Sunday, April 14, 2024

COZIER ON CRICKET: No strangers to conflict


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EXCEPT for a couple of clear-cut differences, Chris Gayle and Kevin Pietersen are two peas from the same cricketing pod.

Strapping, powerful six-footers, they are dynamic batsmen with imposing records. Across all formats, Gayle has a combined total of 109 hundreds; Pietersen, 98.

They espouse a desire to continue representing their national teams even as they are in constant demand from the mushrooming domestic T20 franchise leagues whose mind-blowing contracts have earned each exceptional wealth.

Gayle enjoys life in his three-storey mansion in the hills overlooking his native Kingston; Pietersen delights in giving his Aston Martin a workout on the motorways of England where he resides with his pop star wife and infant son in luxury similar to Gayle’s in Jamaica. 

In common with most sporting superstars, egos that match the size of their bank balance stimulate their competitive juices.

Only their physical backgrounds and the causes, and repercussions, of the various controversies in which they have been embroiled separate them.

Gayle is a super-cool Jamaican with the typical West Indian penchant for partying, Pietersen a somewhat less high-spirited white South African of British nationality.

As popular in the dressing room as he is in the stands, Gayle’s repeated run-ins have been with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and its management.

Less than a week into his initial appointment as ODI captain in England in 2007, he chastised the WICB for its failure to get chosen players from the Caribbean over in time for two warm-up matches.

Repeated wrangling and a players’ strike in 2009 prompted Gayle’s replacement as skipper in 2010. A dispute with head coach Ottis Gibson and chief executive Ernest Hilaire after the 2011 World Cup led to his banishment from the team for 15 months.

It took pressure from a public for whom Gayle’s belligerence, with bat and attitude, typified Bob Marley’s lyrics, “Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights” and, eventually, the intervention of three Caribbean prime ministers to end his exile.

It did not stop Gayle telling it as he saw fit. As recently as January, he openly railed against the omission of Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard from the World Cup squad in Australia and New Zealand, leading to a threat of disciplinary action from the board. 

Now 35, chronic back and leg injuries have eliminated him from the last seven Tests. Whatever future he has would be confined to limited-overs matches for West Indies and his host of franchise teams. 

Pietersen was elevated to England’s captaincy in 2008 at the pinnacle of his powers as the game’s premier batsman. He lasted three Tests and 12 ODIs before a fallout with coach Peter Moores led to his demotion back into the ranks.

It became a recurring scenario. It was said he was a divisive figure within the team, a claim that gained credence with his derision of skipper Andrew Strauss through texts to the opposition (as it happened, his native South Africa) during the Headingley Test three years ago and his disparagement of fellow England players in his hard-hitting autobiography last October.

James Anderson and Stuart Broad were dressing room bullies, he charged, adding that Broad is “not the sharpest tool in the box”. In a biting analogy, he described wicketkeeper Matt Prior as a “big cheese” who was just “a Dairylea triangle thinking he’s Brie”. Former coach Andy Flower was dismissed as “dreadful”. Current captain Alistair Cook was also targeted.

Had Gayle, even in his pomp, messaged denigration of captain Darren Sammy to, say, England players and then slagged off Ramnaresh Sarwan, Marlon Samuels, Denesh Ramdin and Jerome Taylor in widely publicised print, he would have been summarily sent packing with hardly a squeak from the West Indian public, except for a concerted chorus of “How could you, Chris?”.

As it is, the saga has not ended with last week’s notification, ironically from Strauss, now the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) director of cricket, that, at 34, Pietersen effectively won’t play for England again.

As Pietersen asserted he was “desperate” to rekindle his England career, incoming England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) head Colin Graves said in a BBC interview that he could be picked if he found a county, scored runs and selectors felt it right to bring him back.

To Pietersen, the door was ajar. He forsook his Indian Premier League (IPL) contract to play for Surrey and emphatically made his point with his first triple century, an unbeaten 355 in his first innings for Surrey. Not surprisingly, he felt that would be enough to satisfy Graves’ conditions.

His reaction to his subsequent rejection was typical: “I just find it incredibly deceitful what has happened to me.”

It set off yet another fight, this time with Graves who charged that his integrity had been “called into question, something I can’t accept”.

With Pietersen as always at its centre, the drama will drag on, becoming increasingly more divisive should England be once more walloped by Australia in the Ashes series in the summer, as is the expectation.


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