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February 9th, 2023
Let’s face it, everyone has at some point had a star performer on their team who becomes too egotistical, arrogant or just plain too pig headed to manage. I’ve seen this a few times in my recruitment career, both as an observer and from being on the receiving end of some interesting characters, so wanted to write a piece about it.
Being the cricket tragic that I am, I watched the sacking of Kevin Pietersen (KP) from the England cricket team with interest. My first thought on hearing that his contract had been terminated was ‘Oh No, what on earth have they done?’ because KP was one of the best, if not THE best, batsman to wear an England shirt for the last 20 years. You had to watch him because on his day he was awesome, unstoppable.
But. And it’s a big but; lurking beneath the surface was something in KP’s character that seemed to get to people he worked and played with. I’ve never met the man and so can’t pretend to give any idea what it was, but KP just seems to be able to upset people. You hear stories of his kit bag being thrown from the dressing ground of his first English county club; he has had two further clubs since…
There were stories coming from within the England camp of an attitude, a certain arrogance. An arrogance that became public for the first time when he was made England captain (wrongly in my view, but that’s another story about promoting the wrong person!) when he refused to work with the coach, saying ‘it’s him or me’ and ended up getting both himself and the coach sacked. Ouch.
But worse was to come. KP is South African born and has a number of friends in the South African cricket team. When England were playing South Africa in a Test Series in 2012 he started texting tips to his friends in the South African camp on how to get under the skin of the current England captain, among other things, including calling him some pretty ripe swear words that I can’t repeat here!
The next innings that KP played after the news started to leak out was one of the best he has played. Perhaps it was as a result of the anger at being found out, at being let down by his texts being leaked, but he flayed the best bowling attack in world cricket to all parts of the ground. It was awesome, destructive stuff and great to watch. I know because I was there.
I didn’t know about the behind the scenes rows and eventual disciplinary action that led to KP being dropped after the next game. This must have been very tough for the England management because KP still had that certain something, that ‘X factor’. It became especially tough when the England captain resigned shortly afterwards, mostly because he had been captain for a while and was tired of the job, but it can’t have helped knowing that one of your team mates had been undermining you to the opposition.
Another England captain was appointed and he insisted on KP being reintegrated to the team. A decision that was vindicated when he scored a big century in India, playing a huge part in England winning the first series in that great cricketing nation for over a generation. Next came two series against Australia, home and away. England won the home series so all seemed fine, KP scored one century though he wasn’t at his best. But then England was thrashed on the return leg in Australia. And I mean thrashed. They last 5-0 and lost each game by a considerable margin. KP wasn’t performing, but worse than that, rumours would have it, there was something else. If the leaks coming out of the England Cricket Board about some of KP’s behaviour are to believed then it is really no surprise that he was sacked after the tour. Not that he was being dropped from the side to go and work no his game or on his attitude, but that his England cricket career was over.
Something that is unprecedented in professional sport as far as I am aware. International career over. Good night.
This is a pretty extreme case of a team’s star performer falling out with not only the management but teammates as well. In spite of several years of great results a decision was made to sack him, to move on, make a fresh start.
I write this on the day of the release of KP’s autobiography. I’ve not read it yet, but all the media reports are that it is basically one long moan about his time with England and about the England international cricket set up in general. By the sound of it he had been unhappy for some time and his dismissal was possibly something of a release. He also seems to be blaming everyone but himself for his dismissal, something which is not unusual when someone is unhappy at work. Perhaps he should have resigned some time before and saved everyone a lot of heartache…
I’m aware that I’ve written an article about a star cricketer and his eventual dismissal from an international team. However I’m sure that this story isn’t unique to a sporting environment and that there are talented people who are not happy at work and do not perform to the best of their ability as a result. There will also be managers who have experienced similar situations within their team at work and are not always sure of the best way to handle the situation.
At what point does having someone like KP in the team become destructive? Is it worth ‘turning the other cheek’ because of the results, but at what point does the overall team’s morale have to take priority?
Have you ever had to manage the errant superstar? What was the outcome? What three things might you have done differently? We’d love to hear from you!
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