He is the outcaste of England cricket – a man whose mercurial and individual gifts have delighted and appalled in almost equal measure.
And in a lively and relaxed Q&A with Sky Sports News presenter Sarah-Jane Mee at a charity fundraising dinner last week, the now discarded – and some would claim discredited – Kevin Pietersen showed just why in front of a star-studded sporting audience.
He slammed the English Cricket Board (ECB) for its treatment of friend and one-time teammate Ravi Bopara and spoke candidly about his relationships with other former colleagues and the English cricket authorities.
Making a special appearance at the benefit dinner for 30-year-old Bopara at the Grange Hotel, St Paul’s London, Pietersen said: “Unfortunately, there’s a lot of politics that comes with the sport. I found myself as a lone voice. I had to fall on my sword.”
He appeared to suggest initially that he had an awkward relationship with current England Test captain Alastair Cook and it is what led him to being dropped. But he later offered glowing praise for his achievements – just days earlier Cook had become England’s highest Test run-scorer in history.
“You don’t do that without talent,” declared Pietersen at the dinner last Wednesday evening (3).
Similarly, he intially seemed to suggest that his relationship with former England captain Andrew Strauss (under whom he played successfully), the newly appointed director of England cricket, had become difficult.
There were reports Strauss and the ECB wanted him to help with the one-day squad but nothing materialised.
In a response to a written question from a member of the £120-per-head 100-plus strong audience asking him how much would he be paid for charity to go for a drink with Strauss, Pietersen said: “I would go for a beer with Straussy. I have no issues.”
Earlier, Pietersen said he was surprised Bopara had not been named in the recent one-day squad for the series against New Zealand, and criticised the way they had treated his friend.
“It’s been very inconsistent. They’ve had him batting at two, three, four, five, six and seven,” he lamented, drawing attention to the fact the ECB had never given Bopara a clear or defining role yet had expected to him perform.
He also savaged the ECB for not encouraging England players to play more in the richest and most successful Twenty20 format, the Indian Premier League (IPL).
Pietersen said the IPL was a terrific arena to learn, and that playing alongside the likes of Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and South African Jacques Kallis had helped him enormously.
He could not understand why the ECB didn’t make it easier for young English cricketers to test their skills against some of the best in the game.
Towards the end of the Q&A, he invited Sri Lankan batting legend Mahela Jayawardene to the stage to ask him questions. The Sri Lankan has retired from international cricket but plays Twenty20 for county side Sussex.
Pietersen said England had fallen behind in the one-day game and Jayawardene agreed, concurring their style of play had no real identity or brand.
“We played the game hard and with aggressive flair, and gave our young players a lot of freedom to express themselves,” Jayawardene said pointing out the contrast.
On a slightly lighter note, Pietersen said he would rather go out for a drink with former England spin bowler Monty Panesar, rather than Bopara, because, “he drinks”.
Tony Matharu, one of the three brothers who run the Grange Hotels Group, made an impassioned plea for donations towards earthquake relief in Nepal. The hotel’s principle charity, Indian Ocean Disaster Relief, was founded following the devastating tsunami in Asia in December 2004.
Four other charities also benefited from fundraising activities, which included an auction of sporting memorabilia and signed Pietersen bats. They were Great Ormond Street Hospital charity, the Lord’s Taverners, Magic Bus and Essex Cricket Community Trust. All made presentations at the dinner.
Among the other guests were ex-Indian cricketer Farokh Engineer and French rugby legend Serge Blanco.
* Sailesh Ram is a former editor of Eastern Eye and now runs www.asianculturevulture.com