Kevin Pietersen is a man apart. He is not a team player in the usual sense of the word. This is not to say he is a divisive or disruptive influence, because he very definitely is not.
He plays a full part in preparation and practice and takes his responsibilities very seriously. On top of his game he is a huge enhancement to anyone.
But he is undoubtedly a loner. It is not that he expects special treatment, but he does not conform either. For instance, when other England players park their sponsored Jaguars in a neat line in the players’ car park, he plumps his great big black Range Rover – part of a separate deal – right in between them.
He is not deliberately flouting rules or being awkward but perhaps he is a little insensitive and he likes to be noticed. This individualism makes him difficult to understand – even his closest team-mates, like Paul Collingwood, do not always know what to make of him – and therefore harder to influence. He is immensely likeable and always approachable, yet tricky to manage.
While performing all the warm-ups with wholehearted commitment in training, he disappears into his ‘zone’ when it is time to bat. He systematically goes through his repertoire of shots and then stands by and takes stock.
He rarely bowls in the nets, instead returning later for a solitary batting session, usually with Andy Flower or fielding coach Richard Halsall, to work on specifics. Five minutes on this, five minutes on that, grooving his swing. He has more of a golfer’s mentality than a cricketer’s (interestingly, he rarely plays golf). The nets to him are effectively a practice range.
Top golfers are forever tinkering with the minutiae of their game. They seem always to be striving for something more. Pietersen is the same, he is not playing the opposition but himself.
Appearance-wise he is always trying to reinvent himself with new hairstyles, or facial hair or adornments. He keeps moving house. He is always seeking a new direction. He exudes a feeling of restlessness.
To outsiders he is perceived as arrogant. The Australians called him The Ego and then upgraded it to FIGJAM which translates as ‘—- I’m Good, Just Ask Me’.
In fact, the strut conceals an insecurity. He is always seeking approval. While other players are finishing their warm-ups before play or revising final plans with coaches, Pietersen stands on the pitch chatting to his confidant Ian Botham or other former players who can offer words of praise or encouragement. His conversation largely revolves around himself in a bright and breezy sort of way, discussing property or deals or his young son’s development. He rarely discusses his batting, but you sense he is fishing for compliments. Emotionally he is high-maintenance.
In the field he stands at gully, at cover or at mid-off, often in slightly isolated positions. He fields excellently but often seems disengaged, distracted by matters. He rarely joins in the banter around the bat during an over.
The biggest clue of all to his character, though, is when he arrives at the crease. There seems to be a desperation to register his first run, which usually causes a mini hiatus as he seeks a madcap single. With Pietersen on nought the non-striker must be on red alert, getting off the mark has become almost an obsession. Nothing else matters until he has achieved it. Multiply that feeling 10-fold and that is how much he desires his first England hundred for 18 months.
The daily stress he must put himself under is unimaginable. He places so much expectation on himself it has become intolerable. In a way he is suffering from the same malaise as Marcus Trescothick, constantly performing for England with no release or downtime. No gorging on easy runs off county attacks to rekindle the love of batting. It is England or nothing.
If it is going well he is surviving on adrenalin but if it is going badly everything is a trial. Depression sets in. Subconsciously he wants to run away and hide, effectively what he did with his first-ball duck at Lord’s.
The selectors have given him an escape. He may not be able to see that yet, but in time he will. Time away from the spotlight. Time to find his rhythm. Time to regain his appetite. Time to rediscover his virtuosity. Don’t worry he will, he will.
Talent hides itself in funny places, but it never disappears.