The late, great Peter Osgood, formerly of Chelsea and England fame, tells the story which sums up the Kevin Pietersen-v-English Cricket Board farce which shows no sign of going away quietly.
Osgood, in an interview shortly before his death in 2006, remembered the ‘relationship’ - or, rather, lack of relationship - between Emlyn Hughes and Tommy Smith, two greats of Liverpool past.
To put it bluntly, the pair despised each other.
“I remember this game at Anfield once,” Osgood recalled.
“Chopper’s [Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris] ‘done’ Emlyn Hughes after 15 minutes and he’s gone down squealing.
“Tommy Smith sprints in from 20 yards away, but he sprints straight past Emlyn, his team-mate, gets to Chopper, hauls him up, and says ‘I could get to like you, Harris.’
“Nobody hated Emlyn more than Smithy.”
Another time, Liverpool played Leeds and Hughes was again on the receiving end of a blow from Allan Clarke. Smith, who’d enjoyed his own running battle with the Leeds striker, saw Hughes on the turf, blood pouring from his nose.
His reaction? “Maybe Clarke’s not such a bad bloke after all.”
Their relationship soured when Hughes inherited the Liverpool captaincy from Smith. They allegedly never said a word to each other off the field.
But on it? They helped Liverpool win every major honour in the game; the league title. The FA Cup. Uefa Cups. European Cups.
As another former footballer, Gary Lineker, tweeted on Tuesday: “I have never been in a dressing room where I have liked, or even respected, everyone.
“And I doubt any sportsman ever has.
“You deal with it.”
I just find it incredibly deceitful what has happened to me and am frankly finding it difficult to understand right now. I have done everything I have been asked. I keep asking myself, what more could I do?Kevin Pietersen
Kevin Pietersen’s England career really began with a bang when he scored three ODI centuries against his native South Africa, and was named ‘player of the series’ despite his side losing four of the five games.
Pietersen was seen as a traitor for turning his back on his home country.
He faced jeers at the crease. Fans turned their back on him. But he won them round and his final ton was greeted with applause.
Kevin Peter Pietersen was quickly establishing himself as a young man who did things his way.
Which is why, one imagines, his latest England setback will hurt like hell.
The 34-year-old may hail from Pietermaritzburg but he is, in his own mind at least, as English as any of us. No man, remember, in the history of cricket has ever scored more runs for England. But KP’s current total of 13,797 looks destined to remain untouched, thanks to Andrew Strauss’ insistence earlier this week that he is not part of England’s immediate plans, ahead of the Ashes summer.
No matter that he is bang in form, having finished 355 not out for Surrey against Leicestershire in the week. And that he has the nous, experience and talent to take on the Aussies. Remember his 158 at the Oval in 2005, or his 227 in Adelaide five years later. Strauss, his skipper in that 2010 Ashes win ‘Down Under’, apparently can’t.
Would the Aussies rather face a team with Pietersen, or without him? Peter Siddle came out this week and compared the situation to the Australians dropping Shane Warne. There’ll never be another KP.
Which is, amongst all of this, probably what Strauss and the ECB hope, anyway.
Pietersen was always the bold, brash batter whose sheer self-belief rubbed people up the wrong way. Simply, it doesn’t seem to be the English way to do something well, and shout about it.
And somewhere along the way, the ECB’s patience with Pietersen snapped. Strauss stopped short of ending Pietersen’s England career entirely, but the writing is on the wall. All that is left, seemingly, is a one-man crusade from Piers Morgan.
Laughably, to add insult to injury, Strauss did invite Pietersen to take up an advisory role with the England ODI team.
‘Sorry, Kev, we don’t trust you enough to let you play but we’re more than willing to have you tell us how to play’. Imagine your wife leaving you, and then asking your opinion on her future husband?
Strauss reckons Pietersen politely declined the offer. The word is that he was ever-so-slightly less polite and, let’s be honest, who can blame him?
Strauss, England’s new director of cricket, is, by all accounts, a good man but his decision to continue Pietersen’s international exile does little to dispel the ‘head-boy’ fears surrounding his appointment.
He and Pietersen have history, of course, going back to the ‘Text-gate’ scandal when the latter called the former a ‘doos’, an Afrikaans slang word with rather negative connotations.
But Strauss is hardly innocent in the name-calling, either, and he chose the rather less private outlet of a live Sky Sports broadcast to call Pietersen a similar word, in English. All of which seems rather childish, doesn’t it?
Forget the buzzwords and courses and corporate jargon; management is about people. Knowing their strengths and weaknesses, what makes them tick as individuals. That shouldn’t change whether the setting is Lidl, or Lord’s.
If you’re reading this on your lunch at work, take a look around. Chances are, your workplace will hardly be filled with people you admire, or would go for a drink with after work, or would choose to date your sister.
But how many would you trust to do their job? That’s the difference here. Do any England players honestly not trust Pietersen to go out there and score runs, and add to the near-14,000 already under his belt?
The whole saga has made English cricket a laughing stock. Brendan McCullum and Ross Taylor found a way to play together for New Zealand and helped their country reach the Cricket World Cup final earlier this year.
Michael Clarke once called Shane Watson the ‘cancer’ of the Australian team but they were in the side which beat New Zealand to lift the trophy.
Even Liverpool’s Hughes and Smith did, eventually, swallow their pride and praise each other (although Smith’s ‘football-wise, he’s alright’ critique of 62-cap England international Hughes was perhaps a little unjust).
But there is destined to be no happy ending from Strauss-v-Pietersen and it’s hard to escape the feeling that English cricket will suffer the most.