Why has Kevin Pietersen been permanently discarded from the England team? Well, we are left to rumour about it, at least for the time being. His face didn’t fit, he was arrogant, he quarrelled with team mates, he was a disruptive influence, he was selfish; that’s all we have to go on as cricket fans and make no mistake, this is to the detriment of all cricket fans.
Pietersen did divide opinion. He frustrated as often as he delighted with some lazy looking dismissals. But the England camp extolled the virtues of a fearless brand of cricket. How then, can he be pilloried for playing devoid of fear? A Test average of 47.28 with 23 centuries and a strike rate of 61.72 paint the picture of a modern leviathan; not then, a man who did not much care. Would England prefer KP’s fearlessness that won the Ashes in 2005, swung the tour of India a year ago, rescued a series in Sri Lanka in 2012 and won the ICC World T20 or the timid, crippling conservatism that choked the side so badly in the most recent Ashes series and led to a catastrophic series in the UAE against Pakistan?
Pietersen was a man who took calculated risks. Sometimes it came off, like it did against Shaun Tait and Brett Lee at the Oval in 2005, against Tait again in the 2010 World T20 final and against Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel at Headingley in 2012. Sometimes he got out caught at long-off/on. Here is not a man who died wondering. His stats suggest more often than not he won.
Was KP really disruptive? All reports have him down as a diligent and hard worker who always offered support to his younger team mates. He always tried to better the circumstances of the team, as he did when he was captain and suggested England could do better than have Peter Moores as coach. The ECB, seemingly, agreed; Moores was quickly removed. In the first mismanagement of their star player, however, the ECB also stripped Pietersen of the captaincy. Perhaps he should not have been appointed in the first place if independent thought is unwelcome of England captains. If he was wrong, why did Moores get sacked?
There has been, too, a lot of talk about his disruptive influence; a lot of talk, no examples. What has he done? There was a rumoured ‘heated exchange’ with current captain Alastair Cook on the eve of the fifth Ashes Test in Sydney. Is Cook incapable of having his authority challenged? Can he really offer an unbiased view, so central was he to Pietersen’s axing?
Cook’s behaviour here points to a wider problem. He was shown up to be tactically inept in Australia and the lack of on-field support he received when it all went belly-up was poignant, most noticeably as Australia strolled into a 4-0 lead in Melbourne. Pair that to the on-field support Andrew Flintoff received from team mates during England’s previous 5-0 Ashes defeat. Cook hardly looked a leader of men – not the ideal man, then, to lead England into a brave new era. His batting has crumbled, too and the lack of public support for his captaincy from his team mates is very noticeable.
The only leadership I saw during the Ashes was when Pietersen stood up to the incessant sledging that his younger team mates faced from Australia. He took all the heat upon himself from Mitchell Johnson and tried to ride out the storm, hence why he was, more often than not, left batting with the tail. He was the only one to try and take the game to Australia. The fear had set in very early amongst his team mates; witness painfully slow innings from the likes of Michael Carberry and Joe Root that took England nowhere. It seems preferential, however, to get out for 13 off 100 balls than to fall on your sword for 40 from 60. Where is the sense in that?
Also, what does Cook have to do with the England T20 side? Absolutely nothing. I do not believe for one moment that Ashley Giles and Stuart Broad, captain and coach of that side, are delighted to have lost their star player on the eve of the World T20.
Other rumours have Pietersen down as having approached Andy Flower to tell him what the players thought of his leadership and where they could improve following a players-only meeting after that defeat in Melbourne. Hardly the act of a man interested only in himself. Again, great leadership from Cook, that he felt he could not speak to the coach on behalf of the players.
The finality of the decision is also startling. England does not have a Test coach. The new man, if appointed externally, will not care for the past, he will focus on the future. To do that, he will want the best players to be available to him. Due to cloak and dagger politics, however, he will not be able to pick the players he wants. To jettison the best England batsman of his generation and make him unavailable to an as yet unidentified coach is remarkable. It is moronic. It is gross mismanagement. It hardly makes the job an appealing one.
Pietersen was not perfect. But there is a lot that cricket fans do not care about. He might be a complete dick – I do not care. He might not play X-box with Jimmy and Broady and Swanny – I do not care. He might pick holes in Cook’s captaincy – I do not care. I care about seeing the best players play for England. I do not care if he sat at the back of team meetings heckling. He needed to be managed properly and he wasn’t. England should have bent over backwards to keep him in the side – they have not, instead embracing mediocrity.
This is not strong leadership by the ECB and Cook. Strong leadership is not axing the man who has been central to all your success over the past decade. Strong leadership is finding a way of getting the best out of him. The only winners in this scenario are England’s opponents and the IPL. The losers are England and fans of international cricket. It is a disgrace.
If the argument with Cook in Australia was so bad, why did Pietersen play the fifth Test? Why was he not disciplined? If he was so disruptive, where are the examples? If England are better without him, why has he got 104 Test caps and nigh on 14,000 international runs? If the ECB come out with some statement exampling shocking behaviour by Pietersen, then fair enough. Instead, they have mismanaged some more.
Why change the habits of a lifetime?
By Miles Reucroft