We’ve waited almost three years for this. And I can only applaud Alastair Cook, now free of the captaincy, for finally having his say on the ECB’s handling of the Kevin Pietersen debacle. Better late than never eh.
Although some won’t be prepared to take Cook at his word, I personally believe his testimony backs up what I thought from the start: that the real villains of the piece were the hapless and spineless ECB not the captain. The board were primarily the ones who wanted Pietersen gone because they needed a scapegoat and KP had always been a thorn in their side. Then, having driven that decision, they were quite happy to sit back and let Cook take the heat; therefore Cook became an indirect victim of the whole affair too.
Here’s what our former skipper said today. And if you’re Paul Downton, or one of the other ECB stooges who handled things badly and then ran for cover, it makes particularly awkward reading. The quotes are taken from Cricinfo (who borrowed them from Sky):
I felt like it wasn’t handled particularly well by the ECB. I know I was the lightning rod for it, every person thought it was my decision. I felt I bore the brunt of that, unfairly in my personal opinion. As much power you get as England captain, you don’t have the ultimate decision on that sort of thing.”
Yes, I was part of the decision making, as six or seven other people were. I didn’t actually have that final trigger and I felt as if I was the only person who made that decision. I felt a little bit let down by the ECB by that one period where they kind of left me out to dry a little bit. But that’s all gone now. It’s part and parcel of the challenge of being captain. I can’t say now I have any regrets. I’ve tried, whether I got it right or wrong, to do what was the best for English cricket at that time.
I have argued from the start that Cook was in a weak position after the Ashes whitewash (he probably knew he was lucky to keep his job) and was probably in no state of mind to make a stand over a player who was sometimes difficult to handle; therefore he was quite happy to go along with the board’s wishes.
However – and this is the key point here – Cook wasn’t the main person driving the decision, so the Cook versus Pietersen narrative that some journalists and supporters propagated (where the board were merely making a stand for their captain) was essentially bogus. I think the above testimony substantiates my position.
Although I disagreed passionately with the decision to sack KP, I could actually empathise with Alastair’s position at the time. I might even have done the same if I was him. After all, we all know what happens to players who go against the grain. Cook had his own career and family to think about; therefore I believed it was unfair to demonise him. Indeed it might be an uncomfortable thought but those who ended up blaming Cook actually fell into the ECB’s trap.
Although I could understand where the ill feeling towards Cook came from, especially in the light of Giles Clarke’s abhorrent ‘right sort of family’ comments, I hope people will now forgive Alastair to some extent. Some might disagree – I remember Maxie and I arguing about this in the pub once! – but I always trusted the board less than Cook. After all, Alastair had always seemed like a decent bloke whereas the board had a whole history of misdemeanours behind them.
Consequently I’m glad that Alastair has finally had the opportunity to mount his defence. As for the ECB, when someone as mild mannered as Cook puts the boot in then you know you’ve bungled something horribly. The men largely responsible for the Pietersen debacle have now moved on – so there’s no point storming the barricades – but I hope all the England fans who originally gave the board the benefit of the doubt will finally admit they were wrong.
In my humble interpretation the bottom line is this: the ECB needed a post Ashes scapegoat so they picked the most convenient one (the South African they’d wanted to get rid of for some time) but misjudged the public mood and underestimated the shit-storm it would cause. When they realised that they’d miscalculated they “hung out to dry” one of English cricket’s most loyal players while they hid behind confidentiality agreements. Shame on them.
Maybe people will realise now why it’s so important to scrutinise everything the ECB do, and why it’s so hard to give them the benefit of the doubt. Now that Alastair has broken his silence, perhaps more players will come forward and support his story? I certainly hope so.