A good win for England yesterday. I like Chris Jordan, very much. He has the qualities the side desperately need – elan, joie de vivre, and personality. So he’ll probably get dropped soon.
Unfortunately, his heroics were destined to be overshadowed the moment Paul Downton came on air during Test Match Special, in what was his first interview since assuming the England managing director role four months ago.
And unable to stand the provocation – and the falsehoods – any longer, Kevin Pietersen has in the last few hours released his first meaningful statement of any kind since being sacked in February.
At first, Downton seemed to be winning the PR battle: his down to earth and thoughtful-appearing conversational style (albeit with cloying repeated references to “Cooky”) persuaded many listeners that they were hearing new information, including genuinely enlightening facts about KP-gate. But as the commentariat began to digest the content and substance of the interview, the facade quickly disintegrated. To my ear – and I’m not alone – Downton was dissembling, deceiving, and plain old fibbing.
In the main, Downton rehashed the points he made at the Moores press conference, often using exactly the same words. He said that Flower flagged up the KP problem after Melbourne; Downton himself then saw Pietersen as “disengaged” at Sydney; Pietersen, he observed, was generally “disinterested and distracted”.
Some confidentiality agreement. At no point did he state what the disengagement actually amounted to, and it’s disappointing that Jonathan Agnew did not ask him directly. I’ve actually discussed this with Agnew today – more of which next week – and he makes the point that in difficult legal circumstances he elicited more information than we’ve heard before. That said, a direct question about specifics would have been perfectly fair.
For example, did Pietersen not turn up to net sessions? Was he failing to prepare properly? Had he flouted team orders? He was certainly sufficiently engaged to provide batting coaching to Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson and Steve Finn.
Today, KP replied with this:
“The suggestion that I was uninterested during the winter Ashes series against Australia is wholly untrue. Although I was having injections in my knee, which inhibited my mobility and thus my ability to field close to the wicket, I was fully motivated to play for England and whilst I accept that the series as a whole fell well below my own personal standards, I finished the series as the top scorer”.
The one new motif from Downton was his repeated insistence that sacking Pietersen was the “unanimous” view of the management, coaching teams, and elements of the dressing room. “I talked to every person on the management team and quite a few senior players, and I could not find one supporter who wanted Kevin to stay in the side”.
So who thought what?
In terms of the management, Andy Flower had held a grudge against Pietersen since January 2009. The other member of team management, by that stage, was – erm – Downton himself.
Exactly how opposed to Pietersen were the coaches? On 15th January, nine days after the Sydney test, the then ODI coach Ashley Giles named Pietersen in the provisional World T20 squad, a decision Flower was party to.
Giles 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”.
Meanwhile, on 22nd January, bowling coach David Saker dismissed reports of a rift between Pietersen and the coaching staff:
“He’s a fantastic player and has done some great things but we went through some tough times in the Test series and things come out of that and people want to make up stories and see things that might not be there. When you are losing these things come out quite often.
“The relationship between Kevin Pietersen and Andy Flower hasn’t changed from where I’m sitting and I’m sure what’s being reported and what is out there is nowhere near the truth.”
So perhaps when Downton said “every person on the management team”, he was – how can I put this? – not telling the truth.
And what about “quite a few senior players”? Pietersen responded by saying:
“I did, and continue to have a good relationship with most of the England players, which has been subsequently highlighted by a number of press interviews”.
Who did Downton speak to? And how did he phrase the question? Did he, for instance, ask Graeme Swann, who on 6th February said:
“[Pietersen] made a huge effort to improve his attitude around the dressing room. I saw or heard no issues with him in Australia this winter, his approach was exceptional. That’s why I was baffled when he was sacked as an England player.”
Did Downton seek the views of Chris Tremlett?
“I’m pretty good friends with Kevin and I was involved in that tour in Australia and from what I saw he didn’t do anything wrong.”
And what about Stuart Broad? Reportedly, Broad wanted Pietersen in the World T20 squad. On the record, he said this about the charge of disengagement at Sydney:
“You often see things differently from the stands. Kev was down at fine-leg for the majority of the time so he would look disconnected down there. But he did take that responsibility on himself. it was the job Trotty used to do: going down to fine-leg and taking the abuse of the crowd. I was not overly aware of a lot of grumblings going on in Australia.”
There seem to have been rather a lot of players Downton didn’t have an opportunity to consult. Talk about “due diligence”. Michael Carberry had this to say about Pietersen’s sacking:
“Some very, very strange decisions have been made. It was a big surprise, because I don’t think anyone saw that coming. Through the tour Kev was very helpful to me. Over the years Kev, as one of the greats of the game, has always been very helpful in talking about the mental side”.
Next up is Monty Panesar, who judging by his remarks in this interview from March 21st, didn’t sound exactly hostile to the presence of Pietersen in the England side.
“He helped me with my self-belief. When I first came into international cricket, I was a kind of a shy person and he used to be huge in confidence, so he used to be, ‘Believe in yourself, back yourself’. We obviously had a very good relationship together.”
“We are still good friends and who knows. I hope he plays four-day cricket for Surrey and scores a lot of runs, and then sometimes these issues can be dissolved and you never know, he could come back and play for England and things could have a different note.”
And who’s this? Ian Bell, speaking to Mihir Bose earlier this week:
“I feel lucky to have played a career with [Pietersen] and really enjoyed it. To be honest nothing really happened [in Australia]. I wasn’t aware of whatever happened behind closed doors – meetings and stuff”.
Blimey – sounds very disengaged. But we’re running out of names now. Surely Ben Stokes was an anti-KP voice? No.
“He was fine. It was the first time I’d met him properly and my first proper tour playing alongside him, and he explained to me what international cricket can be like. He tried to give me a helping hand, so between him and me there were no issues”.
“It was a great pleasure to play with him. He could change a game on his own, so it’s disappointing that I won’t get to play with him again”.
“I always got on really well with Kevin. I didn’t realise the situation that existed then. All I know is that he has had a fantastic career for England, that he is a fantastic talent.
Even allowing for the fact that some of the players may have opted for diplomacy as a safer bet than candour, this hardly sounds like a dressing room united against Pietersen. So who spoke against Pietersen? Of the players left unaccounted for, Scott Borthwick, Boyd Rankin, Steve Finn, and Gary Ballance seem unlikely candidates. That leaves Tim Bresnan, an anodyne sort, and…Cook, Prior and Anderson. What a surprise.
Apply just the tiniest scrutiny to Downton’s story, and it collapses in an instant. It’s a shame Jonathan Agnew didn’t put any of these quotes to him during the interview. We all suspected Cook and Prior’s views were at the heart of this saga, and by reduction, Downton has now confirmed this. Presumably, he only sought the opinions of the players he knew would give him the answer he wanted to hear.
Perhaps the most egregious claim concerned Pietersen’s alleged demand to sever his contract. Downton said: “We would have been quite happy to let his contract run out but his team pushed to terminate it. Kevin wanted to be free to play where he wanted”.
Well, if you were sacked, would you still want to be under the control of the people who sacked you? As KP said today:
“It was made very clear to me that I was not being selected for the World T20 squad, and the ECB did not try to give me the remotest confidence that I would be seriously considered for selection for England again. Had I allowed my contract to “wind down”, as the ECB proposed, I would not only have forfeited the performance-related elements that are part of the England player remuneration, but more importantly my availability as a professional cricketer would have remained under the control of the ECB for a further eight months”.
And here’s one very interesting thing we learned from his statement – the gagging clause was by request of Lord’s:
“I have always abided by the confidentiality clauses that the ECB were insistent on imposing in the settlement agreement I entered into with them at the time of the termination of my central contract, I feel it only fair to exercise my right to reply to the comments made by Paul Downton. I will continue to abide by the confidentiality provisions contained in my settlement agreement, which I believe applies to both the ECB and myself”.
He makes a fair point. The ECB have blabbed and hinted and leaked like a gossipy sieve. Pietersen has kept to his side of the bargain.
Downton also harped on about the “cricketing reasons” for the sacking. The former stockbroker, who made 785 test runs, asserted that:
“I watched Kevin as a fan for the first four Tests but it was frustrating seeing him with his ‘this is the way I play’ type attitude. Clarke played him like a schoolboy almost”.
In response to which, the final word must go to the one thus traduced:
“With regard to the criticisms aimed at my “the way I play type attitude”, I feel it’s only reasonable to remind Mr Downton that this method has brought me over 13,500 runs for England, in addition to being part of four Ashes-winning teams and a World T20-winning side, all of which achievements I am hugely proud of”.