The Kevin Pietersen debacle Part 2
I am cross. I have already written an article about Kevin Pietersen and I don’t want to have to write another one. But I must.
I didn’t really realise it until this morning, but I have cared deeply about English cricket since before I met Clive Lloyd as a boy in a Glamorgan hospital and I believe that it is being systematically and strategically undermined by sections of the media (I use that term broadly to include journalists, ex-players-turned-pundits, Piers Morgan, etc.)
Some seem to be starting to portray Kevin Pietersen as a much-maligned hero; as if his triple century against the worst county side in English cricket, who have not won in 35 consecutive county championship matches dating back to September 2012, is the finest innings known to man and he should walk back into the England side. Others are also setting Andrew Strauss up as the villain of the piece.
History often shows us the answers and all too often in life we don’t learn from our mistakes. Back in 2009, after Kevin Pietersen was appointed captain of England, he promptly tried to have the coach fired and then resigned. In the press conference Hugh Morris, the then ECB chief, said:
“Kevin recognised that in the present situation it was impossible to restore the dressing room unity, which is vital if England are to win the forthcoming tour to the Caribbean, the ICC global events or regain the Ashes.”
Andrew Strauss took over and, alongside Andy Flower, guided England to successive Ashes victories, home and away, and took England to the top of the test rankings. Strong captaincy, strong leadership, a dressing room with clear boundaries that was pulling together.
Then, during the visit of South Africa we had “textgate” – somehow Pietersen’s texts to a friend in the SA dressing room were leaked to the press. Cue a media furore and he was dropped for the final test at the Oval, presumably because it would have been “impossible to restore the dressing room unity.” Through no coincidence at all, that final test was Strauss’ last, later writing in his autobiography that he felt a rising sadness about the way his international career was ending.
Then came the reintegration into a dressing room now led by Alastair Cook. There was lots of contrition on both sides and there seemed to be a line drawn and an agreement to proceed for the good of the team. What followed, the disintegration in Australia during the Ashes, has been the subject of so much speculation that it is impossible to know what happened Down Under, but one thing is clear, the England team had had enough of it.
Let’s be clear – if Kevin Pietersen matched his talent to the temperament of Joe Root, then we would not be having this discussion. Everyone would want him in the side. He is not in the side because of his attitude and approach, who he is, not what he can do. For England to have dropped him, it must have been “impossible to restore the dressing room unity”, again.
So now we come to 2015. What has happened this year is farcical.
Firstly, ignoring the World Cup; Kevin Pietersen’s inclusion would not have changed that for England. While he might have improved the side, our approach is miles behind the rest of the world because of decades of focus on County Cricket and Test Matches and no-one bold enough to separate limited overs cricket from it’s Test partner. England’s current Test side does not need Kevin Pietersen, regardless of his 355* v Leicestershire. Our middle order of Ballance, Bell, Root has been working – they have all scored recent hundreds and deserve their place in the side to face New Zealand and Australia. So, what did Kevin Pietersen expect? He is not an opener, a position we need to fill, he is not a spinner (although he might think he is) and he is not a fast bowler. Those are the areas we need help in, not in the middle order.
Secondly, if there is anyone who has a lot to apologise for, it is Colin Graves. He has clearly done an amazing job at Yorkshire and is a passionate man, but he has a lot to answer for. Firstly, his comments opening the door to Kevin Pietersen were misguided. He wasn’t even in the job yet and he was making comments on camera that he shouldn’t have been. I can only assume that when he then met face to face with KP that he reiterated the desire to see him play for England again, otherwise Pietersen would not have given up his IPL contract and returned to Surrey. To then change his mind and allow Strauss to go and tell Pietersen that he would not be picked this Summer is incredulous. No wonder Pietersen is furious. Graves fired up the world’s imaginations that we might see KP playing in the Ashes this Summer when it was never a real possibility and it is towards him that Pietersen should direct his anger and comments, not “England” as has been reported by some papers.
Thirdly, why has the ECB not learned from the “sacking” of KP last year? That was unnecessary and poorly handled, yet here sit England cricket fans reading a similar story now. Why should there be a need to “sack” Pietersen or tell him in advance that he will not be picked this Summer? Have they also spoken to all of the other players who will not be picked? Have they picked up the phone to the squad for this Summer’s cricket to let them know that they will not be sacked this Summer? If a player is not picked for a side, because of talent, form or attitude, then that is that. That is part of the inner workings of sport, players get dropped all the time and they go away, work hard and some get back in, others don’t. Why, oh why, is life different and more complicated when it comes to Kevin Pietersen?
Fouthly, I want to address the importance of a team environment. Firstly, as Hugh Morris said in his statement in 2009, a dressing room will be more successful when united. I am not suggesting that everyone must be best friends, but there has to be a healthy respect and drive to work together towards common goals. The Captain, Coach and Management will set boundaries, if you step out of line, you know that there will be consequences. That happens in every decent workplace in the world. Pietersen has stepped over that line too many times and he has paid the price each time. There has to come a moment where there have been too many transgressions and the “trust issues” that Andrew Strauss spoke of become a deciding factor.
This also leads me on to a point which annoys me every time I hear it uttered. I have heard Michael Vaughan talk about this a number of times, and he is not the only one, it is this notion that attitude in acceptable a professional era. That we need to accept bad behaviour as just part of someone’s character and that the way to deal with it is with strong leadership. Well, I go back to the start of my scene setting: In 2009, England’s cricket team was in chaos, partly created by KP himself. It was the strong Captaincy of Andrew Strauss, combined with the strong leadership of Andy Flower that propelled England to a better place during which Kevin Pietersen thrived, yet, in the end, even that strong team could not tame the beast. It does not matter who you are, bad behaviour is controllable and no-one is bigger or better than the team.
So here is my plan for everyone:
- The media – stop fixating on Kevin Pietersen, giving him air time serves no purpose.
- Graves needs to lead the fight to modernise the ECB – he has the right intentions, just not enough tact.
- Strauss needs to be given time to do his job.
- Kevin Pietersen needs to carry on doing the thing he loves and prove to everyone that he is not an egotistical team destroyer and that he has changed.
- Piers Morgan should preface everything he says with, “and its only my opinion.”