Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 15, 2012

On Iain O’Brien, Kevin Pietersen and the denial and assertion of identity

When an Empire asserted how to be – Soviet Man.

Iain O’Brien’s considered and beautifully written exploration of his struggle to find an identity in cricket, goes part of the way to explaining a very strange twenty minutes that made little sense to me at the time, but now does – at least a little. Iain’s piece is worth reading – and re-reading – in its entirety, but one phrase captures its essence: I still didn’t know how to be.

After Day Four of the Second Test vs West Indies in June, KP gave an extraordinary press conference. Understandably uneasy in front of journos with little cricket to write about in a rain-ruined match, KP first announced that he wouldn’t talk about his future and then talked and talked and talked about his future – it was a miniature of his late summer video volte face, as he unretired himself from ODI cricket and made himself available for England.

I was struck in those twenty minutes by how KP didn’t appear to know how to be (in Iain’s pithy phrase). There seemed to be at least three personalities competing to resolve the conflict in his mind. There was the man wary of a voracious press pack very keen to draw cricket’s biggest story straight from the horse’s mouth. Resisting that urge for reticence, was the showman, the man eager to please, eager to bask in the love (as he once claimed after a Lord’s ovation for a hundred), eager to impress himself on the room as he impresses himself on bowlers. And then (perhaps, I am no Mike Brearley) a third personality was there manifest in the rictus smile at the end of an answer, in the glowering between the grins, in the darting eyes. This was the man keen to do with his statements what he had done so often with his bat – assert the performative in speech as in deeds (as he had once willed himself from run of the mill South African off-spinner to superstar English batsman).

I wondered why the word “performative” had come back to me 27 years on, but this quote from John Searle explains why – “the successful performance of the speech act is sufficient to bring about the fit between words and world, to make the propositional content true.”

By claiming to love playing for England, but in refusing to honour his contract, by asserting that his workload was impossible to balance with his responsibilities as a father, but refusing to rule out playing in Twenty20 competitions as a freelance; by asserting the supremacy of Test cricket, while reveling in the glamour, the adulation and the money of the IPL, KP may have been hoping that the act of vocalising these contradictions would be enough to resolve them – by saying how he wanted to be, he could be.

Iain finishes his piece, writing –

All I wanted to do was be myself. I wanted to be comfortable in my own skin. But in these situations, outside of my hotel room, I didn’t know who I was. Everything I did was a bluff. All the confidence I showed was faked. Fake it until you make it. The problem with this, though, is that you’re never comfortable. You spend so much time and energy pretending that it wears you down.

Perhaps KP’s issues are related to Iain’s but slightly different. Perhaps he isn’t faking it – perhaps we see the reality, unclouded by media training, by doubt, by hesitation. We see the South African Englishman, the individual in the team, the man hungry for Test cricket and hungry for the IPL and its imitators. Perhaps this is how to be – if you’re KP.


You can tweet me @garynaylor999.



  1. Gary, you’re the best-kept secret on the internet.

    • Well, maybe worst paid!

      Not sure I got this one exactly right, but I wanted to get it down before Lord’s tomorrow.

  2. Does anyone know where Nesta is, btw?

    • I haven’t seen him round these or other parts for some time – I (and the site) miss his insight, wit and love of the game.

  3. All summer KP has sounded like a man in need of a hug.
    Not surprised he pointed the finger at Swann, but a little surprised the other one he pointed the finger at was Jimmy. Given the bad blood when he left to play with Warnie, I was expecting it to be a Nottinghamshire Mafia thing.

  4. Good writing Tooting. I was really struck by O’Brien’s piece too, I thought it a very good description of the incredibly hostile and challenging environment that a sporting team can be, challenging your very manhood. You’ve built on and drawn out his article well.
    “I didn’t know how to be”, indeed.
    I would say though that difficult as it may have been for KP to resolve those conflicts, most people manage too. And it’s usually a precondition for success at high levels.
    I actually feel like tearing my bosses head off at the moment, but I won’t because I’m smart and balanced enough to focus on my main goal, not the road bump. KP failed to resolve conflicting demands, even though he had the world at his feet, and consequently landed himself in it. I have lots of sympathy for the dilemma you describe so well, but it doesn’t extend to him.
    I don’t expect he has resolved anything still, and his new English career will be short lived.

    • Fred – it’s good to see you back here. Thanks for the kind words and I do think you’re right that most people do deal with it, with different degrees of success. But some don’t, and some can’t.

      KP? Who knows…?

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