20150121

Kevin Pietersen and Geoffrey Boycott: Two cricketers, two eras, two giant egos

  • Five publishers battled for KP's guaranteed best seller
  • Boycott's cancer fight catalyst for new autobiography
  • Pietersen's focus was on airing his grievances
  • Yorkshire batsman opens up as never before

Reviews

Books shop sports sections used to bulge with cricket biographies. These days, few see the light of day with the larger publishers if they do not scream 'guaranteed best seller.' That was clearly the case with two that did find a place in mainstream catalogues in 2014.

After all the claims and counter-claims that surrounded his jettisoning from England's cricket teams, Kevin Pietersen's autobiography was always going to fly off the shelves as the South African-born batsman -- the most exciting star in the English game since Ian Botham -- took the opportunity to tell his side of the biggest cricket story since Botham's chequered career was making front page headlines in the 1980s.

It was no wonder there were five publishers competing for the right to publish his story, Little, Brown eventually winning the bidding war for the book, which was published under the Sphere imprint in time for the Christmas market.

Geoffrey Boycott has not picked up a cricket bat in anger -- at least not in terms of playing the game for a living -- since Yorkshire declined to offer him a new contract in September 1986, when Pietersen was perhaps picking one up for the first time as a six-year-old boy in Pietermaritzburg.

Yet his outspoken punditry has enabled him to stay at the forefront of the game, and his survival after developing throat cancer ensured that his first biography for 27 years would have plenty of material for Simon & Schuster to be confident of success.

Here, The Sports Bookshelf takes a close look at Boycott's The Corridor of Certainty and Pietersen's KP: The Autobiography.

The Corridor of Certainty: My Life Beyond Cricket, by Geoffrey Boycott (Simon & Schuster)

An autobiography needs to provide a shock or two to catch a headline-writer's eye and Boycott delivers his in the opening paragraph, which contains an apology.  Recounting how many enemies he has made during his life in cricket, he admits that his forthright manner "sometimes rubbed people up the wrong way."

"For that I am sorry," he writes.  Contrition is not what we have come to expect from Geoffrey, although some have suggested that he rather underestimates how many noses he has put out of joint.  As one reviewer put it, were to he replace 'sometimes' with 'always' in his confessional opening sentence, it might be more accurate.

Boycott's first autobiography, published in 1987, contained few if any apologies, outlining as it did his position in the civil war that tore Yorkshire cricket apart during the 1970s and 1980s and why he was right.

Now he looks back from a different perspective, a mellower and more rounded one perhaps, as a 74-year old cancer survivor.  The Yorkshire controversies -- and his decision to exile himself from Test cricket between 1974 and 1977 -- are revisited, but now with an acknowledgment that he made mistakes and an admission that he has regrets, not least the 18 years in which he was estranged from Fred Trueman, the teammate he had idolised as a boy yet with whom he did not speak between 1983 and 2001.
Yorkshire and England batsman Geoff Boycott

The chapters on his emotional response to his cancer diagnosis and on the gruelling treatment he endured in order to overcome the disease come early in the book.  Boycott describes the experience in such candid, personal terms it is impossible not to be moved.

It is Boycott opening up as never before and we learn about the effect on his life of marrying Rachael, with whom he had an on-off relationship spanning 40 years, and his joy at enjoying in his senior years the experience of fatherhood, with the arrival of their daughter, Emma.

There is a strong chapter too on his admiration for and friendship with Brian Clough, an unlikely coming together of two super-egos that led to an enduring friendship.  Clough loved cricket and admired Boycott for his skill and professionalism, while Boycott followed football closely and saw in Clough a man of maverick characteristics with which he could empathise.

The glaring omission from the book is anything at all on his conviction for assaulting a former lover in France in 1998, for which he was given a suspended jail sentence.

As for Boycott being a changed man, humbled by having confronted the possibility of dying, rest assured he has not yet become a self-effacing model of modesty.  Even in the darkest moments of his illness, when fear dominated his thoughts, he reminds himself how famous he is.

The day before his first visit to a specialist, aware that there was something wrong and able to think of little else, he and Rachael hosted a lunch at their home for members of the touring Indian cricket team, Boycott noting that Suarev Ganguly, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid "wanted to watch films of me batting".  Rachael, meanwhile, had arranged for a local restaurant to provide the food only to discover it was Pakistani rather than Indian, much to her embarrassment.  Boycott, though, was able to reassure her.  Any fears that the Indian team might be 'nobbled' by their fiercest rivals could be discounted, he said, because "all the waiters were far more interested in being in Geoffrey Boycott's house and having photographs with me."

Boycott fans would find it disturbing to find that the iconic Yorkshireman had changed beyond recognition, however, and this updated memoir, pulled together nicely by Nick Hoult of the Daily Telegraph, has plenty to commend it.

KP: The Autobiography of Kevin Pietersen, by Kevin Pietersen  (Sphere)

Accustomed to failure in the 1990s, English cricket fans could have been forgiven for getting a little giddy when the Test team rose to the top of the world rankings and inflicted three innings defeats on Australia in one series.

But beneath this success there lay an undercurrent of bullying, a "contagiously sour and infectiously dour" head coach in Andy Flower and a clique spearheaded by the "Big Cheese" in wicket-keeper Matt Prior.

These are the words of Kevin Pietersen, the flamboyant batsman whom the media placed on a pedestal previously occupied by Sir Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff.  Within the dressing room, though -- at least in some parts of it -- he felt he was held in much lower esteem.

Pietersen's hard-hitting autobiography, ghost-written by Sunday Times journalist David Walsh, has rocked the cricket establishment.   Out of contract with both England and Surrey, Pietersen was able to lift the lid on such matters as Textgate, the Twitter parody account 'KP Genius', his reintegration into the England set-up and his 'sacking' by England after last winter's Ashes whitewash, without fear of punishment.

He admits he was often naive and sometimes stupid, but insists he should not be cast as the villain, despite having been the common denominator in most of the recent controversies engulfing the England and Wales Cricket Board.

It appears throughout the book that Pietersen's biggest demon is within himself. Although he does discuss his troubles against left-arm spin, he tends to reflect on his performances in terms of whether or not he was "feeling right" at the crease rather than the threat posed by opposing bowlers.

Pietersen thrives when he is allowed to express himself and play naturally and believes he and Flower clashed because the Zimbabwean resented this carefree approach.  He says Flower "took all the fun out of playing for England", although given that he inspired the side to such great success it is hard to imagine his players hated their work that much.

Pietersen is fiercely critical of the ECB for not managing his schedule, despite complicating matters himself by participating in the Indian Premier League, the virtues of which he extols.  He slams the ECB and his former teammates for decrying it, yet acknowledges that he succeeded in winning lavish contracts year after year where his colleagues mostly failed.  It is no wonder that they may have resented him talking about his experiences there.
England outcast Kevin Pietersen

He was convinced teammates were contributing to the 'KP Genius' Twitter account, which he took to be ridiculing him.  The players have denied any involvement, although one can easily imagine they would have revelled in the indignation and outrage the account provoked.

He seems at his most thin-skinned in the accusations he levels at Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann -- aided by 'Big Cheese' Prior -- whom he alleges would bully fielders who dropped catches or made misfields.  Yet for a bowler to explode with rage at a fielder reacting slowly or failing to stop a second run is hardly an unusual occurrence.

Pietersen's claim that this created an 'atmosphere of fear' is again not reflected by results, at least not until they dipped as his England career came towards its end.

While eloquently presented, the focus of the book is less on Pietersen's career than those individuals he perceives to have wronged him.  Yet he maintains he is not bitter.  He reiterates his love of playing for England and still says he would "jump at the chance" of a return.  After this explosive tale, it is hard to see the selectors falling over themselves to make that call.

Buy The Corridor of Certainty from Amazon , Waterstones or WHSmith.

Buy KP: The Autobiography from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

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