Day five at Headingley, and the KP question

A peculiar match, in the end, and interesting to assess which side had the better of it, on points at least. We took nineteen wickets – an improvement from just two at the Oval – and achieved a small first innings lead. We also put South Africa under periods of pressure.

The tourists will know that we can beat them, and have a fair chance of doing so at Lord’s, to square the series, when they will have more to lose than we will. But both sides will also know that, pound for pound, South Africa are playing the better cricket and have more players currently in the ‘zone’. Our first innings batting was again rather sclerotic, and we repeatedly failed to consolidate good positions.

The first of the two major talking points concerns our selection for the third test: the balance of the side will be endlessly debated over the next few days.

Personally, I’m bored of talking about four bowlers v five, mainly because there’s almost no chance that Flower and Strauss will alter such a key plank of their strategy at a moment like this. It would smack of panic and confusion. But there is a case for it this time. South Africa bat deep, and Lord’s is a tough place to take twenty wickets. We have to win the match to save the series.

My guess is that Swann will return for Bresnan, who was overall less threatening than Finn at Headingley. Broad looked knackered and off-colour until yesterday’s wonder spell. His mojo is a fragile entity, reminiscent of a temperamental photocopier. Hopefully he’s now cleared the paper jam and returned it to functionality.

James Taylor will play at Lord’s: there will be huge reluctance to stymie his development after a doughty effort on debut.

Talking point number two revolves around the latest Kevin Pietersen melodrama. The Lord’s test may be KP’s last, or so he strongly implied in a rather strange interview with TMS yesterday afternoon.

“I can’t give any assurances [that the next Test will not be his last]. I love playing Test cricket, but there are obstacles and I’ll decide what happens at the end of the next Test.”

God knows what he’s up to, but it must be significant that this latest display of brinkmanship comes just after one of his best ever test innings, and one which reminded us all just how much we’d miss him if he’s gone.

On the face of it, Pietersen is asking the ECB for more freedom to pick and choose which cricket he plays. He claims this is primarily to protect his family life – although his arguments are confused – and stresses that “it’s absolutely 100 per cent not about money”.  However, he appears to have been demanding the right to play a full IPL season next year.

Given that KP has always been accused of carpetbaggery, of taking advantage of his English connections for his own personal interests with no emotional allegiance to this country’s cricket, his present tactics are providing unbelievably potent ammunition for his many critics. Never before has he appeared so brazenly selfish, nor so nakedly put his own needs before England’s.

But look at this from Pietersen’s point of view. He yesterday took the remarkable step of publicly accusing the ECB, in effect, of deliberately leaking details of his contract negotiations to the press.

“Did I leak anything to the media about the meetings I was having with the ECB? I never spoke to the media for one single second,” he insisted.

“I never spoke a single word about anything that happened behind closed doors, or what I thought was closed doors.”

The ECB have not denied his imputation, which I suspect to be true, mainly because there’s a precedent. In January 2009, when he was captain, KP was asked to write a private memo to England management about his thoughts for the team’s future. He did so, and his private criticisms of then-coach Peter Moores were leaked to the media. The ECB then sacked Pietersen – who’d done nothing wrong – to save face.

Even before Kevin Pietersen first played for England, many in the press had it in for him. From the start he was portrayed as a flag-of-convenience mercenary, as inveterately selfish, and as a rather weird loner with few friends in the dressing room.

KP’s every word or deed, on-field or off-, is scrutinised, and usually criticised, more than any other England player in history. Every cricketer makes mistakes, both in the middle and personal, but Pietersen’s are latched on to and revelled in.

It stands to reason that other current senior England players have contract disputes with the ECB, but we don’t get to hear about them. Pietersen’s are released into the public domain. And he’s hardly the first English cricketer to request leeway over his commitments. In the 1980s, both Ian Botham and Graham Gooch skipped tours, but without tarnishing their images as consummate patriots and team-men.

If you were Pietersen, wouldn’t you think the whole world’s against you? He is without allies, either in the press, dressing room, or ECB corridors. He is invariably cast as the villain, whatever he does – which doesn’t include falling off pedaloes or turning up drunk for nets. He was sacked as captain for no reason. Why should he put any faith in the ECB’s fairness or goodwill?

As such, you can understand why he has to provoke and hustle in the way he does. Circumstances – and admittedly his personality, too – mean he has to play a different game from everyone else. And a game it is – the ECB are no innocents in all this. KP has to look after himself, because if he doesn’t, no one will.

Maxie Allen


  • Bloody well said. The one thing I would add is that kp is the only batsman who plays every form of the game. He is, in my opinion, therefore entitled to be treated differently and manage his schedule more sympathetically.

  • In other quarters Hugh Morris is taking some flak about this and in my opinion that’s warranted. He does not appear to be providing visible leadership here. This inflexible linking of ODI and T20I availability is wrong and the responsibility for that policy ultimately lays at Morris’ door. Pietersen maybe the first (and loudest) but he won’t be the last to mention the schedule, Swann has already subtly mentioned the problems of being away from a young family all the time.

  • I find it impossible to sympathise with the hugely talented millionaire. Enjoy being an Comedy Cricket Merc, Kevin – you had the batting genius to be a great, but given that flawed muscle between your ears can never be put in the same bracket as Bradman, Lara or even Ponting.

  • The poster above makes a very good point, this issue is not going to go away. I think this all reflects the changing nature of the game and it is very hypocritical of the ECB to take a stand like this. Were they the ones who chased Stanfords dollar when all the other boards had steered well clear? KP may say this isn’t about money and maybe to him that isn’t the driving factor. However, this situation has everything to do with money whether he likes it or not. England’s top players (of which he is one) get paid pretty well by all accounts. My reckoning would put their average earnings between £350,000 and £1.5million on a central contract with endorsements depending on how many formats they play. By any normal standard that is a ton of money, the thing is that you can’t assess high profile sportsmen by normal standards.
    Putting myself in his situation (millions in the bank, trophy wife, luxury homes…. Sorry got carried away there!!) do I work and train all year for an employer whom I have always had a love/hate relationship with? Or do I work for 4 months a year, get paid twice as much and get treated like a superstar?
    Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not a massive KP fan at all, I like to watch him play but I wouldn’t lose any sleep if he was gone. I just think that you have to make exceptions when you get to this level. He wants to earn the most by doing the least so that when he retires he can continue to live in the way he does now. Which of us wouldn’t do the same?
    The ECB has to bring this to a close now. The way I see it they have three options
    1. give him what he wants. Let him play 1summer and 1 winter series and give him time in between for the hit and giggle.
    2. Stand firm. He will sell his services to the highest bidder, become one of the richest players the game has ever seen and England will lose out in the short term.
    3. Treat this the same way that football clubs treat contract negotiations. Sit at the table and work out a solution. Compensate him for loss of earnings and increase his salary. Very few of england’s players play all formats of the game, allow him some leeway and make him feel special.

    The ECB is going to have to accept (as the West Indies board is no doubt aware) that contract negotiations have to be individual and your star players get paid a lot more than your squad members. This has been brewing for a long time, they need to sort it or we will see more than just KP tread this path in the next few years. Mr Broad is only a stones throw away from all this, he must be making notes…

  • I’ve got a radical idea. Ban the bloody IPL! Franchises that buy players in auctions, so that the composition of the sides have no link to the region / country they’re representing, runs counter to the essence of cricket. The IPL is a scourge to test cricket, and if they can’t coexist, then one of them has to go in the dustbin. As someone who values mental strength, courage, technical prowess, physical endurance and tactical depth more than the ability to ‘hit a long ball’ whilst jigging to the latest girls aloud song over the tannoy, I know which form of the game should be consigned to the dustbin. Why oh why did English cricket create this monster. Like football, money is now ruining cricket too. Now how’s that for a black and white over-emotional response?!

  • Morgsie – much as you may detest it, the IPL isn’t going away, and KP won’t be the only England player to be caught in this conflict between it and his central contract. We’d be better doing away with the Tests in May – the weather’s usually poor, they’re badly attended and it would provide a window for the IPL. Whether Sky would permit that is another matter…

  • I do realise that Gareth. Money might be the root of all evil but it talks. Can’t stop me dreaming though! Of course, KP would say I’m just jealous ;-)


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