It was just over eleven months ago that, on an unusually pleasant morning in Colombo, I found myself driving down to Mount Lavinia. Elsewhere, with the World T20 on, hotel lobbies were abuzz, journalists with darting eyes were looking for something no one else might have noticed, autograph books were being whipped out faster than credit cards and players were everywhere but this hotel at Mount Lavinia was quiet. It lay in a secluded corner and that, for one of its guests, was its most attractive feature.
Kevin Pietersen was all over the English media and, not for the first or indeed the last time, it had little to do with his extraordinary ability to play cricket. He’d been left out of the side, the strongest adjectives were being dusted away to describe him and there was a debate on whether he should play for England again. He was being asked to apologise, effectively kneel down in a classroom, get a promise of good conduct signed by his parents for the class teacher. It was unbelievable and I was a bit baffled because the Pietersen I had come across had seemed a bit different.
It threw up a fascinating dilemma. England needed the match-winner in him but England needed him to be a conformist. The two qualities haven’t always co-existed within one person, indeed it is worth studying whether match winners actually become so because they dare to question the given. In the world of business and management which I like to watch from the sidelines, managing mavericks has always been a challenge. And it was thus that I asked Pietersen if he would talk to me on camera. I was quite keen to know how people like him liked to be handled. But given the circumstances I was quite prepared for him to say no. Instead he said yes, gave me an appointment and was ready when I reached his hotel. He was extremely pleasant and when I suggested, slightly haltingly, if he could replace his vest which showed up his biceps and his tattoos with something a little less dramatic, he popped back straightaway and emerged in a polo shirt.
The person who came through in the conversation though was scarcely a rebel. It was clear that he knew he was a better player than almost anybody else in the game but it was also clear that