1. If you have a player who is a jerk but also extremely capable, which quality wins out in your estimation? Recall that Rahul Dravid said earlier that we often mis-judge talent in cricket. We look at the timing, the flair and the beautiful stuff — but not the patience, character and temperament that is needed at the international level. Can we forgive an asshole in our midst if he turns the dressing room into a political minefield? Why shouldn’t we account for personality in our calculation of talent?
2. If we performed the “blind test,” would KP’s argument still hold? Let’s say that we were not discussing Pietersen but Andrew Symonds, Munaf Patel or Jesse Ryder. In all three cases, the talent is evident, but there are major issues — the first has a drinking problem and a major (very deserved) chip on the shoulder; the second simply does not want to train as hard as need be, and the third also can’t stay away from the drink. You got a problem with dropping them? No doubt, KP does not have this level of problem; on the other hand, he has signaled he is not committed to the international team and would like to pick and choose each Test he plays and he thinks his captain is worthy of ridicule. Unless you’re Tendulkar, that’s not an option, surely.
3. Piers Morgan said something like this: “The ECB are hypocrites because they want KP to be brash and bold on the field, but shy and demur off.” Assume that this point of view is correct and, in fact, no one pays to see dullards like Jonathan Trott or A. Cook. Why do we want our players to be saints off the field? There used to be a time when we saw the sportsman as an ideal to emulate, but that was before modern rigors of practice, training and ultra-sequestration reduced many athletes to very capable Frankensteins. (I mean, did you see what those Olympic swimmers’ bodies looked like?) We can’t look anymore to these men for life advice. We can admire their commitment and their skills and feats, but increasingly, that should be the end of the matter.
Now, Morgan’s argument fails because in this case, KP wasn’t cheating on his wife, or punching fans at bars, or driving drunk. No, he was doing something that impacted the “on the field” — the unity of the team. I’ve heard it said that valuing the “unity of the team” to this extent is a misguided, management-speak approach to running a game. Perhaps. On the other hand, again, we have seen many teams underachieve because of internal rifts — need I mention Pakistan? Recall, also, the familiar complaint that India’s cricket team is merely a collection of superstars, not a team of equal individuals. Why not care about your team like it’s your family?
So far, you must have the impression that I’m with the ECB on this one. And I am! I like KP, but I’m not a fan of superstar economics. The eternal rule still applies: never bite the hand that feeds you. I guess this isn’t so unresolved after all.