ECB2

As you will have seen, and as James discussed in our last post, the England and Wales Cricket board issued a statement on Sunday to further outline their position on the sacking of Kevin Pietersen. 

They still remain too cowardly to speak to journalists in the flesh. But the statement was at least an opportunity to answer some of the cricketing public’s many unanswered questions, and to address the deep level of unease many of us feel at their actions, and their conduct towards us – the cricketing public.

Instead of taking that opportunity, the ECB used it simply to stick two fingers up in our faces. Their statement constitutes the greatest display of arrogance, pomposity, and self-pity, ever perpetrated by a national sports governing body.

Let’s take a look through it.

“It has been a matter of great frustration that until now the England and Wales Cricket Board has been unable to respond to the unwarranted and unpleasant criticism of England players and the ECB itself”.

Aw, diddums! The poor lambs! I hope that made you feel as guilty as it did me.

I mean, how can they possibly say that in all earnestness, and with a straight face? Are they seriously suggesting that it is they, the ECB themselves – not us, the public, or Pietersen himself – who are the injured parties in all this?

The ECB are not some vulnerable little old lady, inadvertently caught in the crossfire. They are the people actually in charge of all this – a governing body, not only paid to make these decisions, but in receipt of hundreds of millions of pounds of our money, through ticket sales and Sky Sports subscriptions. Just to remind you, the ECB turned over £111 million last year, and earns £65 million a year from the Sky deal we pay for.

They seem to be saying – “how dare you criticise us, you bunch of scrotes. Don’t you know who we are? You have hurt our feelings!”

If the ECB are determined to act in this supremely high-handed and secretive way, deliberately putting a distance between themselves and the public, and refusing to justify or explain themselves, they have to accept every criticism which comes their way.

“The ECB recognises the significant contribution Kevin has made to England teams over the last decade”.

How gracious of them. “Significant contribution”? KP has scored more runs for England than any other cricketer.

“We must support [Alastair Cook] in creating a culture in which we can be confident he will have the full support of all players, with everyone pulling in the same direction and able to trust each other. It is for those reasons that we have decided to move on without Kevin Pietersen”.

Which translates as: Cook is a very weak captain who cannot cope with anyone who disagrees with him. Therefore we must sack any player who remotely destabilises him, as otherwise he can’t cope.

Beyond the fact that this statement betrays Cook himself, and leaves his threadbare credibility further in tatters, and not dwelling on how the ECB fail to provide a single specific example of Pietersen’s alleged breaches of trust, what kind of message does this send out to other England players, especially newcomers? Dare to disagree with the captain, and you’re out.

A captain has to earn the trust and respect of his team; neither are conferred by right, and a captain who loses his players’ trust should leave the job.

Meanwhile, consider the ECB’s hypocrisy when it came to the of sacking Pietersen as captain in 2008. During that episode, it was claimed that KP had to go as skipper because he had lost the faith of Andrew Flintoff. So in that instance, when KP the captain lost the trust of a player, KP was fired. And now, when Cook the captain apparently loses the trust of KP the player, KP gets fired.

And speaking of hypocrisy, the ECB have a nerve when it comes to trust, and breaches of it. For the last five years the ECB have continually breached trust by betraying Pietersen to the press through a long series of leaks.

How else did his confidential e-mail about Peter Moores enter the public domain in 2008? How do we know so much about Pietersen’s contractual wrangles over the IPL? In fact, who and what are the sources for all the allegations against him? I’ll give you a clue – the answer has three letters, and begins with an ‘E’.

To continue with the press release:

“Allegations have been made, some from people outside cricket, which as well as attacking the rationale of the ECB’s decision-making, have questioned, without justification, the integrity of the England Team Director and some of England’s players”.

Herein lies the kicker, the real giveaway. “People outside cricket”.

Three little words which acutely betray the ECB’s insularity, elitism, snobbery, and self-interest.

“People outside cricket”.

Those may well be the three most revolting words ever uttered by a sporting body. Because what they mean is this: unless you are an insider – attached to the ECB, or an ally, or a sympathetic journalist – you’re not allowed to hold a view.

What is “people outside cricket” even supposed to mean? Who is entitled to define that? Does it mean anyone professionally engaged in cricket, or just players? Do retired players count? Commentators? What about Michael Vaughan and Steve Harmison – both critical of the ECB and no longer connected to it.

I’ll tell you who it certainly doesn’t mean: us. You might think that by following a county and the England team, and paying for the privilege, and expending our time and passion, that that makes us “inside cricket”. Oh no. We are the ignorant proletariat, incapable and unworthy of a valid opinion about cricket.

Those three words lay bare the ECB’s feudal despotism and egomania. They translate as: know your place. Keep quiet. Respect your betters. Just keep buying the tickets.

Many have deduced that this paragraph was aimed solely at Piers Morgan, but I suspect not. It is the ECB’s attempt to quell a rebellion – their canister of tear gas fired into a rioting crowd, their rolling of tanks into Tiananmen Square.

But if it indeed it was only about Piers, then how petty and self-indulgent of the ECB to use their statement purely to get their own back against a single critic, rather than actually provide supporters with  the answers we deserve.

And seeing how Piers is a regular England spectator and has played club cricket in Sussex all his life – is he really “outside cricket”?

In truth, the ECB are incandescent with rage at our insolence and disobedience, and in their fury, have resorted to blaming everyone but themselves. They never anticipated the deluge of anger and vitriol they received via social media. In response, the ECB’s PR operation – outraged at the scale of the insurrection and their loss of control – have performed the equivalent of running their keys down the side of Piers Morgan’s Jag.

To return to the press release:

“Clearly what happens in the dressing room or team meetings should remain in that environment and not be distributed to people not connected with the team. This is a core principle of any sports team, and any such action would constitute a breach of trust and team ethics”.

Unless, of course, someone other than Kevin Pietersen does it. Over the last week, journalists have revealed dozens of pieces of information about KP’s alleged conduct during the Ashes. Where have they all come from?

We’ve been told that he ranted against Flower during that fateful Melbourne meeting. We’ve been told that he argued with Cook over preparation. And we’ve also learned about his confrontation with Andy Flower.

Either all of this has made up, or England players and back room staff have leaked it to the media. Why is that ok, but KP’s apparent disclosure about Matt Prior not?

The purpose of the paragraph above was to castigate Pietersen for Piers Morgan’s Tweets about Matt Prior. Not only is it self-indulgently and irrelevantly defensive, but also very misleading, because the ECB imply it’s the reason why KP was sacked – even though it happened after he was sacked.

“It is important to stress that Andy Flower, Alastair Cook and Matt Prior, who have all been singled out for uninformed and unwarranted criticism, retain the total confidence and respect of all the other members of the Ashes party. These are men who care deeply about the fortunes of the England team and its image”.

As if no one else does. The criticism of Cook and Flower’s role in these events is very much warranted, and if some of it has been uninformed, then whose fault is that? As the ECB continue to refuse to tell us any of the facts, they can hardly complain when the vacuum becomes filled with theory and rumour.

And if Andy Flower still retains such confidence and respect, why was he fired? How much confidence does Matt Prior – dropped for poor form – still inspire? And as for Cook – if every member of the Ashes party continues to respect and admire a captain who presided so disastrously over the worst tour in cricket history, and then ran to Mummy to get rid of the nasty boy in the corner, what does that tell you about their aloofness and self-delusion?

Sadly, the ECB will ultimately get away with all of this, scott free. They have a self-appointed monopoly and they do not need to renew their mandate at the ballot box. And unfortunately, the majority of mainstream Fleet Street cricket correspondents are treating them lightly.

Most of the coverage of Sunday’s press release played into the ECB’s hands by reporting it at face value. BBC Online’s headline was: ‘Kevin Pietersen: ECB explains why batsman’s England career is over’, when in fact they had done no such thing. The Guardian linked to their, entirely non-analytical, report, with the headline ‘ECB explain Pietersen sacking’. David Hopps on Cricinfo was an almost lone voice in cutting through the froth to examine the subtext.

In general, the mainstream correspondents have sympathised with ECB because they are cut from similar cloth. Many of them are like James Whitaker – workmanlike county pros who won a handful of England caps. It’s tempting to think that they relate more to the mindset of the committee man, and everyday dressing-room conformity, than to the turbulence of genius.

As journalists, their professional lives take them into direct personal contact with Lord’s bigwigs far more often than with supporters. They watch cricket from the press box, not from a seat they’ve had to pay £90 for.

And I’m not convinced they are in tune with the volatile mood. On Sunday Jonathan Agnew Tweeted his hope that “when everyone has vented their spleen..true England fans get behind and support new team as it rebuilds”. And separately: “Endless negativity and knocking will be pointless, damaging and very tedious”.

It’s not for Agnew – or anyone – to tell “true fans” (a highly patronising term) what to do. Each supporter is an individual. Personally, I’m now going to find it very hard to unreservedly and wholeheartedly support a team led by Alastair Cook and managed by Paul Downton.

And I’d suggest that simply moving on and putting this behind us, as Agnew seems to call for, and as the ECB dearly wish, is neither possible nor acceptable. Anger and hurt on this scale can only be salved by a proper resolution, and a reconciliation, not simply by a Lord’s mandarin waving us away with a ‘nothing to see here, please move along’. A resolution can only begin, at least, with Paul Downton appearing in public to explain himself and put the facts on the table, without self-pity.

What Agnew calls “endless negativity and knocking” is in reality something very different: the scrutiny and criticism of the England supporter base. The alternative is apathy and acquiescence, which the ECB crave, but will lead us only deeper into the mire.