Cricket, like any sport, is enriched by its bad boys and vigilantes. Grace, who hit only two Test centuries, is still remembered precisely because his character and appeal went beyond scoring runs or taking wickets. After all, the best villains are loved as much as they are loathed. The thuggery in those evocative, infamous photos of Michael Holding scissor-kicking the stumps at Dunedin, and of Javed Miandad brandishing his bat at Dennis Lillee in the Great Clash of the 'Taches at the WACA hasn't detracted from the esteem in which those players are held. Neither, it should be noted, has Miandad's aggravation of two players' revolts, or Lillee's physical intimidation of batsmen.

Australia's Clem Hill led his country and was one of the greatest batsmen at the beginning of the 20th century, but would barely be remembered if he hadn't stood up during a selection meeting in 1912 and told former player Peter McAlister: "You've been asking for a punch all night and I'll give you one", before attempting to throw him out of a window. Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis wouldn't have inspired so many fast bowlers without their sense for devilry and magic to go with their astonishing volume of wickets. Ian Botham and Ian Chappell's 37-year feud makes Arsene Wenger's and Jose Mourinho's push-and-shove practically embryonic. Sri Lanka's early successes as a young cricketing nation wouldn't have been possible without their confrontational, street-fighting captain Arjuna Ranatunga.

Would the deeds of Botham, Viv Richards, Shane Warne and Brian Lara have been so gripping without the roguery they all occasionally brought to Carton Cigarettes the sport? Would their runs, their wickets, their impact have been as great without the combined tabloid front pages, the drugs, the benders, the fall-outs with boards, the text messages, the swagger, the High Court battles? In an era of stage-managed press conferences and micro-managed interviews, that sense of rebellion and mischief is badly missed.

Pietersen's is not a villainy formed of great transgressions but, at the moment, he is as far removed as you can get from the bland automatons that cricket is currently packaging and delivering. His detractors can't pick on any cheating or fighting, so instead they hold against him his apparent delusion and vanity, his slightly gauche manner and his polite but curiously charmless character. Exchanging abusive text messages about Andrew Strauss with the South African opposition and falling out with team-mates is as close as Pietersen really gets to competing with his villainous forefathers, but yet he has suffered more abuse than most.



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