RI-KP?

Amid all the romance, magic, and elation of the Olympics, even the most fervent England cricket supporters have almost forgotten that in three days’ time our side play their most important match since January 2011.

This has hardly been a vintage summer for English cricket. When it’s not been raining, or London 2012 has dominated our emotions, our test XI has performed in a dislocated and fitful fashion. It hardly helps that our most influential batsman, and perhaps our best one, will now be taking no part in the crucial fixture at Lord’s.

How did it come to this? To my mind, it boils down to this. England followers care most about the side winning test series. The ECB care most about showing who’s boss.

I’m not suggesting that Kevin Pietersen is blameless, by any stretch. He has behaved like a total pain in the arse – selfish, foolish, clumsy, and with a dreadful sense of timing. Couldn’t he have waited till the series was over to make such a fuss?

But are those grounds for dropping him from the team, especially ahead of such an important match? KP has done nothing wrong in cricketing terms – he hasn’t missed nets, or turned up drunk. Nor has he punched anyone, or slept with a team-mate’s wife.

The crime Pietersen has actually committed is, unfortunately, the greatest one in the eyes of the ECB: subordination. If there’s one thing the English top brass simply cannot abide – all through their history – it’s a player challenging their authority. They give no quarter: push them too far, and your career is over.

I’ve never really understood why this is so important to them. You’d have thought that those who run English cricket would be almost solely concerned with the team’s effectiveness on the field. But no.

The inviolate, sacrosanct and unquestioned supremacy of their power – and maintaining that status quo – is what really makes them happy. If the players are keeping nicely in line, then all is right in their world, even if that means compromising the strength of the test side.

I know what you’re going to say. KP has gone too far this time, and if team management just cave in, and he’s rewarded for his petulance, he’ll become uncontrollable, and even more of a nightmare in the future

You could also argue that Andrew Strauss himself must have backed the decision to drop Pietersen, and Flower too, and they believe this to be in the team’s best interests. KP’s behaviour was damaging the dressing room’s peace of mind so severely that performance levels were affected, and ultimately, the thinking goes, they’d be better off without him.

I doubt that, come next Tuesday, we’ll still think we were better off with Bairstow than Pietersen. But the bigger problem with this argument is that the deeds and events in this saga are so ridiculously petty.

To sum up, KP became upset that several of his team-mates were following a spoof Twitter account which satirised him – and his attitude probably wasn’t that unreasonable.

And then he was accused of sending derogatory text messages about Strauss to several South African players. Pietersen has not been able to prove he didn’t send them, but what’s odd is that Flower seems to have become obsessed with these texts, and asked the Saffers to hand over their phones so he could inspect them. As if they should. What right had Flower to ask them?

A few texts and Tweets – no one died. This is a row which would seem puerile and trivial in a primary school playground, never mind international sport.

Were KP’s antics really likely to harm the team’s effectiveness? The England players are grown men, and well-paid professionals, not a bunch of seven year olds. Can’t they still bat and bowl properly, regardless of what KP’s doing on his mobile? Imagine if Ian Bell was out to a poor shot, then walked into the post-match press conference and blamed his dismissal on a text message.

Text-gate is only the most immediate symptom of the wider problem – Pietersen’s contract row. No one comes out of this well, but remember that he is paid to make runs, field, and train, not to be a politician or diplomat. It’s the ECB who are paid for those skills. KP is talent, and the team bosses’ job is to talent-manage: to get the best out of temperamental, volatile and fragile personalities. Sometimes that means laying down the law, but it also involves massaging egos and walking carefully over eggshells.

Players themselves have to take responsibility for their actions, but the ECB have the ultimate responsibility for the England team, and for fielding the most competitive-possible XI for every match. On Thursday, our best player will be at home while two rookies try to eke some runs against Steyn and Morkel, and all because of a few text messages. I’d like to hear Hugh Morris talk his way out of this one.

Maxie Allen

18 comments

  • The bottom line for me is whether KPs standing in the dressing room is so damaged that he can no longer work with his teammates. If that’s the case, he can no longer be part of the team. I agree it does sound trivial. But nobody likes a loose canon at work. If he does his job brilliantly, but makes everyone else unhappy, then he’s on borrowed time whatever his profession. England fans must ask themselves how much of the teams success has come about because of team spirit. If the answer is ‘a lot’ then the right decision has probably been reached.

  • Great headline. One of your best.

    KP’s demise is entirely self inflicted, and – in my view – inevitable. Perhaps we should be congratulating Flower and the ECB for managing for keep him on side for longer than Natal, South Africa, Nottinghamshire and Hampshire?

  • I just cant see how KP will come back from this one. The ECB / Flower / Strauss will expect a very public apology from KP and I am not sure he will be prepared for the public embarrassment.

    • Oh, there will be an apology. Of sorts. Probably to camera during a self-justifying interview with Martin Bashir or Piers Morgan.

      The Daily Mail suggests Morgan is advising him.

      I doubt it will be enough to get him back in the team before England tour India.

      • A winter-long cooling off period might be best for all concerned. Ironically it would give KP the chance to play his cherished season-long IPL, and probably the Big Bash as well. England on the other hand will doubtless be rudely reminded of how much they rely on KP during a ‘difficult’ tour of India. Cue an awkward but mutually beneficial reunion in time for the Ashes next summer.

        I loved the line in the ECB statement about “unity and trust”. Where was the trust when the ECB continually leaked details of private discussions between themselves and KP? Where was the unity when they sacked KP for delivering an honest assessment of his relationship with Peter Moores when asked?

        The ECB come out of this just as badly as KP in my opinion.

      • Why is Piers Morgan involved? Is he related to James or Eoin? If the Mail article is true, he is history. You can encourage the opposition fast bowler to get out your skipper.

  • KP is being castigated for his intransigence because he refuses to apologise, but it must have been obvious to Morris/Miller from the beginning that he would never do so – a churlish, fragile, and frankly rather odd, character like Pietersen behaves even less rationally when pushed into a corner. It comes back to the issue of talent management.

    The ECB are being just as intransigent for demanding an apology and then ratcheting up the issue to the level where it becomes a crisis and a solution is even less likely. Why do a few (alleged) text messages matter quite so much to them?

    Pietersen has made countless tactical mistakes, but he is selected for his batting, not his political skills. He made runs at Headingley; he did his job.

    Imagine this happened in your own workplace. If you discovered that a colleague may have sent texts criticising you to someone at a rival company, would you from that point onwards be unable to do your job properly?

    • I’d hope that any colleague who revealed internal friction to a rival company, as we were competing with that rival for the most important deal of the year, would be dismissed or at the very least benched (as Pietersen has been). He has behaved extremely unprofessionally.

  • The ECB had better realize, soon, that their side is just a bunch of show-ponies and prima donnas without this bloke – who’s single handedly managed to maintain the #1 ranking since they won it last summer. What about Bell? Strauss? Bopara? Morgan? Zip.

    • What deluded nonsense. Are you KP?

      Pietersen approaches Beckham in the show pony stakes, and is easily the most vain, undisciplined, egotistical, obnoxious and temperamental England player in living memory. Broad might deserve the primma donna tag. Those in your ridiculous list do not.

      • Puh-lease. KP was the bloke who scored that magical ton in Sri Lanka to tie the series, and his century in this test match just gone by is the reason why the series isn’t done and dusted at 2-0.

        It is criminal to drop him. The ECB have put their foot into a swamp with this move.

  • It’s not about what’s fair or unfair to Pietersen, or how he does or doesn’t deserve to be treated. It’s about winning this test match. I cannot believe England will be stronger without him. Why are we compromising our chances so much over a few text messages?

  • “It is not as if Pietersen is some colossus carrying his dud team before him, though part of the current problem between him and his team-mates may be that he sees things that way.

    His 149 last week was dazzling, though it returned him to the top 10 of the batting rankings for only the first time in two years, so he has hardly been in a league of his own.

    In fact, England’s 50-over side have won all seven completed internationals since his retirement from the format, in direct contrast to the Test team who have lost five of their last 10 Tests, all with him in the side.”

    Derek Pringle in this mornings Telegraph

  • Saying this is all about a few texts is like saying WWI was all about the assasination of Franz Ferdinand.

    What a load of bollocks.

    • MHA: in terms of what the ECB have actually told us, that’s all we have to go on. If there are other reasons for dropping him, they should tell us.

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