When it comes to ex-pros in the press box, three is the magic number. The Guardian’s Mike Selvey won three England caps. So did Jonathan Agnew, Ed Smith and Dermot Reeve.
Vic Marks has the bragging rights, as the proud owner of six test caps, while Simon Hughes and Mark Nicholas never troubled the TCCB milliners.
Sitting just outside the main pack is Steve James, now of the Telegraph, but formerly of Glamorgan, who opened the batting for England in two tests.
James is notable for regularly engaging with commenters ‘below the line’. Much of what he writes is well-judged and perceptive. But his piece yesterday on the Pietersen book-fallout throws up some provocative talking points.
His essential thesis is that English cricket must learn from their counterparts in rugby. He commends Stuart Lancaster and the RFU for rebuilding the England team ethic and restoring the side’s reputation.
He knew what the English rugby public thought. He knew he had to reconnect with them. The England cricket team and the ECB must do the same now. They have brought much of this upon themselves.
We’ve been here before. I welcome James’s recognition that a problem exists and needs solving (although I’m not sure which part of it they didn’t bring on themselves).
As a cricket lover, though, I’m wary of the rugby model – as advocated earlier this year by Giles Clarke, Paul Downton and our Dear Leader themselves.
I’m unconvinced that rugby union is less elitist and more democratic than cricket. Its target demographic appears even narrower. Please correct me if I’m wrong.
And on the playing front, Lancaster’s side have still won no major prizes.
James also looks at Pietersen’s bullying allegations.
So we have this bilious book, and its damaging accusations about the dressing-room culture. Of course, they are exaggerated – anger does not do detail – and in no way represent the real picture. How on earth could England have become the best Test team in the world in such an environment?
But they do possess elements of truth that need to be addressed. The issue of bowlers humiliating butter-fingered fielders – and it is humiliation – has always troubled me. Flower tried hard to curb it, but did not do so totally.
That needs to be eradicated immediately, even if it means going to extremes. Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad may have to control their ire at dropped catches and make conciliatory beelines for miscreants. And do it time after time until the message is carved into the cricketing public’s consciousness. But it has to be done
It’s good that James acknowledges the need for action. Too many others prefer us to bury our heads in the sand. Pietersen’s bullying claims, I would agree, are light on detail and feel slightly exaggerated in their portrayal. But there may be specifics he could not publish, either for legal reasons, or for fear of harming the victim. As a former England captain and veteran of 104 tests, his word has to count for something.
Do England’s successes during that time argue persuasively against the existence of a bullying cult? The team had their fair share of failures, too. In the last years of Flower’s tenure, more debutants failed than succeeded. It was not an easy team to assimilate into. Two years since Strauss retired, England still haven’t found a replacement opening batsman.
Two of James’s points were always likely to stir the pot. On the ECB’s refusal to explain Pietersen’s sacking:
Dignified silence has now correctly ensued.
We’ve discussed this topic so extensively of late that I won’t delve into it again, save to ask this: what is dignified or correct about lacking the courage to explain a momentous and hugely divisive decision which triggered a virtual civil war in English cricket?
The other was contextualised by an account of players’ financial losses from England’s early rugby World Cup exit in 2011.
Kevin Pietersen has written a book and it has painted an equally horrible picture. And the problem is that too many people believe it to be the absolute truth.
This has money at its root, too. The crux of Pietersen’s discontent is the lucre. Playing for England alone was not enough for him. His head was turned by the Indian Premier League, and he was not satisfied with a slice of that. He wanted more that that. And he wanted to miss England matches to gain that much larger slice.
Quite rightly, Andy Flower refused. Thus spurned, Pietersen’s dislike of his strong-willed and utterly admirable coach quickly turned into festering enmity. It was that simple.
Anyone spot a few elements missing from this picture of the Flower-Pietersen feud? The fall-out from the loss of the captaincy? The leaks, the briefings, the victimisation and the double-standards? Has James read the dossier of Flower’s obsession with petty non-misdemeanours?
If as supposed the pursuit of money had toxic effects on Pietersen, it’s worth looking at what was going on around him.
Only five tests into his career, the ECB removed cricket from terrestrial television and sold it to Sky, for a deal now worth a reported £65 million a year.
In 2008, Giles Clarke warmly greeted Sir Allen Stanford as he stepped down from his helicopter on to the Lord’s outfield. Posing with a perspex box containing $20 million in cash, the pair announced a five-year deal for lucrative T20 exhibition matches. In the end, did the leftover money go, as promised, to Chance To Shine, or the counties? Have a wild guess.
As Dmitri Old points out today.the ECB’s sponsor culture has left England players all but unavailable for interview outside promotional appearances. In 2014, a year when the Board have kept silent on the big questions, they have strenuously promoted their ties to Waitrose and Buxton Water.
Meanwhile, the ECB’s ever-increasing fees to test-host counties have raised the price of match tickets comfortably beyond £60.
Alastair Cook, Pietersen’s captain since September 2012, has throughout his career participated in a string of high-value commercial endorsements, including Austin Reed and Slater & Gordon.
Pietersen’s batting coach, Graham Gooch, a former England captain and selector, abandoned the national side from 1982-84 to earn money from a rebel tour to South Africa. Mike Gatting, another former captain and now president of the MCC (which has a vote on the ECB board) did the same in 1989.
At the inception of the IPL, the ECB protected the Indian league’s integrity by banning English-registered players (including overseas cricketers) from appearing in the rival Indian Cricket League.
Since then, Pietersen is one of a total of ten English-qualified players to feature in the IPL. The others are Eoin Morgan, Michael Lumb, Andrew Flintoff, Paul Collingwood, Owais Shah, Ravi Bopara, Dimitri Mascarhenas, Azhar Mahmood and Stuart Broad. In the 2014 IPL, ten Englishmen, including Luke Wright, Alex Hales and Samit Patel, hoped to take part but went unsold at auction.
Pietersen never asked for leave from test cricket (unlike Gooch, Botham or Stewart before him). He was hardly the first to quit a one-day format. He was ambitious and wanted to earn big money, of course. But in the modern day environment of English cricket, could he be blamed? And was he alone?
And speaking of controversies caused by money, the West Indies’ mounting problems are a dreadful worry for everyone who cares about cricket as a true global game. We’d welcome your thoughts on this, too.