In the big wide world of sport my love of cricket is bettered only by my love of rugby. And so I’ve not enjoyed the recent debacle surrounding the sacking of Kevin Pieterson. I imagine few have; not least the people involved.
I’ve never met KP. And that’s important. I’ve never played in a team with him. And that’s not surprising! But I’ve met his brother, who’s a fine Christian man and not a half bad cricketer either. He dispatched me for one of the biggest sixes I’ve ever been subjected to, which is saying something given that’s it’s a common occurrence when I bowl! But we never talked about Kevin. And so, not having met KP personally, it’s hard to know what to make of the decision by the English Cricket Board (ECB) to part ways with him. Alec Stewart, the Surrey Director of Cricket and former England test player has been a staunch supporter of KP. And that’s not nothing. But perhaps you’d expect him to be positive since they’re trying to sign Pieterson for the T20 this season!
From a fans’ perspective, the thought of him never again pulling on an England shirt to destroy a front line bowling attack is a little disappointing, to say the least. At his pomp he was magnificent; a man capable of great innings even if he wasn’t a great player (as ex-England spinner Phil Tufnell pointed out in a recent interview with the BBC). But then you read the reports; Michael Atherton, Jonathan Agnew and so on and you begin to wonder about KP’s influence in the team environment. As, I think Atherton pointed out in the Times, Pieterson has had to leave almost every team that he’s played for. And the common denominator has been Pieterson. It would seem therefore that he’s not only not a great player; he’s not a team player either. And no amount of ability can make up for that. Gifted, single minded, driven, capable individuals can be really difficult to incorporate into the team environment. They’re set apart from the start. They stand apart. And everyone knows it. And so do they. When they do their thing it becomes obvious that they’re just that little bit special. So when KP brought the ‘the switch hit’ or ‘the flamingo’ out of the locker it was obvious that here was a prodigiously gifted individual. But his issue was not that he was gifted. His issue was that he didn’t play team. He didn’t use his gifts and abilities for the common good. He wasn’t someone who employed his talent to advance the cause of those he was in partnership with. And so when you hear of his longing to compile 10,000 test runs you were forced to wonder who he was doing it for. Far too many people in the ECB thought that he was doing it simply for himself. And so, Paul Downton the new Chairman of the ECB wants to start afresh and build ‘a new team ethic and philosophy’. That appears to be incompatible with Pieterson’s continued involvement. It’s a real shame. But it’s not the end of the world. Pieterson remains an extraordinary talent. And he’s likely to make an absolute financial killing in the lucrative Indian Premier League over the next few years. But he’ll always be associated with individualistic selfishness; unquestioningly capable but lacking in the character required to make the team more than the sum of its parts.
Steve Archibald, the former Spurs striker once famously said that team spirit is ‘an illusion glimpsed in the aftermath of victory’. And it’s often the case that rapport and camaraderie is easier to establish when you’re going somewhere and you’re winning. But the thin veneer of superficial team spirit gets scratched away when teams struggle. And so, it’s not surprising that when the wheels came off the wagon in Australia and England were soundly thrashed, the fall out wouldn’t be limited to the removal of Andy Flower, the coach. There were always going to be other casualties. Pieterson is one of those. And the reason seems to be his corrosive effect on the team.
At our church, God has brought us many able individuals. That’s par for the course in a city like London. It tends to attract some of the best in their fields of expertise. And some of them end up in church. We’re not all like that. Most of us are (wonderfully) very ordinary. But various companies and organisations pay large sums of money to employ us because of what we offer them. That can go to our heads. We can think of ourselves more highly than we ought. At church, we pay them nothing. In fact, the money tends to flow the other way as part of their participation with us! But we need their gifts. What we don’t need is their individualism. In the words of Prime Minister David Cameron, ‘we’re all in this together’. It may have been High School Musical. But we need able, gifted and talented people. But we need team players so much more.