I saw Kevin Pietersen's first innings in test cricket at Lord's in 2005, and was lucky enough to witness his astonishing 158 at the Oval at the death of the series, once Shane Warne had dropped him (and the Ashes) at first slip. I want him to succeed, and I won't begrudge him the wonga and the fame that goes with it.
Had England lost the Cardiff test match, it would have been Pietersen's fault. Yes, I know it's eleven against eleven, and all that. But KP (he's a nut) is the most talented member of the side and very good batsmen, once they have played themselves in, are responsible for scoring a significant proportion of the runs, particularly on a flat pitch against a bowling attack that does not include Warne or McGrath or Murali.
Pietersen threw it all away. As ever, afterwards, he explained himself along the lines of "It's the way I play", which roughly translated means "I am the best batsman in England and you can't afford to drop me".
He was interviewed about the Ashes last week, and cast his mind back to his debut at Lord's in 2005, and the match that followed it:
"I was made for that moment," he says. "The bigger the occasion, the greater the pressure, the more I love it. We knew how big that series was, we knew we were making history. I loved that. I wasn't scared by the Ashes at all. Loved it."
Hmmm. That's Pietersen for you. You'll find, if you listen to his interviews, that quite a lot of things are huge, or massive, or history-making. He likes to associate himself with such things.
Michael Henderson of the Telegraph is a good sort, just as knowledgable about classical music and Broadway as he is about cricket ("what do they know of cricket, who only cricket know?"). He takes up his sword against KP, and leaves him, as Zorro would, with his fancy clothes in tatters:
One man wore the dunce's hat. Having thrown his wicket away on the first afternoon, caught off his helmet essaying a senseless sweep, the Durban Opportunist found another startling way to get out yesterday: bowled neck and crop as he left the ball.
He did not just leave it. Heavens, no. The Fulham Narcissist never does anything by halves. He left it in the extravagant manner of an Elizabethan courtier in ruff collar and cross-garters bending the knee to Gloriana. Ben Hilfenhaus, the bowler, could hardly believe his eyes. These crazy Poms, he must have thought. They take their bats all the way to the crease, and then they don't use them.
If Pietersen wishes to be great (not as in 'great knock, KP' - I mean as a Great Cricketer), he needs to study others who have been awarded the mantle. I could give him a list to be getting on with, but actually he spent several hours watching a masterclass from Ponting on Thursday and Friday, from only a few metres away. Look and learn, you preening johnny. Here's Hendo again:
Why is he not loved? Because he is not one of us, and it shows. The best teams are forged by people who know not only what they are playing for, but also who they are playing for. You could see that identification with Australian cricket in the resolute batting of North and Haddin, players who have been called up late in their careers (North is 30 later this month, Haddin 31), and who know what traditions they represent.
For Australian cricketers tradition is an ever-replenishing resource, like water. To an interloper like Kevin Pietersen, whose overriding ambition is to be rich and famous, the word may have no resonance at all. There is a problem here. Huge. Massive.