I HAVE always had a cricketing soft spot for Kevin Pietersen.
When Pietersen first came to England in 2001, to play county cricket for Nottinghamshire, I was the first person to interview him.
As the then cricket correspondent of the Nottingham Evening Post, I covered his first three seasons in English cricket before moving to the Yorkshire Post to bore the pants off you instead.
Right from the start, I was telling anyone who cared to listen that Pietersen was going to become one of the greatest batsmen of his generation.
He just looked on a different plane to the rest of his peers.
Of course, it seems obvious now, but this was back then.
I well remember those years before everyone else had cottoned on to KP, those years when he was Nottinghamshire’s little secret – our little secret – and the rest of the world had yet to find out.
It was with a certain sense of vindication, therefore, that I watched from afar as Pietersen scored three centuries in a one-day international series in 2004-05 against his native South Africa after qualifying for England.
Suddenly, he was the hottest ticket in town and fellow scribes would ring up and ask: “What can you tell me about this lad Pietersen?”
I felt vindicated again when I watched from the press box as Pietersen clinched the 2005 Ashes series with a brilliant 158 against Australia at The Oval.
Many said that day they had never seen anything like it, but it surprised me not one iota for I had watched him bat like that many times in county cricket.
Pietersen was immediately streets ahead of everyone else in the England team just as he had immediately been streets ahead of everyone else in the Nottinghamshire team.
I can clearly remember Pietersen’s first day at Trent Bridge.
He was a gangling and endearingly boyish character, a young man who exuded happiness at being in his new surroundings and who gave the impression he had embarked on a great adventure.
There seemed no trace of arrogance about him and he was respectful and courteous.
I also had the pleasure of meeting his parents, who were thoroughly nice people.
Over the years, as Pietersen’s well-documented problems behind the scenes built up at Nottinghamshire, we had the odd run-in.
I remember him telling me once that he was the only Nottinghamshire player scoring any runs, the implication being that he was carrying the team.
He was absolutely right, but his comments rubbed people up the wrong way and it was one of those instances when it was probably easier to blame them on the journalist.
On another occasion, Pietersen took umbrage when I wrote that he had acknowledged his girlfriend in the crowd on reaching a hundred but pointedly ignored his team-mates applauding on the balcony, something that had been a recurring theme as his relationships with colleagues had deteriorated.
I was in no position to judge the ins-and-outs of the dressing room politics and, although I never cared for the swagger or self-obsession, it was for the most part eulogies that flowed from my pen as I chronicled the start of Pietersen’s career.
But something concerns me.
No batsman during my time covering cricket at county and international level has given me as much pleasure, and as one who watched his dramatic press conference at Headingley last week, when he hinted at imminent retirement from Test cricket, I worry about his legacy to the game.
For Pietersen is one of the greatest batsmen of modern times.
However, the sad truth is that he is as likely to be remembered for his troublesome influence as for his cricketing prowess.