It’s been a funny old day, as Arkwright would observe at the end of Open All Hours. Here are the main talking points – many of which you’ve already been discussing elsewhere on this site.
In the Daily Mirror, Dean Wilson reports that Alastair Cook issued an ultimatum over the return of Kevin Pietersen.
Alastair Cook was ready to walk away from international cricket if Kevin Pietersen had been offered a way back to the England fold.
behind the scenes Cook represented the feelings of several players when he made it plain he was ready to give up his England shirt if Pietersen was brought back.
Cook has constantly referred the decision regarding Pietersen to the top brass above him, but after an apparent softening towards the Surrey batsman in recent weeks, he delivered the ‘us or him’ ultimatum, and left Strauss and Harrison with a clear choice to make.
Cook was savaged in Pietersen’s autobiography.
The pair fell out irreparably in Australia as the Ashes were lost 5-0 and Cook stood squarely behind the initial decision by Paul Downton to send Pietersen into exile.
What credence should we attach to this? Dean Wilson won’t simply have made it up, so the possibilities are that:
– Cook said this to Wilson himself (unlikely).
– It’s true, and an ECB figure was authorised to convey this to Wilson (very likely).
– It’s not true but someone from the ECB reported it to Wilson anyway, either to make trouble or to explain Strauss’s decision (quite possible).
Let’s assume it was the second scenario – Cook threw a tantrum and the ECB gave way. This was the very explanation we put forward on Tuesday for Colin Graves’s volte-face.
There is an argument that as captain Cook is entitled to veto a player he cannot work with – but only for a very good reason. And that reason must be disclosed in the public domain. Because it hasn’t, so we are entitled to draw our own conclusions. Cook has a petty and vindictive dislike of Pietersen, probably because he felt threatened by him, was unable to feel authoritative in his presence, and suspected him of designs on the captaincy.
The ECB’s ‘dodgy dossier’, remember, revealed that Cook ran to Andy Flower to blab about Pietersen’s impudence at the Melbourne team meeting.
Cook is a spoiled brat with a sense of entitlement who expects the world to revolve around his every whim. A commentator criticises him? Giles Clarke picks up the phone to stop it. Jonathan Agnew fraternises with Pietersen? Cook stamps his feet. Cook’s finally relieved of his ODI captaincy after a year of misery? He tells interviewers how hard done by he feels.
Pietersen may have the same qualities of petulance and self-absorption, but he’s punished for them, while Cook is indulged.
If Alastair Cook has a genuinely insoluble problem with Pietersen, he needs to man up and explain it to England supporters, in person – not hide behind Andrew Strauss and some codswallop about “trust”. If Wilson’s report is correct, Strauss was lying about the true reason for Pietersen’s exclusion.
Wilson’s story also strongly suggests the ‘new’ ECB are as cowardly and snide as their predecessors. On Tuesday they had every opportunity to say what they wanted to say, explicitly, to everyone. Instead they did what they always do – serve up meaningless waffle in public, and then plant the ‘true’ information in the press, but behind a shroud of innuendo and anonymity. It’s as if the hacks are deemed entitled to know the facts, but we are not.
When Pietersen supposedly issued a ‘him or me’ ultimatum over Peter Moores in December 2008, he was first demonised as a selfish trouble-maker, and then sacked for his insolence. If Wilson’s sources are accurate, Cook has done exactly the same thing – and been given what he wants.
Was Cook really “savaged” in Pietersen’s book? The former was referred to as Ned Flanders and painted as a chicken for his shoe-gazing conduct at the sacking meeting. Does that count as savagery?
Wilson also asserts that:
Andrew Strauss has prevented a full-scale revolt at the ECB following his decision to leave the controversial batsman in the international wilderness. From Cook at the top to everyday ECB employees below, the strength of feeling against Pietersen at cricket HQ was enough to convince Strauss and chief executive Tom Harrison that a return was impossible, regardless of how many runs he scored.
But it is the revelation that other members of administrative staff – those who work in the offices – also felt that way which will shed more light on the decision.
A source close to the ECB said: “There are people who would absolutely have walked away rather than deal with Kevin again. He has made life incredibly difficult for a large number of people over the years and the idea that he might be back horrified them.”
Should this be true, the real priorities of the ECB are brutally laid bare. Teams are picked according to the fancies and prejudices of administrators, not on merit. All that matters is the contentment of managers – the officials specifically employed and remunerated for their skill in dealing with talent. The bosses are supposed to look after the players, not the other way around.
This dynamic underpins the reality of the campaign against Pietersen. While the ECB and their allies propagate the myth he causes division and corrosion within dressing rooms, little evidence for this exists – as illustrated by the testimony of Michael Vaughan, Chris Tremlett, Monty Panesar, and many others, including Andrew Flintoff, who this week stated that Pietersen was not “not even in the top ten” of the most difficult players he’s encountered.
What the ECB really mean is the conflict between Pietersen and the organisation itself. This is what they loathe about him – his refusal to know his place, or to respect their authority, and his insistence on answering back.
Even Ian Bell said today, on the record:
He does make any team stronger. I don’t know what’s been said between Colin Graves and Tom Harrison and Andrew Strauss and Kevin. I played ten years with Kevin, and we both went through highs and lows and won a lot of cricket together. I enjoyed my time with him.
Obviously there were certain things going on. I didn’t see it. I don’t think the players saw it in the dressing room. Whether there were other things going on behind closed doors, I don’t know. To be completely honest, in the West Indies and throughout the winter there’s been no conversation in the dressing room about any of this stuff. The only time people see it is when they read about it.
We can only feel sympathy for Bell, another victim of the ECB’s evasive cowardice. By refusing to provide straight answers, they force innocent members of the squad to face the music and answer impossible questions.
Bell spoke with dignity of losing of the vice-captaincy:
I was disappointed, because I’ve enjoyed the two series that I’ve done. We’ve also got to start looking forward as well, and Joe Root is an England captain of the future, there’s no doubt about that. I understand the decision.
Although the selectors have usually been loyal to Bell during lean times – although far so slavishly as to Cook – he has been cruelly undervalued. While the promotion of Joe Root makes cricketing sense, it reflects the pervading attitude towards Bell – of a chattel to be rinsed of his runs, then disparaged and overlooked. When, last year, he was finally discussed in public as a potential captain, out came the famous ‘team-building’ slur, transmitted via a co-operative Daily Mail journalist.
If other rumours prove correct, Strauss-gate has led to the inevitable, and decimated the field of candidates prepared to consider the England head coach position vacated by Peter Moores. Both the Guardian and Telegraph report that Jason Gillespie is dismayed by the prospect of a circumscribed role, constrained in team-selection and strategy by fetid politics and the interference of busybody managers.
Should Gillespie reject the job for these reasons, what an indictment this will be on the ECB’s ruinously masochistic fixation with ego and control over pragmatism. No coach good enough for the job, by definition, will demean themselves as an ECB patsy and lapdog.
For his pig-headed bigotry, Strauss could yet pay the unconscionably heavy price of losing, in Gillespie, the best coach England may never have.
All this strife has overshadowed the news that at least one player, and maybe two, will make their test debuts next week against New Zealand. Yorkshire’s Adam Lyth will open the batting. Durham’s Mark Wood may receive the third pace bowler slot. As cricketers, good luck to them both. Unsurprisingly, Adil Rashid – the uncapped twelfth man during the West Indies tour – is dropped. To steal a Vic Marks quip, he must make bloody awful tea.
Finally, a word about our comments board. Comments are the heart and soul of The Full Toss. The posts we write ‘above the line’ are only a starting point for the analysis, insight and knowledge you provide below. Many of you pour huge amounts of energy and expertise into your contributions, for which we are always very grateful.
But these have been a very testy couple of days. Emotions are understandably running high, but I can’t help but feel a line has been crossed. James and I want this site to be a welcoming place, where everyone feels comfortable taking part. The idea is to harmlessly let off steam: to debate English cricket and the people who run it – not to discuss each other. No one should be criticised merely for holding a view, however much it goes against the grain.
This is a delicate subject to address without appearing to finger a particular individual or take sides, which I most certainly do not want to do. Let me put it another way. We are determined never to moderate, censor or pre-approve comments, because that way hell lies. On a purely practical basis we don’t even have the time. But there is an obvious quid pro quo.
The ECB’s poisonous conduct has debased and degraded English cricket, but I suggest we try to rise above their level and be the better man. The soul of our game needs all the friends it can get. And speaking of friends, it’s been far too long since we recommended you to the work of our brothers-in-arms at Being Outside Cricket. This piece by The Leg Glance is a must-read.