What the papers say


Here’s a slightly random post about three articles which caught my eye recently.

The first is by George Monbiot, in the Guardian. Monbiot is best known for campaigning environmental journalism, and his piece is ostensibly nothing to do with cricket. It’s about the supineness of the media in general, and how “our ‘impartial’ broadcasters have become mouthpieces of the elite”.

If you think the news is balanced, think again. Journalists who should challenge power are doing its dirty work.

His themes – aimed at mainstream political, business and economic journalism – have some uncanny parallels with the laments against the press we find so often on blogs such as these. Although I doubt Monbiot had cricket remotely in mind, much of what he says rings very true of the game as often reported in this country.

When people say they have no politics, it means that their politics aligns with the status quo. None of us are unbiased, none removed from the question of power. We are social creatures who absorb the outlook and opinions of those with whom we associate, and unconciously echo them.

The illusion of neutrality is one of the reasons for the rotten state of journalism, as those who might have been expected to hold power to account drift thoughtlessly into its arms.

Those who are supposed to scrutinise the financial and political elite are embedded within it. Many belong to a service-sector aristocracy, wedded metaphorically (sometimes literally) to finance. Often unwittingly, they amplify the voices of the elite, while muffling those raised against it.

The debate has been dominated by political and economic elites, while alternative voices – arguing that the crisis has been exaggerated, or that instead of cuts, the government should respond with Keynesian spending programmes or taxes on financial transactions, wealth or land – have scarcely been heard.

What does this remind you of? Almost exclusively during the last year of turmoil in English cricket, the people called upon to analyse events are those so close to the main players in the story that an independent perspective often eludes them.

I’m not suggesting that I should have been asked on to Newsnight to discuss Kevin Pietersen, but wouldn’t it have been refreshing if the media had occasionally sought the opinions of supporters, or any ‘outsiders’, rather than return, time and again, to journalists who possess such uncomfortably close connections to the people in the spotlight.

The other two pieces, remarkable for their contrasting tone, come from the Independent, and thanks to Tom Sturrock for flagging them up. Apologies if you may have already discussed these over at Dmitri’s blog (I was on holiday last week and am still catching up!).

Both are about…guess who?

On Sunday, Ian Herbert had this:

A World Cup that the ECB tells us will be different for England but from which the team will almost certainly leave early. But who has just revealed that he plays Australian surfaces better than any other, by topping the Big Bash averages? Kevin Pietersen, the man at the heart of the English game’s own civil war.

from this correspondent there is only a regret that Pietersen will be flying out of Australia soon, rather than giving England a fighting chance of thrilling us before they process home. With such an average bowling attack as the one at Morgan’s disposal, England will need to score 350 runs every time against the competitive nations. That’s just not going to happen.

Morgan’s retort to Pietersen’s comments last week – “I think this is the best group of players we have to drive England forward” – was deeply disingenuous. Of course England don’t have the best team at their disposal. Of course the new captain was toeing a company line. And if that was not bad enough, David Warner’s contribution out on the Sydney Cricket Ground track on Thursday merely demonstrated the benefits of resolving conflict the Australian way.

When Michael Clarke’s players last toured these shores, Warner was the wild child, clouting Joe Root in a Birmingham bar, having refused to hand in a “homework” assignment on time and ranted at journalists on Twitter. We wondered where his future lay because his behaviour raised questions about Clarke’s grip on the team. But Warner was disciplined, words were said and he moved on, with his 127 in 115 balls against Morgan’s attack more evidence of why the perseverance was worth it.

There’s something more grown up about the way the Australians bring the recalcitrant ones back in line. They have the fight, say what’s to be said and have done with it; none of the prissy grudge-bearing we have seen with England.

Pietersen’s score-settling autobiography is hardly a source of objective historical record but his depiction of Alastair Cook as Ned Flanders, the man from The Simpsons who wants to please everybody, and Peter Moores as the Woodpecker, yammering away, made you wonder how things might have turned out if there had been someone to front up with Pietersen man-to-man.

Success in sport demands one-man egos: the individuals who will not flinch at the prospect of trying to achieve the seemingly unachievable. Success in sports management demands an acceptance that recalcitrance and rebellion come with that quality and that harnessing the power is a complex skill. It’s why Eric Cantona dressed howsoever he wanted in the company of Alex Ferguson, while everyone else had to stick to the dress code.

Andrew Strauss’s autobiography was not a paean to Pietersen’s personality but it made a significant point about the value of having rule-breakers in the ranks. “Unbridled by team directives or predetermined methods, Pietersen could play in a way of which others were simply incapable,” Strauss wrote. He went on to say that the dispute left players feeling uneasy and expressed frustration at Pietersen getting all the publicity. But players don’t care about the differences when a team is winning. And one player getting the headlines can take pressure off the rest.

When [England] begin their World Cup campaign against Australia at the MCG, in 26 days’ time…they will be missing their highest runscorer in all forms of cricket: the man who has just scored 262 in six Twenty20 innings on Australian soil. Take away the rows, recriminations and rancour and that omission just seems shocking. Pietersen should be going to the World Cup, whatever it takes.

In contrast to this impeccable cricketing logic, Stephen Brenkley, last Friday, was working himself up into a lather about Pietersen’s new tattoo.

While it was once the done thing to have “I love Mum” inscribed somewhere on the upper arm, Pietersen has effectively had inked across his back and chest “I love me.”

It looked to be the wrong way round but Pietersen explained this by saying it “was just the reflection,” allowing the possibility that he intends to stand in front of the mirror gazing adoringly at the map the right way round.

In his rip-roaring memoir, KP, in which he traduces so many of the splendid men who helped, along with himself, to make England the best team in the world, he indulges in interminable stretches of self-justification. But he does concede that one of his mistakes involved an earlier visit to the tattoo parlour when he had the three lions of England emblazoned on his left arm.

Plenty of other cricketers have tattoos but it is difficult to think of any who have so deliberately drawn attention to personal achievement, inviting the observation that his skin is even thinner than it appears.

Pietersen might have kept the venture private, between himself and his mirror, but before the ink was dry he had posted photographs on his Instagram account. By his own high standards he may be pushed to top this, but doubtless he will think of some way to continue to play a central role, to get under the skin, as it were, of the English cricket establishment.

[The personnel changes at the ECB are] an opportunity for a clean sheet on which a fresh vision can be drawn. So much more wholesome than self-promoting images of world maps.

If sneering became an Olympic sport, Brenkley would be an automatic shoo-in for a podium finish. You can almost hear the bile oozing from his self-congratulatory fingers. Brenkley may derive heady enjoyment from monstering Pietersen, but does he have to flaunt his personal pleasure quite so flagrantly and self-indulgently?

This kind of stuff gives the game away. The press loathing of Pietersen owes nothing to the man’s cricket. It derives entirely from their attitudes towards taste, class, and decorum, heavily soured with envy.

“Splendid men”. I presume he means the same splendid Andy Flower who spied on his players, relayed private conversations to journalists (inaccurately), built a personality cult, and threw tantrums when he failed to receive due deference and respect. How very splendid…


  • These hacks have no right to call themselves “Journalist”. They are a disgrace to the profession and their editors who allow them to continue publishing complete rubbish are no better.

  • “You cannot hope
    to bribe or twist,
    thank God! the
    British journalist.

    But, seeing what
    the man will do
    unbribed, there’s
    no occasion to.”
    Humberte Wolfe

  • Back in October, Brenkley used the phrase “Pietersen’s odious supporters” (plural, ie not just Piers Morgan) and then – preposterously – spilled out a lament that journalists hadn’t defended Flower ENOUGH. While telling a story about Flower that illustrated exactly the sort of control freakery Pietersen ascribed to the former coach.

    That really is all you need to know about his independent perspective.

  • Maxie,
    I’m not saying you don’t have a point – but it’s pretty obvious that you’re just as agenda-driven and personal as you claim the journos are. You hate the ECB and all its works. You hate Andy Flower (as your spiteful last paragraph shows) and you’re happy to completely whitewash KP. All of which is fine – but all it means is that you’ve replaced one compromised opinion with another equal and opposite one.
    You tell me not to trust the journos – but I don’t trust you either ;)
    So what am I to do? Faced with extreme arguments on both sides it seems like the safest course is to declare that KP and the ECB both deserve each other, and to have no sympathy for either of them.
    And funnily enough, I reckon that’s probably the closest to the truth.

    • Pointing out the absurd double standards and whitewashing when it comes to the vast majority of the press output about Andy Flower doesn’t mean he hates Flower, jesus christ.

      • My comment above beginning ‘Well’ was a reply to BigKev not to Burly.

        Re Flower, as I’ve said before this is a real failure by the press IMO because there’s an interesting story there.
        I don’t hate Flower, I used to admire him and I felt he did a lot for the England side when he took over. He worked well with Strauss and we won matches. But it became more and more clear over time that he was doing more harm than good – how did that happen? Is it a story about a dominant personality who had nobody to rein him in and went on dominating until he became oppressive? Or did he change?
        An interesting throwaway remark by Pietersen in that conversation with Ponting was that for Flower ‘it was all about his legacy’. I wonder if, for Flower, being England’s Team Director was another innings, one he was determined to add to his records and bat his way, with no interference from those lower down the order.
        So where are the interviews with Flower? Where are the opinion pieces about him, if he won’t be interviewed? Why are we not supposed to be interested in him?

    • BigKev,

      I’m not convinced you’re looking at this in the right way. For my part, the case seems to be that on the one side journalists (and this is a generalisation) appear to either wilfully or neglectfully prepared to obscure or ignore the truth, whilst are friends at TFT are trying merely to find out what the truth is. Which of those seems to be closer to your ideal of a journalist?

      Regarding Flower (and I take nothing away from his wonderful playing career or brave political stance against the Mugabe regime), certain things seem clear. He had a successful coaching career (up to a point), which was typified by organisation, attention to detail, innovative use of technology and let’s be honest, a pretty good set of players at his disposal. That’s the plus side of the ledger. On the negative, we have what I would term tactical inflexibility (see the last year of his tenure), and some might call stubbornness. We also have (most importantly for my part) an inability to understand that a team is made from individual people who will all need approaching differently to bring out their best.

      I believe the above are all things we would have been able to assert about Flower before he left office. If we add in certain things that have been revealed to us since (and I don’t think any of this is in dispute) – that he bore grudges, he terrified his players, he had them reporting on each other, that he compiled dossiers and that he had double standards/favourites (see KPGenius vs KP Textgate), then I think the conclusion that Andy Flower is dislikeable is not pushing an agenda. We have a picture of a man who is fastidious, inflexible, stubborn and worst of all doesn’t understand the way people tick.

      Regarding KP, I think everyone will agree that he is clearly a hard man to love, I’m sure there are some that do. By comparing the way KP has been treated in the mainstream press to here as a whitewash / blackwash situation you are again, I think, doing TFT an injustice. I’ve been following this blog for some time and I don’t recall too many KP puff pieces, just an outrage that we’ve been denied seeing England’s highest ever run scorer play for a reason that we haven’t been told. The mainstream media treatment of KP (particularly Brenkley) has been a hatchet job. Yes, KP did some stupid things and possibly some bad things, but so did Shane Warne, David Warner, Andrew Symmonds (see article – you get the idea), I can’t think of anyone else in the history of cricket who has been ‘sacked’ other than match fixers.

      To return to my initial point, the ECB has clearly leaked, lied and smothered, yet it doesn’t seem to be getting a hard time for this in the press. TFT is asking questions and trying to find the answers. Which of these seems more like pushing an agenda to you??

      • Dan,
        You raise some excellent points – but you also illustrate the kind of thinking that I’m talking about.
        Firstly, I’d say there’s plenty of wilful obscuring of the truth going on on both sides. In fact, that’s the genius of the whole “don’t trust the journos – it’s all a giant conspiracy” argument. It enables one side of the argument to completely disregard any pesky evidence that they don’t like. One story turns out to be false or exaggerated? That means they all must be. I’ll admit a bias here – my two closest friends are journalists, and through them, I know quite a few. So while I’m not going to take everything they say as gospel, I’m also not prepared to write off everything they say on a subject because it doesn’t fit my preferred conclusion.
        As for Flower, based on what’s on the record, I do think it’s unreasonable to suggest that he’s dislikeable. We have KP, who is an unreliable witness at best, and we have a story about Stuart Broad not wanting to take a phone call. Strauss has plenty of good to say about Flower. I haven’t read Swann’s book – but being a maverick, you would assume he wouldn’t fit in under Flower. Clearly not true – he flourished. When you say “Flower is dislikeable”, 99% of the evidence for that points to his behaviour to one player – who I would submit was equally dislikeable in return. As for being disliked by the rest of the team? I see no evidence for that. For the record, I think he should have been sacked after the Ashes – but on the basis of results and accountability. I don’t trust KP’s character assassination one bit.
        I absolutely take your point about the press not holding the ECB sufficiently to account for the Ashes debacle, and for many of the things that were done after it. And that’s the point I conceded to Maxie at the start of my reply to him. But both basic arguments just seem extreme to me – it’s all the ECB’s fault, or it’s all KP’s fault. George Dobell is an exception, as is James on this blog – but those exceptions are few in number, and I think this whole debate suffers because of that. Much of the argument is just two entrenched positions screaming at each other.

        • Fair enough Kev, good response. I respect your view, but we’re not going to see eye to eye on this one…

        • “As for Flower, based on what’s on the record, I do think it’s unreasonable to suggest that he’s dislikeable”.

          You didn’t read the ‘due diligence’ dossier, then?

  • Cook averaged 28 in ODIs in the last year or so and everybody was screaming about the injustice of his inclusion in the England side. Rightly he was dropped.

    Since 2009, KP only averaged 30 with a SR of 84 for England in 49 ODIs, yet for some reason he should be first on the team sheet. He passed 50 once every 7 innings, and only scored 2 100s. Samit Patel has a better average and strike rate!

    As far as his form in the current Big Bash, it’s been good, but surely that has to be taken in conjunction with his poor form for Surrey in the summer and for Delhi in the last IPL.

    In terms of the batting, I can’t see who you would replace in the current ODI side – Morgan has been England’s best for 2-3 years, Bell is class as an opener, Root has 3 100s in 2014, Taylor has taken his chance after phenomenal domestic form, Buttler keeps, Ali and Bopara both add bowling options as well their batting. I’d have Stokes in the top 6 before KP.

    The problem is, despite the glimpses of the player he was, KP’s form has been in steady decline over the last 5 years. Add in all the hooplah that surrounds him and selecting him would be a massive risk – I wouldn’t go near him any more.

    • Let’s not forget that KP was struggling big time with his knee injury (and a while before that with his achilles) over the last few years. I was one of the ones who thought he was in decline, but his performances in the big bash actually remind me of the old KP – the first time I’ve seen it for a while. Perhaps he isnt joking when he said recently that he’s finally fully fit for the first time in ages. I don’t think it’s fair to judge a guy playing at 80%, just like we should’ve judge Swann on his performances in the last Ashes when his elbow wasn’t right. I’d say the difference with Cook’s recent form is that he seems to be fully fit, yet still struggled badly.

    • Well, this is the difference between how you approach a player who at his best is a dominant force in limited over cricket – who, despite a dip in form still held a career average of over 40, with 9 centuries in ODIs and a SR of 86.6 – over Alastair Cook, with his career average of 36, 5 centuries, and a SR of 77.

      Cook also managed to average that 28 in 17 innings while hitting just the one 50, and doing so at a crawl (SR of 69).

      Not sure why you chose 2009 btw. Since 2012 KP has averaged almost 45 in ODI cricket (SR of 84). It was only the tail end that saw his average nosedive with his injury issues. The question was whether the injuries would prove terminal to his career. Happily for KP and people who enjoy watching him play, they haven’t. Watching the Big Bash made it clear that his old movement was back and if he stays fit I can see him continuing his current form in various competitions for a while yet.

  • Can I just state, once again, for the record, that I don’t hate Andy Flower. I’m sure there was a breakdown between coach and player. I don’t like that his contribution to the 5-0 debacle has been ignored.

    I did not hate the ECB until they stitched up world cricket, besmirched the supporters, and dropped one of our better players on something other than merit, and have shown absolutely no contrition or willingness to tell us why despite any statute of limitations etc. having expired. I don’t like that the press constantly carried briefing and leaks against Pietersen in his playing days, and that they have not called the ECB to account in any meaningful way.

    And finally, once again, because this is getting tedious, I do believe Pietersen’s days in England colours are over, but this isn’t a battle to get him reinstated. My hope is a world where the supporters, the lifeblood of the game, are treated with respect and not contempt. I don’t speak for all, I speak for myself. Everyone has an agenda. Mine, in this case, is openness and transparency, respect and due heed paid to those who pay to watch. Telling me to “move on”, quoting stats to prove cases that aren’t being made or effecting neutrality aren’t going to persuade me. They make me more determined.

    I thought Maxie captured it all pretty well, if you ask me.

    • I echo your sentiments on the ECB, particularly the stitch up of world cricket, Dmitri.

      Has Flower’s contribution to the 5-0 debacle been ignored though? His time as England coach was over and ended in the immediate aftermath. When he resigned, plenty of the media talked about his autocratic style being a problem towards the end.

      Is his current role a ‘promotion’? The top coaching job in any sport is the national team coach. For all the problems in his relationship with KP, there were plenty of players that thrived during his tenure as coach, which is why England had such good results. Is it such a bad thing that he’s still in the set-up?

  • George Monbiot is one of the few remaining reasons to even click on the Guardian online, let alone buy it, anymore. He dissects the misdirection and smokescreens of the establishment brilliantly, and backs it up with proper evidence and well-thought though arguments.
    Maybe he’d write a piece on the ECB?!

  • Thanks for all your very interesting comments (and kind words).

    Kev, on your point, I do see where you’re coming from. But although I’m reluctant for any discussion thread here to be navel-gazing, I would say that my invective is directed at the people in charge, and is about their conduct in their roles. I don’t give them personal abuse.

    I think there’s a big difference between castigating Giles Clarke for his attitudes and actions (with their huge effect on us all), and sneering at an ex-England player for getting a garish tattoo.

    • Maxie,
      Fair enough. If you’d been sneering at Giles Clarke, I probably would have agreed with you! I guess I don’t see the difference between aiming at staff (Flower) or players (KP) quite as clearly as you do, but I would expect you to fight your corner!

      • I argue that we should make a huge distinction between management and players, on two levels: our expectations of their conduct, and their validity as objects of scrutiny and criticism.

        Players are there to play. As long as they act within normal parameters for acceptable human behaviour in a working environment, it doesn’t matter what they do off the field. They are judged only on their runs and wickets. And usually, when poor form comes around, it’s not their fault. They can’t control losing their wicket or bowling badly.

        But managers are paid to manage. They don’t make any other contribution to the team. And they are in full control of their conduct as managers. So if, in their line of duty, they act selfishly or nefariously, they deserve every single word of criticism they get.

        Flower was one of the lads we should have all been getting behind. Neither is/was any coach.

  • Well this is part of the issue – I do not know what is his exact job description at the moment.

    I recall that AF had some health problems at some stage, and indicated that he wants to spend more time at home with his family. Also with the international schedule as it is and the WC in 2015 he might have decided the coaching of the England team is not the TOP job. Is it a bad thing that he is still in the set-up? Ask Finn, Panesar and Compton…

    Great post TFT

  • The ECB have done everything they possibly can to insulate themselves against having to be accountable to England supporters, or take any notice of what we think.

    But there’s one thing they can’t insulate themselves against: people not buying tickets to cricket matches. Therefore, I call on all Full Tossers(!) and England supporters to boycott ALL cricket matches involving the England team until collapsing revenues force the ECB to start paying attention to what we, the fans, want.

    I don’t see there’s any other way we can achieve this.


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