I don’t like Piers Morgan, a man who, as Peter Oborne put it in The Daily Telegraph last week, has made a living out of reporting on our “more or less worthless celebrity culture”. But I think Morgan is right that it was a mistake to sack Kevin Pietersen. Oborne argues that Pietersen’s selfish behaviour is typical of our times – great cricketers of the past, like Colin Cowdrey, put their country first.
There is something in this, but I’m not convinced that Pietersen, in Oborne’s words, “is a manifestation of the unqualified victory of neo-liberal market economics” over the past two or three decades. (“Neo-liberals,” says Oborne, have little time for social institutions and “regard community, place and nation as worthless superstitions. Above all, they place the individual first.”)
But great sportsmen, like great artists, have often been a law unto themselves. Pietersen has a huge ego and can be a pain in the neck. Yet, on his day, he is the most exciting batsman in the world and we are the poorer for his departure.
Under the headline, “Master of his art always worth the trouble”, The Times’s Simon Barnes compared him to the pop singer Deco in The Commitments: Deco was a pain, but he had a great voice and “the band was nothing without him”.
In The Guardian, Martin Kettle compared him to the opera singer Maria Callas. “She set new standards of intensity… But Callas was a monster as well as a marvel. She threw tantrums. She put herself first. She walked away mid-performance. She cancelled. She drove colleagues mad. But I’ll go to my grave regretting that I am just too young to have heard Callas sing.”
In The Daily Telegraph, Geoffrey Boycott thought Pietersen should have gone ages ago. “How do you teach youngsters to bat sensibly when the best player in the team plays unbelievably stupid strokes?” I spent my childhood idolising Boycott, but strong sporting teams find ways of coping with mavericks. Where Boycott is right is on the need for strong captains. Pietersen would never have got away with stupid shots if he’d played for Yorkshire in its heyday.
“Ray Illingworth would have said: ‘What were you thinking?’ Fred Trueman would have said: ‘Thanks to you I have to get my bowling boots back on.’ Brian Close would have given him a bunch of fives!” What Pietersen needed was a strong captain; sadly, in recent times, he hasn’t had one.
Mrs B’s admirable defiance
Springing to Sally Bercow’s defence in the Daily Mail, Sarah Vine (who’s married to Michael Gove) agreed that, as a politician’s wife, “getting completely blootered with your mates, going clubbing until 2am, and then snogging a ‘friend’ in full view of a photographer… is definitely not ideal”.
But Vine can’t find it in her to heap opprobrium on the Speaker’s wife. There’s “something about her refusal… to toe the line that a tiny part of me is secretly in awe of”. Everyone who enters the orbit of Westminster is changed by it – “with the exception of Mrs B”.
Tabloid money: Prince Charles plays a blinder in Somerset
• “According to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the current house-price boom will last for at least a decade,” says Rod Liddle in The Sun. “The Chinless Wonder, George Osborne, predicted the prices would go on rising and rising – they’ve already risen by more than 11% in London in one year. That’s great news, isn’t it, for the millions of people who can’t afford to buy so much as a broom cupboard?” We’re still not building “even half the number of affordable homes the country needs each year”.
• Prince Charles has played “a blinder”, says Carole Malone in the Sunday Mirror. While Lord Smith, the Environment Agency boss, refused to apologise to residents of the Somerset Levels “for all but abandoning them, Charles donned his waterproofs and wellies, and hightailed it down to Muchelney, where he got down, dirty and very wet with the locals. He also spent hours talking to farmers in a way that showed them he understood what they were going through. He then pledged £50,000 from his Countryside Fund, which seemed to jump start the government into pledging £100m the following day. So good on Charles for shaming them into it and for showing the desperate residents of Muchelney that someone actually gives a damn!”
• “Nobody likes having their truncheon laughed at, but it still boggles belief that an ex-policeman has been awarded £440,000, because he couldn’t take being ridiculed by colleagues,” says Tony Parsons in The Sun on Sunday.
“PC Mike Baillon and a colleague stopped 74-year-old stroke victim Robert Whatley because he was not wearing a seatbelt. Mr Whatley drove off without permission and when the boys in blue caught up with him, PC Baillon struck the disabled man’s car 15 times with his metal baton.”
The footage went viral and Baillon was upset by the ridicule he incurred. The £440,000 sum came from adding up 12 years’ salary on the highest pay grade. “Pathetic.” Every day brave policemen endure “a hell of a lot worse than hurt feelings”.