The colour of money:
Kevin Pietersen on why England cost him $1 million
The England cricketer on the high price of missing the Indian Premier League six-week competition... and how marriage has transformed his life
'I could earn a million dollars playing cricket for SIX weeks this summer. But I can't. The English cricket board won't allow it. And that's hard to take. 'England players are the only ones in the world missing out,' says Kevin Pietersen.
'Chris Gayle, the West Indies captain, texted me the other day to ask why I'm not playing. I said, "I can't." He just sent dollar signs in the next text message. I'm not being paid extra playing for Hampshire, while he'll be copping a hundred grand a game.'
Kevin Pietersen: 'I might only play until I'm 35 so I have to make the most of it'
[The opportunity Pietersen is referring to is the Indian Premier League (IPL), the new eight-team, six-week, Twenty20-format competition that puts India in the driving seat of world cricket. The final is next Sunday.
As the sport has a fanatical following among India's vast and increasingly wealthy population, the IPL has taken the 20-over, three-hour, all-action format that the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) introduced in 2003 and made it its own. 'The Twenty20 game is so interesting and exciting – to players, administrators, broadcasters and fans.
It's the way the sport is going. We don't want to get left behind,' says Pietersen. 'We have to acknowledge this is the way we're going to have to play because it could be the way cricket ends up in a few years' time.'
With a billion dollars of investment to secure broadcasting rights, the IPL has had the cash to lure the biggest names in world cricket (Shane Warne, Brett Lee, Andrew Symonds, Sachin Tendulkar, Chris Gayle etc) by offering them undreamed-of sums of money.
'People who abuse us for admitting we want to earn that kind of money are not going to pay for my children's school fees in 15 years' time, are they?' shrugs Pietersen. 'I'm not going to be playing cricket when I'm 50 or 60, so it's ridiculous to criticise us – it would've been like winning the lottery.'
It's mid-afternoon and Pietersen is sitting in a Chelsea football top and combat shorts in an empty studio canteen nursing a can of diet cola. He is taller and leaner than he appears on TV when padded up and swinging a bat. 'I haven't done an interview like this for ages,' he smiles.
'That said, as a young guy I lived life to the full and I've definitely done things in nightclubs that I'm not too proud of…'
Twenty20 and Pietersen would go hand in glove. The upstart format; the upstart, flamboyant batsman. His sponsors include VW, Citizen Watches, Red Bull, Adidas, Vodafone and NPower; he earned £1 million in the year after England won the Ashes and is refreshingly frank about money: 'It makes the world go round, but it's not my primary goal. I might only play until I'm 35, so I have to make the most of it.'
The IPL is where the money lies. But, while Pietersen admits that 'to lose that opportunity while the rest of the world's best players earn a million is really frustrating', he is adamant that he does not want a repeat of the rebel Kerry Packer World Series in the late Seventies, which saw English and Australian players lining their pockets.
'What we don't want is the top players to leave test and one-day international cricket for the sake of money,' he says, 'so it is up to the International Cricket Council to sort out a window in the schedules so English players can play in the IPL.'
The ECB's response to the threat is to propose its own Twenty20 tournament, similar in structure to the IPL, called the English Premier League, which would take place towards the end of the summer season.
The ECB has already enlisted the aid of Texas billionaire Sir Allen Stanford to launch the proposed league. Meanwhile, Pietersen is adamant about one thing: 'There is no way I'm going to choose money over my duties to England,' he says.
'I love playing cricket for England and it deserves my full commitment.' If there is one word that sums up the country's best batsman it is commitment.
He showed it during his first, highly charged one-day international tour of South Africa in 2005, when he scored three centuries and was made Man Of The Series.
He showed it again later that year throughout his magnificent maiden test century of 158 to win England The Ashes at The Oval (England were just 67 for three when he arrived at the crease).
And he did it again this February to come back from a dip in form to hit a series-winning knock of 129 in England's final test against New Zealand.
He even shows it this afternoon in the studio as, clearly relishing having a bat in his hands again, he smashes paint-filled balloons at the photographer with the same focus he would use to hit a six at Lord's.
'When things are really tough there's no better position to be in than to stand up and do something about it, because that's when you earn your reputation,' he nods.
'So whenever I've had a bad patch my response is simply to work my backside off, because I believe that is the only recipe for success.
I practise endlessly in the nets, check my mental preparation and analyse computer feedback to monitor my technical side.
The key is to relax and enjoy what I'm doing, and simply entertain.' Above all, says the man who has been photographed with a string of attractive girlfriends (even, briefly, model Caprice), there is his commitment to his wife Jessica (Liberty X singer Jessica Taylor, who he married in December 2007).
'It doesn't matter how out of it I get at a bar or a club or at the ground where I'm playing,' he grins. 'I will never be unfaithful to my wife. If I lost Jessy I would be the biggest idiot in the world.'
Pietersen and wife Jessica Taylor from pop band Liberty X
With his form returned and having enjoyed five weeks off prior to the current New Zealand tour, 'during which I spent every single night in my own bed,' KP ('as in the nuts') is in a relaxed and buoyant mood.
He arrives at the studio with no entourage and shows remarkable patience when asked to interact with numerous combinations of clothes and poses.
At one point, he picks up his manager's two young sons in both burly arms and insists on a photo with all three of them beaming at the camera.
Pietersen seems to be a gentle giant with a core of steel.
He opens up on being a public figure: 'I used to take things for granted and sometimes get annoyed when people asked for my autograph, but my missus has been so good in pointing out that for two seconds out of my day I can make someone so happy.
'These days if somebody comes up to me and wants a picture or an autograph I'll always try to accommodate them.
'I think I've matured and become a man about things and it helps to be reminded how happy I was to get autographs off cricket players as a kid.'
Born on June 27, 1980, to an Afrikaner father and an English mother, Pietersen was brought up in South Africa.
The third of four boys, he traces his competitive nature back to childhood. 'Everything was a battle and we all hated losing,' he says. 'I had lunch with my dad and two of my other brothers yesterday and we abused each other constantly.'
He attributes his self-assurance to his family's strong religious faith: 'I don't practise religion as much as I used to and I don't go to church any more [as a boy he went to church twice every Sunday] but I still understand and respect my family's belief and traditions.
'I believe that God has mapped my life out for me.'
His discipline, he says, comes from receiving corporal punishment in his youth. 'I don't see any problem with that,' he shrugs.
'I was never abused but if I did something naughty I was whacked with a cane and it was good for me.
'That said, as a young guy I lived life to the full and I've definitely done things in nightclubs that I'm not too proud of…'
Pietersen was a late developer at cricket, taking up the game seriously at 17, initially as an off-spin bowler and lower-order batsman.
After public school he attended the University of South Africa, gaining a place in the province of Natal's first team. Then, at 20, he was dropped in favour of a young black bowler as part of South Africa's racial quota system.
'To me it was apartheid in reverse – every person in the world needs to be treated exactly the same and that should have included me,' he says.
Having got an offer from Nottinghamshire, Pietersen left for England in 2001. 'I look back on the young Kevin Pietersen who first came to England with admiration,' he smiles.
Pietersen: 'I believe God has mapped my life out for me'
'He was a plucky character and had to deal with a lot of uncertainties. He came here with no family and no friends and had to back himself 100 per cent.'
He proceeded to break numerous batting records before falling out with captain Jason Gallian (who threw Pietersen's kitbag off the clubhouse balcony) and moved to Hampshire in 2004, where he began a friendship with the legendary Australian spin bowler Shane Warne.
'We just hit it off from the start because we've got similar personalities,' says Pietersen. 'We both enjoy a laugh and a good time and we are both very confident. I love him to bits.'
That love, however, was sorely tested during England's losing Ashes series in Australia last year, when Warne appeared to throw the ball directly at Pietersen.
Heated words were exchanged and the umpire had to step in. 'I was furious – it was the second time he had thrown the ball at me and the red mist triggered, so I just let him have it.
I was taken aback and confused as to how anyone could behave like that to a mate,' he says, shaking his head. 'As far as I was concerned the friendship was off and I thought, "I am not going to speak to that idiot ever again."
I can't recall who sent the olive branch but I do remember that we eventually sat down, had a beer together and had a laugh about the whole thing.'
Having interviewed Pietersen a year ago, he seems to have matured into a less guarded and more confident individual.
It is as if the suit of celebrity that was so suddenly thrust upon him now fits him properly and he is comfortable in it.
He is clearly an alpha male but he is intelligent enough to have conquered his arrogance and replaced it with consideration. KP's home life is paramount – not only because of his loved ones but also because he's a gadget freak.
'I need a bigger house,' he says, 'because I want to devote a whole room to this amazing new game I've discovered called Virtual Golf.
You hit a ball into a screen, the lasers pick up all the angles and you can play 30 different famous courses, from Augusta to Gleneagles, while standing in a room in your own house.'
When asked about recent England cricket scandals, and especially the Freddie Flintoff pedalo incident, he looks strangely pleased with himself.
'I reckon people are astounded that the last three or four England cricket scandals haven't involved me,' he says. 'I'm setting myself up for a fall here, aren't I?
Four years ago that could easily have been me on a pedalo after a few pints because I had a hectic schedule, was single and was really enjoying my life.
Pietersen: 'I got hammered the night before... I was spewing all over the shop'
Nowadays I try not to put myself in positions where I end up in trouble or in harm's way. What I've realised is not to let my naughty activities interfere with my performance on the cricket field. I've never ever gone out and got smashed before I played for England.' He pauses for a moment, wondering whether he should spill the beans.
'Actually, there was one time when I was playing Surrey for Nottinghamshire five or six years ago. I got hammered the night before and when I turned up the next day I was spewing all over the shop and I was next in to bat – it was a nightmare. I think I scored 80 but I could never do that now. The way I wake up now after a big night there's no way I could train let alone play.'
And then, I remind him, there was the time that you told the press you couldn't even remember visiting Tony Blair's party at Number 10 after you won the Ashes.
'Oh yes,' he chuckles. 'But the reason why I said that was because I knew for a fact that if I'd lied and said yes I remember it they would have asked me about it.
'With one answer I managed to cull about 20 of their questions.'
One of the attacks he has fielded throughout his career is that he is not a team player. Does he have any ambition to become England captain?
He gathers his thoughts: 'I will definitely throw my hat in the ring one day. I think there comes a certain time in your life when you say, "Right, I could really give the captaincy a good go," but we are looked after really well by Michael Vaughan at the moment, so that is in the future.
'He knows how to treat players – when to praise them, when to kick them up the backside.
'He's a very cool customer, so let's just say he's a great guy to study captaincy under.' And with that, the future England captain shakes hands, jumps into a people carrier and heads back to his flat to enjoy a round at St Andrews…
Kevin Pietersen is an ambassador for Red Bull (redbull.co.uk) and vodafone (vodafone.co.uk)
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