Like nature, sports followers abhor a vacuum. The fewer details officially disclosed, the more gossip, speculation and media scrutiny flood in to close the gaps. Although too many mainstream cricket journalists display a catastrophic lack of curiosity towards the true facts about Kevin Pietersen’s banishment, a brave few continue to probe. And the more the cowardly ECB refuse to provide candour, the more their foot soldiers are exposed to the flak.
Day after day, rank and file England players are forced to explain a ridiculous situation for which they are barely, if at all, accountable.
As you’ve probably already seen today, Stuart Broad is the latest victim of collateral damage. And he did not say what Andrew Strauss would have liked.
Broad was speaking at a press junket for Investec, the sponsor of England’s home tests. He was originally scheduled to do this on Thursday, but his appearance was postponed due to a migraine/hangover/spending all night on the piss with Matt Prior. Broad was coy about what exactly what had happened, but as the engagement was a commercial one (it wasn’t an ECB event, nor was he speaking on their behalf), only Investec, who were paying Broad, have a right to complain.
That said, imagine the reaction if Kevin Pietersen had (allegedly) been too drunk to turn up for the England sponsors. And I’m not just being cynical here. The ECB ‘dossier’ of Pietersen’s misdemeanours during the 2013/14 Ashes, leaked to the press last September, included the following indictment:
Upon arrival in Adelaide for the Second Test, AF gave express instructions to players not to stay out late and not to give the scandal‐voracious press any ammunition, which KP immediately disobeyed by taking out two young players drinking with him until late (an incident which was front page news in the Adelaide press the following day).
The front-page press photo is at the top of this post. Anyone recognise the ‘young player’ on the right of the frame? Yet it’s unlikely a similar entry was made in a dossier detailing Broad’s recidivism.
The photo was instructive in other ways. If Pietersen was so universally loathed throughout the England squad, and especially by the senior players, as some would like us to believe, why were he and Broad relaxing together over a few beers?
The mythology runs like this. Pietersen falls out with every team he plays for. He causes grievous divisions within every dressing room. He cannot be allowed back into the England side for fear of the damage he would cause. His team-mates don’t want him. This is what the ECB want people to think.
I talked to every person on the management team and quite a few senior players, and I could not find one supporter who wanted Kevin to stay in the side.
If you read between the lines, though, Downton was giving the game away. He was very confident about citing the opposition to Pietersen among management, but had to choose his words more carefully when it came to the players. He only asked the senior players, and of those, just “quite a few” of them. How many? Who?
Alas, the chinks in Downton’s logical armour failed to prevent him getting his desired message across in the media. The Guardian headlined the story about his remarks as ‘Players did not want Kevin Pietersen in England side’.
The problem is that no one has ever stood this up. No evidence has emerged that Pietersen became a dressing room pariah. And this disjuncture between fantasy and reality has only been widened by Broad’s comments at the Investec bash.
I’ve genuinely not spoken to anyone above me or to anyone in the team about KP.
It doesn’t hurt me or anything, but when people try to put big divides between players and Kevin… I mean, we shared a changing room for eight or nine years. He’s helped me from time to time. We’ve never raised voices at each other. It’s almost perceived to be worse than it is between the players.
And when asked whether he would be prepared to play alongside Pietersen again, Broad said:
The biggest point is that players don’t have a choice over who they’re playing with. But anyone in the dressing room who gets given that shirt and cap, you trust, because people above you have the made the decision that they’re the right people to play for England.
Down the line, and I don’t know what people are thinking, but if in five years’ time selectors decide KP is this guy they want back in this England side, if people have decided above me that he’s the right person to do that, then of course [he would be prepared to play alongside him].
In the world of infantilised England players, strangled by ECB corporate double-speak, terrified of putting a foot wrong and ending up with the same fate as Pietersen, this means, simply, “yes”.
Little about Broad’s comments are ambiguous. No member of management canvassed his opinion about Pietersen. Claims of “big divides between players and Kevin” are off the mark. The pair “never raised voices at each other”. Pietersen “helped” him. The problem is “perceived to be worse than it is”. There you have it, from the horse’s mouth. The myths engendered by the ECB – given weight and credence by their reiteration in the press – are just that: myths.
Does this sound like a player who could not function properly in the same team as Pietersen? Does this sound like a situation in which Pietersen injures the fabric and operation of the team? What of the claim which emerged last week in the Mirror, presumably via an ECB source, that:
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.
Who exactly could these “several” players have been? They can’t include Ian Bell, because on Thursday he said that:
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.
So of possible candidates that only leaves Alastair Cook and James Anderson. But in truth any player beyond Cook is a red herring. The ECB use the notion of Pietersen’s unpopularity as a fraudulent fig-leaf, an invented excuse to disguise their real reasoning: it’s the ECB itself which despises Pietersen.
I make no apologies for going over old ground, and in any event, Broad’s remarks are new. Last week the ECB made a forthright and deliberate decision to maintain their deceit. They continue to peddle untruths, continue to mislead their own supporters, continue to believe the public should accept evasion and concealment.
At the root of the supposed disharmony between Pietersen and Broad is the KP Genius affair. But my reading of Pietersen’s views, in his book and interviews, is that his ire is directed not at Broad himself, but the ECB for their failure to investigate his complaints, in contrast to their sanctimoniously draconian reaction to Textgate.
It was this failure which he rails against in his book – a book which has assumed disproportionate significance in recent rhetoric. Tom Harrison, the ECB chief executive, referenced it at the Andrew Strauss press conference. And on Friday, in trying to explain the Pietersen ban, Colin Graves said:
Given the history and the book, the simple fact is that bridges have still not been rebuilt and trust needs to be restored.
Shamelessly, and incongruously, the ECB are using the book as an excuse, in the same way they exploit non-existent dressing-room conflict. So tendentious are their appeals for public sympathy on the grounds of Pietersen’s autobiography that I can only reiterate points made before.
The contents of book are not a valid reason to deselect someone from a cricket team; to act otherwise is childish and petty. Even if Pietersen had not written the book, the ECB would still be maintaining the ban – they would just find another excuse. Pietersen had been peremptorily sacked without explanation and many lies had been told about him: he deserved the right to reply.
In his autobiography, Pietersen does not meaningfully criticise any player still in the England team. But he did lacerate the reputations of Andy Flower – still a senior ECB employee, but unconnected with the test side – and the ECB itself. It’s this insolence, this disloyalty to the board as a corporate entity, which they cannot endure – and which, in their eyes, must be punished.
But amidst all this doom and gloom, there is some good news, as reported today on the ECB website. In this time of strife and unhappiness, it’s good to know where their priorities lie.
Toyota has today been announced as a new official partner to the England and Wales Cricket Board. The initial two-year partnership will see England’s cricketers at the wheel of a variety of Toyota models including RAV4 and Land Cruiser.
Toyota will gain extensive live and recorded exposure, with prominent advertising at grounds around the country and headline sponsorship of Channel 5’s international cricket highlights peak-time television coverage. It will also have access to the England’s top players for a range of new marketing and publicity opportunities.
Sanjay Patel, ECB Commercial Director, said: “Ahead of a hugely exciting summer of cricket for the England team, we’re delighted to be entering into a new partnership with Toyota. They are a leading high profile automotive brand that continually strives for enhanced performance; a great fit for England cricket. The deal highlights the continued appeal England cricket brings to a variety of brands.
Talk about a rat joining a sinking ship. Congratulations to everybody involved.