Our abiding memory of Kevin Pietersen from the last Ashes tour was of him stood on the boundary, happily signing hundreds of autographs for Aussie fans. It wasn’t until the tour was nearly over that it clicked that this impression was the result of the fact that England spent a hell of a lot of time in the field during the series, and that KP was almost always posted in a position that was as far away from the rest of the playing group as physically possible. He nearly always could be seen congratulating Aussie batsman for landmarks at the end of each session (admittedly he had a fair few opportunities to do that), and generally gave the impression of far preferring the hosts company than that of his fellow tourists. Of course, one of his last acts in Test cricket was to be roundly booed by everyone at the SCG as he walked out to bat for the last time. It was probably more than a little tongue in cheek, but it could also be seen as the fans passing condemnation on a player who committed the gravest sin a modern sportsman is capable of: picking the wrong team to play for.
Even England fans might, by now, be more willing to accept the mercenary tag that others long ago attached to Pietersen. If KP really was a mercenary (and in the modern age there really isn’t anything terribly wrong with that), then he could have had, at least theoretically, his pick of which countries to choose from. That he went to England is the result of his junior cricket experience there, but given his lack of further links to that country (we will skip over the fact his mother is English for sake of convenience..) he could have gone pretty much anywhere. Even India, who probably would have loved him to bits. But let’s just assume then he could have gone to Australia, if the same opportunities presented themselves.
How differently, then, would have things worked out? Well, assuming all else remained equal, he probably would have walked into the Australian Test team after the 2005 Ashes, taking either Simon Katich’s place at six or Damien Martyn’s place at four. He would have walked into the One Day team and batted pretty much wherever he wanted, and would have been a fixture in the T20 outfit where, again, he could have done pretty much whatever he wanted. He could have played as much or as little First-class cricket as he liked (Michael Clarke and Shane Watson rarely play more than one domestic First-Class fixture a season, if that). He could have played as much IPL cricket as he liked. Essentially, all those aggravations that seem to have put him and the ECB at loggerheads over the years would have been a non-issue if he had gone East instead of North.
Then there are the…other qualities that he brings to a playing group. Honestly, these probably would have been far less of an issue in the Australian camp than they proved to be in the English. Shane Warne and Steve Waugh hated each other, but it never seemed to impact on team performance. Shane Watson and Michael Clarke are perhaps a better example, but again, they are still able to play together. Even happily so these days it seems. And nobody ever described KP as a cancer on the English team. The Simon Katich fallout is not terribly illuminating as it details the issues of a player who, if anything, cared too much about the team. KP wouldn’t have been one to get stroppy if the captain tried to wind things up early in the dressing room after a win.
Being an utter dickhead isn’t an issue in the Australian dressing room it seems, it only is when it crosses outside that environment and brings the game itself into disrepute (which upsets the sponsors and stuff). So David Warner can be as big of a wanker as he likes, but as long as he doesn’t shoot his mouth off at journalists or try and hit anyone, it’s okay. Given KP would have had pretty much everything he, as a player, could have wanted in terms of conditions provided for him, it’s difficult to see why he would find much need to start causing much trouble outside of the dressing room. He could be as churlish and arrogant as he liked within it, and it wouldn’t really matter too much. Other than impacting on his yearly haul of Christmas cards. It probably shouldn’t be forgotten that Cricket Australia have done far more to accommodate Shane Watson over the years than the ECB have KP. And Watson is barely half the player KP is.
It’s impossible to say if KP would have had a better career if he had played for Australia over England. The post 2006 Australian Test team would definitely have benefited from having him onboard, and his batting average would probably have improved by playing more cricket on Australian surfaces. He would have enjoyed Michael Clarke’s and Ricky Ponting’s brand of aggressive captaincy far better than he did Strauss’ and Cook’s. At least, he probably would have found less cause to bitch about it to the South African team. He would have proven a less divisive figure amongst fans too. It’s hard to criticise one guy for playing a stupid attacking shot and getting out when pretty much everyone else in the team plays the same way. And as long as no bright spark ever tried to make him captain of anything more important than the T20 team, he probably wouldn’t have much in the way of issues with the management either.
While you cannot say that everything would have gone swimmingly if KP had simply chosen one country over the other, the overwhelming impression is that he would have had a far easier time of it from fans, fellow players, media and, most particularly, the cricketing authorities, if he had decided he preferred Vegemite on his toast as opposed to, err, HP sauce. He may still have found the means to get himself into trouble no doubt, but overall we think KP would have had a far happier cricketing career if he gone for Australia over England. And isn’t being happy the most important thing? It certainly seems it is for Kevin Pietersen.