In Depth

Kevin Pietersen row: how cricket can learn some class from football

The gentleman's game is eating itself… imagine if they had been footballers

The unedifying bout of hysteria that has engulfed English cricket since the details of Kevin Pietersen's score-settling memoir came to light this week has done little to improve the image of the game.

Commentators have been falling over themselves to voice their opinions on the brouhaha, involving allegations of bullying, dressing-room cliques and fake Twitter accounts. The accused have responded to the allegations against them, and had their rebuttals rebutted in turn.

So unseemly is the circus surrounding Pietersen's book that Rory Smith of The Times has been prompted to take a step back and turn to the unlikely world of football for some perspective.

Ahead of England's game against San Marino tonight, James Milner of Manchester City, himself the subject of a parody Twitter account devoted entirely to portraying him as a boring dimwit, addressed the media.

"He spoke at length... about his refusal to kick up a fuss, either at club or international level, because he is not always a first-choice," notes Smith. "He cracked several very good, very dry jokes."

He was "at his business-like best", as he dismissed talk of dressing room unrest, adds the BBC. "He's a safe and senior pair of hands when it comes to these matters."

It was all in stark contrast to events in the world of cricket. Where players and administrators are attracting criticism from all sides for the way they have been carrying themselves.

Perhaps they could learn something from their footballing counterparts? In the past Milner has ruminated on the @BoringMilner Twitter account. "It's good fun. I've read a few of them and some of them are very funny," he said before the World Cup. He admitted to having suspicions that it was being run from within his club, before deciding that the suspect "didn't have enough banter".

This week other young players including Adam Lallana and Nathan Redmond were also on media duty for England. "Here were a selection of footballers talking openly, honestly, intelligently at the same time as cricket – the gentleman's game – started to eat itself," notes Smith.

And what the Pietersen saga does prove, in a roundabout way, is that footballers are judged a lot more harshly than cricketers, argues Smith.

"Imagine the tone with which each tawdry detail would be revealed and swallowed" if this scandal had involved the England football team, he says.

"Imagine the think-pieces in the newspapers about football's rotten soul ... Imagine the phone-ins detailing how football has lost its common touch... Imagine the clucking Surrey dinner parties in which footballers are proscribed as awful, repugnant beings."

His conclusion is a sobering one. Give any sportsman enough money and they "will likely become as self-serving and venal as the worst footballers are presumed to be". And what's more "having a nice, middle-England accent, playing a genteel game, being able to use a few long words, does not mean that you have any class at all".

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