As Winston Churchill said after the Second Battle of El Alamein:
This is not the end; it is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
Let’s not count our chickens, but today is potentially one of the greatest days in the history of English cricket. Not simply because we have witnessed Downton’s ultimate humiliation and downfall. And not only because we are finally rid of this toxic, cancerous, buffoon. But for what it represents more broadly.
Reduced to its core, the Downton-Pietersen saga always revolved around one simple dynamic: the opposition between ‘in’ and ‘out’. Pietersen, the outsider, was banished by those within cricket’s inner sanctum of clan and nepotism. Downton was the archetypal insider; establishment to his marrow; friend and kindred spirit to those of influence; former team-mate of many journalists.
When the ECB issued their infamous “outside cricket” press release they encapsulated and explained the entire conflict in just those two fateful words.
In the year following Pietersen’s execution, those inside systematically barricaded themselves against the enemy without. Alastair Cook was appointed their mascot; the regime’s survival depended on his, both as captain and player. By extension, Downton’s own fortunes became inextricably linked to Giles Clarke’s. The ECB could not allow a single breach to their defences. They looked after their own. The organisation no longer existed for the purpose of running English cricket, but to protect a cabal of grandees.
Whatever the level of incompetence, no one could be dismissed lest the entire edifice collapsed.
But no more. Or at least, so it seems.
Tom Harrison, the new chief executive, has taken the same sensible decision any business leader would: to dismiss – in Downton – a poisonous, mendacious cretin whose arrogance, ego, and plain stupidity had driven English cricket on to the rocks.
No prizes for recognising the bleeding obvious. But a gold medal for doing the right thing in the face of ECB culture – in defying the Mafia-esque jobs-for-the-boys nepotism which, time and again, enslaves our game in the dark ages.
There is now genuinely cause for hope, fragile yet it though seems. Never again will English cricket have a better opportunity to build a new Jerusalem – and put merit before prejudice, reason before kinship, and the interests of the game before those of its self-appointed masters.
It’s a chance which must be taken.
Few will shed a tear for Downton. Tonight, far more will feel a sense of vindication. And when the Ashes begin, far fewer of the English cricketing public will feel unable to embrace and support the team.
Will strife finally cease? Will lessons truly be learned? And will Pietersen return? We will see. This is only the end of the beginning.