KP – The AutobiographyMartin Chandler |
Author: Pietersen, Kevin
Rating: 2.5 stars
I didn’t find out until last year that it is common knowledge around the advocate’s room of my local magistrates court that I have an interest in cricket literature. I don’t ever recall discussing the subject with anyone there but, clearly, that aspect of my character has struck enough of a chord with one of the few lawyers I have ever mentioned it to for word to get out. I dare say I was probably being mocked at the time of this revelation, but have decided I will treat it as a compliment that my fellow professionals are sufficiently interested in my hobby to talk about it.
The means through which I acquired this knowledge is that no less than three individuals, two male and one female, separately approached me to tell me they had taken the trouble to go out and buy a copy of KP – The Autobiography, and how much they had enjoyed it. I knew that one of the blokes was a handy cricketer who still played a bit and took an interest in the game, but he confirmed to me that it was the only cricket book he had ever bought. Neither of the other two had ever made such a shrewd investment either, and neither of them had, in their own words, any more than a passing interest in cricket.
To the amazement of all three I reported that I hadn’t read the book. At that point I had a choice. I could have played the old curmudgeon and advised them to go off and buy a decent cricket book, and indeed that was what my instinct told me to do, but I held back. Instead I showed an interest, asked about the book, and was rewarded by a request for further recommendations. That was a bit of a tricky one as none of the three was more than half my age and none had any sort of interest in the history of the game. After some thought the single suggestion I made was Marcus Trescothick’s autobiography and, fair play to the handy cricketer, he later told me he had taken my advice and found Tresco’s story an interesting one as well. He didn’t ask for any further ideas though, adding that as he first took an interest in the game back in 2005 he now considered his two book library told him all he needed to know.
The reviews of KP – The Autobiography that appeared in the press at the time were something I did read. Lawyers have a tendency to leave newspapers lying around in all parts of court buildings so, ironically enough, that is where I read most of them. Jim White in the Daily Telegraph was one who put me off instantly by writing this is a book that grabs you by the throat and refuses to let go, a whirlwind of aggression and jaw-dropping indiscretion, largely conducted in the language of the barrack room. And while it might sadden the England supporter to see the mystique around their team so comprehensively unpicked, you can only admire Pietersen’s shameless audacity.
I was more interested in reading the thoughts of Stephen Brenkley, one of about 70 people I follow on Twitter. His summary was rather more sage; One of cricket’s great entertainers spends 315 pages dealing in revenge, vitriol and persecution – and virtually ignores his many wonderful deeds in the middle. Later on he added; There were so many moments when it was possible to feel deeply sorry for Kevin Pietersen. The saddest arrived towards the end of the 315 pages; “Am I bitter?” he asks. “No, and no again. There should be more cricket in these pages but there was a story that had to be told.” He tells it in such relentless, unforgiving detail that there is barely room or time to dwell on the fun that he must have had and the joy he undoubtedly gave. I was reminded of my own comments on Jim Laker’s 1959 autobiography, Over To Me, tame stuff by Pietersen’s standards, but in its time it had a not dissimilar impact.
As a result of reading White, Brenkley and others I decided, in the absence of a review copy falling through the letterbox of Cricketweb Towers, that here was a book I could allow to pass me by. To be fair most of the reviews were positive, some very much so, but that was clearly not indicative of the quality of the prose. It seemed to me the appeal was mainly to those who took a ghoulish interest in celebrities, to use a cliché beloved of the lower levels of the judiciary, washing their dirty linen in public.
Two things changed my mind, and caused me to spend a few pounds of my own hard earned on KP – The Autobiography. The first was my first ever evening out with a group of fellow hard core cricket tragics. One of them admitted to having bought the book, although in a move calculated to enable him to deny ownership if necessary, a kindle version, but he wasn’t wholly dismissive. The second was the arrival of my copy of Wisden a few days later. As always I started with the book reviews, and former Mail on Sunday cricket correspondent Patrick Collins’ condemnation of a book he clearly did not enjoy. He was unimpressed generally, but the oft-quoted criticism by KP of England colleague James Taylor brought forth a withering attack; It is difficult to know which aspect of the story is the most abhorrent: the arrogance of a player – who was neither captain nor vice-captain – rubbishing a selection; the casual demeaning of a young cricketer; or the snide smugness of the conclusion. Ouch! This was, I decided, a book I had to read for myself.
I have to admit that parts of the book do rather lend themselves to ‘skim reading’, and the passage about Taylor is every bit as distasteful as Collins suggests but, and there is no way of getting away from this, there are some interesting passages. No one who has been involved in litigation, particularly with family cases, will fail to understand that two parties to a dispute can vociferously and adamantly stick to opposite sides of a story yet still maintain utter conviction in the truth of what they say. Thus I am quite happy to accept that KP believes every word that is written in his name in this autobiography is true, but I temper that acceptance with the knowledge, his schism with his England teammates and management being in many ways akin to a divorce, that his objectivity will be wildly skewed.
KP clearly hates Andy Flower with a passion, and not, I can accept, without some justification. I am equally confident that the diatribe that is the chapter about Matt Prior, Le Grand Fromage, does indeed represent evidence of a culture of something similar to bullying in the England dressing room. After all throw together a talented bunch of individuals, all of whom know just how good they are, and a Mothers Union style coffee morning is not what you are going to get. I am reasonably confident however that Pietersen fails to comprehend that some of what upset him he probably deserved, and that he may not be the team man he would like to have us believe. Alistair Cook for example comes across as just the sort of man to make the best job possible of managing a disparate group of personalities in a difficult situation. KP doesn’t appreciate that though – for him Cook is just a ‘yes man’ but, not for the only time, KP’s reader is left with the very clear impression that he doth protest too much.
So is KP – The Autobiography worth buying? My inclination is to say no, or at least not at the moment anyway. As the book closes KP makes his oft-repeated statement of regret at his falling out with England and expression of hope that the story might not be quite over. A few months ago a KP recall seemed about as likely as the Ashes coming home this summer, but the wind has changed direction now, so there may be a new edition in time for Christmas 2015. Even if there isn’t the book, sales having doubtless run out of steam by now, will surely be remaindered very soon and therefore be available at a fraction of the cover price. As to the alternative question of whether it is worth reading that is one that, disappointing as the book is in places, I feel obliged to answer in the affirmative. The narrative is seldom enjoyable, and never uplifting, but the insights it provides into the clashes that inevitably occur between major sporting egos are fascinating. I am sure I am not the only person who has read KP – The Autobiography who was left wondering what we might have had if 21st century attitudes to what should remain in the dressing room (ie nothing) had held sway in years gone by – O’Reilly on Bradman, Allen on Jardine and Barnett on Hammond being just three that occurred to me – if they did exist perhaps even my young colleague might accept that a cricket library should consist of more than two books.