Well you wait a year for a Kevin Pietersen interview and then two come along at once... The great man has become more guarded as the seasons pass, and he chose his medium carefully: the radio, where edits aside, his voice is unmediated, and also his interlocutors, two former team-mates, Darren Gough at TalkSport and Andrew Flintoff for BBC 5Live.
Any Pietersen interview comes laden with baggage, which is part of the reason he avoids them so assiduously – his last, desperate attempt was a rightly famous youtube upload apparently conducted by his agent; there was something touching about its artlessness. KP always seems to have something he must explain or apologise for or mitigate in some way, and that is the lode that his interviews carry.
There are other sub-texts; the accent, barely softened by his years here, and his tendency to call his team-mates by their surnames can make him sound dismissive or brusque without meaning to, and there is the knowledge that with any slip the unyielding cordon of the press wait behind him, and they drop very little. In one of the interviews he described himself as an introvert, and it's true. His talent, used on the biggest stages, is his voice; his brittle ego a defence mechanism.
And it's a little sad, because Pietersen, when he talks about cricket and his ambitions and visions for the way he plays it, has something to say. What was most striking was his regret at how he has batted sometimes, innings he felt that he had given away, shots played in haste and repented at leisure (join the club, sunshine; we've all got plenty of those). It was almost as if he had looked inwards to see himself as he felt the world had at those moments.
When any great player gets out, there is disappointment and for Pietersen, the gulf between his best and his worst is vast. At his best, he bats in great surges made at a high emotional pitch. In the grip of his genius he feels the rhythm of the game, understands the nature of the contest. He has sometimes spoken of the 'him or me' feeling he has – with Brett Lee at the Oval in 2005, for example, or Morne Morkel at Headingley last year, or his devastating sorties on Dale Steyn and Shaun Tait at the World T20 in the West Indies. He has at times reduced the two greatest spin bowlers in history to passive, shell-shocked casualties.
To do those things requires an acceptance of risk. How much risk any batsman is prepared to accept will ultimately define him. Pietersen, subconsciously or not, accepts and embraces high risk as an essential part of his make-up as a player, and there is something courageous about that choice.
He is fallible, but that adds to the joy he so delicately sustains when he is batting at his peak. The knowledge that it is fleeting, makes it more valuable. Above all, it makes him the most watchable player in the game. He has driven batting forwards. It is worth the days that he does not feel its pull.
Andrew Strauss was on the radio this week too, and naturally he was asked about Pietersen. "He is the best player I ever played with," were the first words out of Strauss' mouth. Andrew Flintoff said much the same. He is using a goal of 10,000 Test runs to urge himself on and he deserves to get them, but his impact on the game is more than just empirical. With time and distance, the controversy and upset that have attached themselves to him will no longer head the agenda, and if KP wants to sit down and talk about batting for a couple of hours, then I'm in. It would really be worth hearing.
NB: Andrew Flintoff is a rather good interviewer. Who'd have thunk it?
Second Ashes Test – The Report Cards
3 days ago