The Forces of Conservatism

Once upon a time, Viv Richards made 322 in a day for Somerset against Warwickshire at Taunton. One of the Warwickshire side who had the misfortune (or, looked at another way, the good fortune) to have to field to it was Robin Dyer, a young opening batsman and the son of a cricket bookseller from Yorkshire who used to advertise in The Cricketer and Wisden Cricket Monthly. Perhaps he still does.

Since then I've spent many days on the County Ground at Taunton. Twenty years after Richards, I even saw another Somerset player called Graeme Smith make 300 in a day there. Stuart Broad, a nineteen year-old bowler then, remembers that as well.

But when Richards made his runs I was the one who was nineteen, and I lived far from Taunton. I was obsessed with cricket, and I knew that things like that didn't happen very often. I read all the reports, collected all the cuttings. This was the era of Richards.

I haven't got it to hand so I can't recall it word for word, but Robin Dyer said something resonant that day. It went along the lines that here he was, struggling to establish himself and make a living from a difficult game, when he witnessed an innings that was so far beyond anything that he would ever be capable of - or perhaps anything that he imagined anyone would be capable of - that he began to question what he was doing. By most people's standards, Robin Dyer, with his two thousand plus first-class runs and three centuries, could bat. But the following year, 1986, he retired. It may have been illusory or simply wrong, but at the time there was a sense that Viv Richards had made him give up the game.

At times I feel like Dyer did when I read the writings of Jon Hotten, The Old Batsman. Last week, in the most lyrical and apposite of the many pieces written about the fall of Kevin Pietersen, he wrote:

But KP was English, or at least he was playing for England, and the English psyche, deeply conservative, deeply repressed, is a challenging place for the non-conformist. It was doomed from the start and I knew it. In a way, it's amazing that he lasted as long as he did.

Here Jon is, of course, right. There was always a good chance that Pietersen, with his naked ambition, his outspokenness, his tattoos and his unveiled genius, would end up a victim of the innate forces of conservatism which are as strong in English cricket now - in the age of prescriptive coaching, rigid gameplans and ubiquitous nutritional advice - as they ever were. In his time they also laid waste to David Gower, who didn't have the tattoos or the outspokenness, only the genius.

A more wide-ranging discussion of the qualities which made Pietersen the nearest thing to Viv Richards that England have ever had will have to wait for another day, but at the end of the Perth Test, I wrote that England's tour was starting to develop a fin de siécle quality, and, of all those involved with the England shambles, the futures of Flower, Pietersen and Swann were all shrouded in uncertainty.

Eight weeks on, with Flower, Pietersen and Swann all gone, and only one of them truly the master of his own destiny, the sense of an era ending is stronger still. And, while Flower and even, perhaps, one day, Swann, will be replaced, Pietersen never really will be.

It is a horribly trite cliché, but, for all kinds of reasons beyond the cricketing, it will be a very long time before we see Pietersen's like again in an England shirt.

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