it has to be said that Alan Tyers is a writer i have tremendous respect for. his writing about cricket has been wildly amusing when intended to be, and usually spot on when being somewhat more serious.
it was, for want of a better term, somewhat disappointing, then, to read this particular article by him today. whereas there may well be a case to suggest that Kevin Pietersen is indeed a "problem worth having", the "like Ian Botham" bit of Mr Tyers does not sit well with me at all, and probably does not with a fair few (hundred / thousand) other readers.
a good deal of what Mr Tyers writes is accurate and spot on, and i do hope that you take the time to click the links above to read this particular article and indeed others from him. i don't wish to take the article apart, but i just cannot escape the feeling that key points in a comparison between Botham and Pietersen have been missed, for whatever reason, by the writer.
here's five of them for your consideration.
Alan Tyers is pretty much on the button when he describes all the fuss about "being a team player" as somewhat misleading in regards of the current controversy around Kevin Pietersen. when one remembers the greats of the game, one recalls the moments of sheer solo success, not how well they got on with everyone. this is indeed the case, but hardly enhances the defence of Kevin Pietersen.
i am sat here trying to think of great KP performances. my first thought is of his debut, that amazing trial by fire in late 2004 / early 2005 when he faced his native South Africa in South Africa. in the face of an exceptionally hostile crowd, he delivered five outstanding performances. he was easily the best one day player for England in the series, but alas that wasn't enough. if i recall, the sequence of games was a win for England, a farcical draw as a result of a South African brain melt in the last over and then three comprehensive wins for SA.
in regards of the measure of any English cricketer, his Ashes record is not all what you may think it is. in the 2005 series, whereas he was an important part of a monumental team effort, let us not forget that his casual throwing away of his wicket on the last day of the last Test (during Richie Benaud's last session as a commentator in England, no less) very nearly led to a collapse that could easily have seen England not, in fact, win the Ashes for the first time in a couple of decades. in the 2006 - 2007 series he put in some good peformances, but let us not forget that England lost the series 5-0 with incredible ease. England reclaimed the Ashes in 2009 with Pietersen out injured, and the 2010-2011 series saw Pietersen get runs but not the ones that really swayed the results towards England.
all in all, there's not a great deal in KP's performances that were definitive and could be said to be "match winning". when it comes to Ian Botham and remembering winning performances, well, one comes to mind, does it not?
it is not every English or Australian player that gets an Ashes series named after them. when someone mentions "Botham's Ashes", however, you think straight away of the 1981 series. specifically, one thinks of the Headingley Test, where despite odds of 500/1, Botham's performance inspired an England win.
that there are many other matches that one could say "Botham won that game" about kind of illustrates the difference between the two.
this leads nicely into the second point
As the infamous fake KP Genuis "twitter" account mentioned, "there's no i in team but there are four of them in individual brilliance". and Kevin Pietersen, make no mistake, is sheer, absolute brilliance in regards of batting. it's a great shame, then, that his brilliance has sat very much on top of the England team, rather than as an integral part of it.
the recent, quite possibly last, Test series Pietersen was involved in pretty much sums it up. as dazzling as he was at times with the bat and, indeed in the second Test, ball, it just wasn't enough at the right time. in the first Test the innings he delivered at first was what was needed in the second but it never came. in the second Test he did all he could, but just not enough to avoid a draw.
you can level as much of that as you like at his team mates i suppose. not, however, when you are seeking to compare him to Ian Botham.
Botham, a genuine all-rounder rather than an accidental one, was one of the most astonishing players of the game ever. in this case, though, individual brilliance inspired the rest of the team to play just that little bit better and he caused others to push their own skill levels beyond what perhaps they thought was their own cieling
Headingley 1981 is the classic example of this. yes, it is remembered as the match that Botham won, and his figures tell you why it is remembered like that. he would tell you different, though. all that Botham did in that match would have been for nothing had (the now sadly late) Graham Dilley not stayed at the crease during his magnificent innings, and let's not forget the fine job Bob Willis did of bowling Australia out to seal the win.
cast your eyes over the details of the 1985 Ashes, the ill-fated attempts to beat the West Indies in the 80s, England 1992 World Cup campaign and indeed Durham's first season as a County Cricket side. they all say the same thing - teams with Botham in them played better. there was also that rather infamous instance, i think it was whilst playing in Australia, where Botham was so hung over from the night before that he went out to bat without his bat. he still went on to score something over 30, after a colleague had brought him a bat, of course.
whether Pietersen is or is not in the England side has always pretty much meant "same difference" to the result. even if one leaves aside Pietersen's "look at me" approach to his individual brilliance - a characteristic i do not recall of Botham - there's not much room for comparison between the two.
Respect Of Peers
if asked about Ian Botham, at best Javed Miandad and Ian Chappell might retain a dignified silence, at worst may say that they do not care for the man at all. quite a few around the world will no doubt recall, with some offence taken, certain innocent quips he has made over the years - like how Pakistan was "the perfect place to send a Mother-in-Law", and indeed how his hope for the 1992 World Cup was to "beat a team of 11 convicts in a stadium filled with 60,000 convicts".
other than that, if asked about Ian Botham i would imagine anyone else (assuming they are familiar with cricket) would have nothing but praise to give.
i recall, for instance, him being spoken of as the one player Australians wished was Australian. i cannot think of a higher compliment ever paid to a cricketer. add to that the outright love Viv Richards has for him and i think you get the picture.
when Botham, on the crest of public support, was Knighted, it was not even for what he had done in the world of cricket. Sir Ian Botham became so due to his selfless, incredible and importantly successful charity work, walking miles across Britain to raise money.
you kind of get a reversal of circumstance when you consider Kevin Pietersen. when he first came along he was greeted, of coure, with a wave of support. apparently rejected by South Africa purely because of his colour, his adoption by England was viewed as sympathetic, in particular in the face of the incredible abuse he got from South African crowds. as time went on, of course, one got the distinct impression that his colour was the least, possibly smallest barrier to him having ever getting near to the South African side.
an endearing image from the 2005 Ashes series, the one in which Pietersen made his name as much as Botham did his in 1981, was that of Kevin Pietersen and Shane Warne stood together. they were there, for all the world to see, as two great friends, two exceptional players and two fierce contestants who would give neither an inch, not that one would ask. Shane Warne in the build up to that series hailed Pietersen's Test selection as great for the game, and spoke of sheer admiration for him as a player. never mind the fact that Shane Warne is one of the five greatest cricketers ever, the idea of an Aussie player heaping praise on an English player before an Ashes series is, as far as i am aware, an incident without comparison.
the Australians tend to have a slightly different take on Kevin Pietersen these days. it is they who are credited with giving him the nickhame "FIGJAM". if you are unaware of what the letters in that acronym stand for, well, enjoy the laugh when you find out!
the reaction from cricketers to Pietersen's fall from grace and exit from the England side is quite telling. the England team speak of how they are just fine without him, thanks. non-English players have for the most part said "he is a great player and England will miss him" and so very, very little else.
Shane Warne is perhaps the closest to an apologist for his mate, suggesting that KP and Strauss "just need a beer to sort it all out". that didn't stop Warne from mentioning just how stupid KP's actions have been.
you kind of get the feeling that Kevin Pietersen shall not be quite so cherished, respected and admired by his peers to the extent that Ian Botham is.
Losing The Captaincy
an interesting parallel between Botham and Pietersen is that they "lost" the England captaincy not all that long after they got it, and yet still continued to play Test cricket. that's quite rare and a fair comparison, but the manner in which both lost the captaincy could not be more different.
both, in fairness, were selected as popular choices above leadership skills. both certainly did the best they could of the job on the field. and that, alas, is where the similarities end.
Botham's time as captain saw a dramatic dip in his form. his performances got so poor that there was a case to suggest he should be dropped from the Test team. for the sake of his career and the success of English cricket, the "burden" of captaincy was taken from him. wouldn't you know, thereafter his exceptional form returned.
Botham played, without fail and without question, for every captain appointed after him. there was never a word out of place (at least not in the public domain) and not one instance of him ever trying to undermine or compromise the captain.
this kind of dignity was noted by its absence in the case of Captain Kevin Pietersen, was it not?
there really wasn't much of a burden to captaincy for KP - his batting carried on as ever. in fact, and this is where the problem came in, Pietersen actively sought to extend the duties of England captain. the specifics have never been made public, but it seems that Captain Pietersen felt that his duties as captain involved him being able to select new coaching and management staff for the England team. if this wasn't quite "exceeding his mandate" enough, he made these decisions known to the ECB via means of random, sporadic text messages whilst he was on holiday, and holding impromptu press conferences to discuss his ideas for the England set up. rather foolishly, in the end he handed the ECB an ultimatum along the lines of "do it my way or else". there was always only to be one winner there.
considering the disaster that was his approach to the captaincy, it is surprising that Pietersen did not work out his attempts to cover over the problems recently, such as issuing videos on the internet, were not likely to work.
whereas Pietersen's prolific form was hardly changed by being captain or having it taken away from him, the case of how he fared under a different captain is a little different from Ian Botham. you go ahead and feel free to ask Andrew Strauss, or any of the ODI and Twenty Twenty captains, if they felt that Kevin Pietersen did anything that might undermine or challenge their leadership.
in asking if a player is "worth the trouble" one early on has to ask "can they be replaced?". the answers are probably not, no in regards of Ian Botham, probably easily, yes, in regards of Kevin Pietersen.
Ian Botham was no angel. between tales of arrest for possession of cannibis to fighting with members of the Chappell family and insulting entire nations Ian Botham got his fair share of reprimands, fines and suspensions. never once, though, did he hold his beloved team to ransom.
there's a case to say that England have never really replaced I T Botham in their line up. they have come very close with Darren Gough and of course Freddie (Andrew) Flintoff, the latter certainly being the closest. i am certain that Stuart Broad could take the role of a great all-rounder too, if only England were not so reliant on his bowling.
as for Kevin Pietersen, well, his runs have been nice. if you ask "could someone else get those runs" the answer is yes. as we have seen in this series, Taylor and Bairstow look comfortable at Test level, and i dare say plenty more are lurking in the County Cricket side. it's unlikley we will have as good a poster boy as KP in the near future, but then again what good is a player who looks good on posters when no one really wishes to have his poster on their wall?
the tragedy of the fall of Kevin Pietersen is that no one is particularly fussed about it. how can we wipe our tears away, a recent editorial asked, when all our eyes are dry? this has been a self-inflicted destruction of a career, more pointless than it is sad.
i understand why Alan Tyers took to compare Pietersen with Botham, for both were outstanding servants of the game. however, as i think i've shown above, there are far too many differences for a serious comparison. one can only hope that Sir Botham kind of respects what Mr Tyers was trying to say and does not take him to task too badly about it.
thanks for reading.
be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!