I have a Christmas present for you. Tomorrow I will put away my moans and groans and try to spread a little festive cricketing joy. No more doom and gloom till the New Year. I promise.
But before then, a quick recap of the talking points from the last couple of days, many of which you’ve already flagged up and discussed on the comments boards. Dmitri has been all over it – especially here and here.
It was a lively weekend. Seven shades of ordure rained down on the ECB’s head. Some from unexpected quarters. Paul Downton ended up resembling Father Ted in the episode when Tom presses the wrong button on the sewage lorry.
I almost began to feel a bit sorry for him.
Actually, that’s not true.
When even Andrew Strauss is up in arms against the establishment, things have reached a pretty pass. As he said in his Sunday Times column yesterday:
What does leave an unsavoury taste in the mouth, though, is the way that the axe has been wielded.
The ECB’s image has taken a battering every bit as significant as the reputation of some of its players over the past 12 months.
Refusing to talk about Kevin Pietersen’s banishment from the team, allowing Cook to carry the can for the move, leaking the ‘dossier’ on Pietersen’s misdemeanours at the precise moment when they should have been taking the moral high ground, and now filtering the news of Cook’s demotion through to the Twitterspehere and other unofficial channels smacks of clumsy subterfuge or incompetence or both.
It is hugely disrespectful to a captain who has given everything to the role.
Exactly how the ECB would have taken the moral high ground is a question for another day. That lot could share a platform with Ronnie Kray and Idi Amin and end up looking the bad guys.
That apart, Strauss nails it.
He wasn’t the only alumnus of the class of 2005 to weigh in. Steve Harmison delivered his most accurate missile since the Michael Clark slower ball at Edgbaston.
Downton has made himself look ridiculous. Last week, he pointed out that the one time Alastair had a full-strength one-day side, England reached the Champions Trophy final. Fair enough.
So why did he sack Ashley Giles as England’s one-day coach – and selector – this year? Giles only once had a full-strength one-day side, and when he did England reached the Champions Trophy final. In the last 12 months the ECB have sacked [Kevin] Pietersen, England’s best player ever, at the age of 33.
I believe Cook didn’t need one-day cricket in the summer, when he had so many other things to deal with. That’s when the board should have told him to just concentrate on Test cricket.
Meanwhile, Andrew Flintoff, who hardly seemed very sympathetic to Pietersen, shattered the stumps with this:
What Kevin’s done can’t be as bad as what’s been portrayed and it’s time the ECB told us, the paying public who are missing out on watching him, what went on.
I think Kevin is somebody with immense talent who people are quick to praise when he is good, and jump on straightaway when he has a bad game or something doesn’t go his way. He was challenging at times because sometimes he wants to do things his way but as long as it is working out in the middle, that’s fine.
He was the hardest trainer so Kevin was never a problem for me, and as a player I’d have him every day of the week.
We’re not talking keyboard warriors here. These aren’t the deranged rants of a lunatic fringe. Heavyweight figures are piling in. But what would they know, huh?
Say something like this to Downton, and he tries to shrug it off as the most obtuse point in the universe.
We parted company with Kevin in January because throughout the ECB management, from the dressing room up to the board, it was felt that it was the right decision to go in a slightly different direction.
If anything more bridges have been burnt by Kevin’s book. There is no interest from our point of view in going backwards.
Pick the logic out of that. So if Pietersen had written a nice book, he might be back in the frame? Downton’s use of retrospective evidence is snide and unsavoury.
In the same media round, on Saturday morning, national selector James “one test” Whitaker bit the head off anyone who dared mention the P word.
The ECB management made this decision in January and it is the same decision now. There is no way that Kevin Pietersen will ever get back into an England team.
He said this without explanation or elaboration. His words translate as “it is, because I said it is”.
In an interview for the ECB website, Whitaker unwisely waded into the most dangerous territory for any sports administrator: telling supporters what to think and do.
Every England supporter should have respect [for Alastair Cook]. The guy’s been a remarkable captain. England cricket fans should be grateful they’ve got someone of that integrity and honesty that leads the test team.
I suspect a straw poll right now of England followers would not reveal gratitude to be the abiding emotion.
Simultaneously, on the other side of the Nursery Ground, Downton was trying to dig his way out of a landslide with a toothpick. It was a heroic battle against the odds. Impossibly outflanked by the massed allied forces of (a) common sense and (b) things he’d said three days earlier, our man went into battle armed only with the flimsiest weapon imaginable – his powers of rhetoric.
His challenge was to persuade us that he’d said something completely different from what we’d all heard him say earlier in the week. Namely, that Cook would remain in post.
What I said then was that the decision to make Alastair captain in Sri Lanka had taken a lot of discussion with James and the other selectors. The decision that Alastair was the right man to take us to Sri Lanka and by implication the World Cup was made because of his track record over a long period of time in Australia against two white balls and because of the type of cricket we wanted to play out there.
That was the plan and we thought consistency was the best thing to do. We could also see some young players coming through and stability at the top end with some shot players around him would be the way to go. But as Sri Lanka continued it just became clearer that he wasn’t performing and if a plan’s not working eventually you have to change it.
You can see his point. Things became so much clearer between the sixth and seventh ODIs. In Downtonian, “eventually” means “tomorrow”.
For his next trick, England’s MD attempted to have his cake and eat it.
While it wasn’t my decision, I completely endorse what the selectors have done. There seems to be a myth that I’m in charge of everything. I’m at the heart of an England management team of which the selectors are an integral part.
I’m not a selector. I will offer help if I can and as long as the processes are working well I’m happy. I don’t go to every selection meeting. I go at the invitation of James and the selectors and if asked I will provide an opinion. I don’t look in any way to interfere with what the selectors decide because they watch far more cricket than me and are better qualified than me.
But I am a cricket person and I can sometimes offer up a different perspective but as long as the process is thorough, which it always has been, then I’m happy with whatever decision the selectors come up with.
So what’s his exact role in these meetings? Biscuit monitor?
Can you imagine him sitting there meekly, waiting for Mr Whitaker’s permission to speak?
Downton is trying to distance himself far enough from the fray that if things go wrong, it’s not his fault – but still stay close enough to bask in the reflected glory of any success. He doesn’t do the dirty work. But he’s in charge. Sort of.
Dmitri made some very important points in the posts referenced above. The crux is that Downton is making heavy weather of how the selectors, not he, make the big cricketing calls.
Hang on a minute.
What did Downton told Jonathan Agnew, in the TMS interview in May? That he fired Pietersen for “cricketing reasons”.
Whitaker takes no responsibility for what happened. “The ECB management made this decision”. Not him. At the time, one of the other selectors was Ashley Giles, who on 15th January named Pietersen in the provisional World T20 squad, and said:
There was no discussion about leaving Kevin out. He’s another million pound asset, at least. He might be worth a bit more than that.
Downton has colonised and corrupted the selection system to ensure he gets what he wants but has plenty of places to hide and other people to blame when the cops arrive with a search warrant. He slithers from one tendentious position to another, protesting doe-eyed innocence while the blood drips from his hands.
Soon he’ll have at least one new boss, probably two. Next month Tom Harrison starts work as ECB chief executive. Colin Graves will likely become chairman in March.
I wonder what on earth they’re making of all this.