Smith’s team text messages disparaging Strauss – then England’s captain – and labelling him a “doos”.
The messages’ revelation led to Pietersen being dropped for the decisive third test at Lord’s despite his scintillating century in the drawn second test in Leeds. SA won at Lord’s to clinch the series and snatch the No. 1 ranking from England, which prompted Strauss’ retirement.
Pietersen’s bumptious boast during the second test that “it’s tough being me in that dressingroom” belied the self-centeredness his teammates were forced to deal with.
He was subjected to what the England Cricket Board called a “reintegration” process and has featured in only 16 of the 30 tests England have played since.
But, asked on Thursday what they would do if they were Strauss, former SA batsman Peter Kirsten, Lions coach Geoff Toyana and former SA left-arm spinner Paul Harris concurred.
“We always had difficult characters in my playing and coaching days but no-one was ever banished,” Kirsten said.
“We also had strong leaders. (Former Western Province captains) Eddie Barlow and Hylton Ackerman were two of the strongest characters I played under, and I think KP would have relished doing the same. KP’s problem is that he has played under weak leadership for much of his career.
“If I was Andrew Strauss, I would include him; I would find a way.”
For Toyana, the interests of the team trumped personality clashes.
“There’s obviously bad blood between the two of them going back to that SA series, but to revive English cricket I would have picked him,” Toyana said. “He’s a big player, a big performer, and personal differences should be put aside for the good of English cricket.
“An England team with Kevin Pietersen in it is a quality side.”
Harris wondered out loud about the precedent Strauss was setting for the as yet unnamed new England coach.
“I would definitely pick him,” Harris said. “He’s their best player by a long way. He’s no angel, but you have to find a way to manage all sorts of personalities.
“What kind of coach wants to be told by the director of cricket who he can and can’t select?”
Smith left no doubt about his views on the issue when he tweeted on Tuesday, “I see the head boy is making English cricket the laughing stock again! #StraussLogic”
It seems Smith, who also captained the SA teams in series that resulted in the downfall of Nasser Hussain and Michael Vaughan as England captains – which saw Smith labelled a “captain slayer” by the English press early in the 2012 series – was not alone in his opinion.
By Thursday afternoon Smith’s message had been retweeted 4300 times and favourited 2300 times.