The devil is in the detail: part two

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Now the dust has settled, we’ll continue to pick our way through the fine detail of Kevin Pietersen’s book. How does it match up with what’s already in the public domain? Where does it shed the most new light? And what else goes on the list of questions Paul Downton must answer?

Earlier we looked at the first, previously unreported, meeting between Downton and Pietersen. Now we’ll turn to what happened next.

The sacking

Pietersen makes no mention of his meeting with John Carr, the ECB director of operations. According to the ‘due diligence’ dossier, this took place on 30th January.

JC informs KP that he will not be selected for the West Indies One Day tour nor for World T20, as “following discussion between MD England Cricket, Selectors and England Captains it has been decided that the team needs to move on in a different direction with an emphasis on a strong team orientated culture”.

KP then raises concerns regarding his IPL availability. JC states that the ECB would understand, under the circumstances of KP’s non‐selection, if full IPL availability was now KP’s priority. JC details his understanding of KP’s contractual position.

The terms of a compromise agreement are set out, which envisaged: “Player gives notice with immediate effect. Whilst contractual requirement is only for ECB to pay retainer for 30 days, subject to concluding the agreement ECB would be prepared to pay the equivalent of the player’s retainer through to [start of April when player will be due at IPL] [end of September when the contract was due to end]”

Is either Pietersen’s account or the dossier’s wrong? If this was a meeting held after the sacking, to discuss severance terms, it seems a little unlikely Pietersen himself would have turned up rather than leave it to his agents. Why did Carr feel the need to recap what Pietersen already knew?

And by the by, interesting that Carr attributes the decision not solely to Downton but the selectors (of whom more later), and the England captains. Plural. Therefore, including Stuart Broad. Was he genuinely consulted?

In his book, Pietersen highlights the fact Downton chose to sack him at the Danubius hotel in St John’s Wood, not at Lord’s itself.

Just one person tweeting ‘Pietersen at ECB #SkySports’ would start the cavalry charge.

So why the discretion – an anonymous hotel instead of the suspicion-arousing “home of cricket”? To protect Pietersen from the rumour-mill? Or to protect themselves? If Downton didn’t want Pietersen to come to Lord’s, then why, as he was about to sack him, did he insist on a traipse over to St John’s Wood?

At this point in the book, as Pietersen heads off to the meeting, it would have been interesting to know more of what was going through his mind. All he says, rather obliquely, is:

I’m not sure how it will go.

Did he roundly expect the sack? If so, specifically why? For no immediately obvious reason, he then says:

When I left Sydney my relationship with all but one of the players (Matt Prior) was absolutely fine, and I’d chatted with many of them since then. They had spoken very favourably about me in the media.

My theory is that by referencing this, Pietersen is simply in self-defence mode – battling against the accepted wisdom that he’d antagonised the entire dressing room.

In public, Downton’s remark to Jonathan Agnew that he could find no support for Pietersen among “quite a few senior players” was generally and erroneously reported as ‘not one England player wanted him to stay in the side‘.

In semi-private, Downton told Piers Morgan that Pietersen “had a terrible effect on the dressing room”.

Pietersen then makes an interesting assertion about Matt Prior.

Prior…was a massive negative influence on the dressing room, and when I said that to Andy [Flower[ the night before the Sydney test, [he] didn’t disagree.

Of course that could mean anything. But wouldn’t itt be an interesting point to broach to Downton or Flower, if they ever deign to be interviewed again? As would this:

They know that a clique choked our team, and that Andy Flower let that clique grow like a bad weed. Flower could never stop its growth., so he focused instead on managing upwards.

Since the book, Anderson, Swann and Broad have spoken to the media several times, and on each occasion the interviewer’s focus has been on the bullying claims. I wonder what they’d say if instead the subtler but arguably more pernicious issue of cliques was put to them.

But back to the meeting, and the often-quoted description of Alastair Cook’s mien.

Cook shakes my hand, but he doesn’t want to look at me. He looks at the floor. I feel sorry for him; it must be one of the most uncomfortable experiences of his career.

Pietersen is sympathetic to Cook (and caustic to Prior) throughout the book. And that’s taken people’s eyes off the ball. The ‘Big Cheese’ is a distraction. Proper questions need to be asked about Cook’s role – both in the decision to fire Pietersen, and the way it was executed.

If Pietersen’s book account is accurate, Cook acted like a coward. He’s the captain, for goodness sake. If he was prepared to fire Pietersen, he could at least have had the courage to look him in the eye.

Clearly Cook was party to the decision. So he needs to explain his rationale, in public. Remember, back in April he promised to tell his side of the story. What are you waiting for, Al? There’s been no confidentiality agreement for thirty nine days.

Will the next person to interview him remember this?

Much the same applies to chair of selectors James Whitaker, whose conduct has so far been little scrutinised. He was just as party to the whole business as Cook. According to Pietersen:

[Downton said] you are not part of our plans going forward now. Silence. Whitaker nodding.

Finally, again according to Pietersen (and not a single word has been denied by the ECB), it was Downton who brought the meeting to a close.

Then Downton spoke: You can go and speak to your people and then we can discuss things.

Okay. Is that it?

Yes. Thank you very much.

Hang on – I thought Pietersen flounced out of the meeting before everyone had a chance to speak? After all, Paul Newman in the Mail said:

Kevin, why did you walk out of that last meeting with Cook and Paul Downton when they told you about your deselection, rather than hang around to hear the reasons and talk it through? 

Cook wanted to have a full discussion on where it had all gone wrong but you did not give him a chance, instead getting your mate Morgan to suggest Cook wouldn’t front up.

(You can only marvel at Newman’s front here – the sheer ludicrousness of suggesting that someone who’s just been sacked should dutifully hang around to have his nose rubbed in it.)

On our own comments board, Sun cricket correspondent John Etheridge said:

Cook was at the meeting when Pietersen was told he was being sacked. Whitaker and Downton were also there. This is the ‘captain weasel – he looked at the ground and said nothing’ meeting as described by Piers Morgan.

The counter version is that Pietersen flounced out after four minutes before Cook had a chance to speak.

There are two possibilities. Either Pietersen is mistaken, or the ECB are deliberately propagating a false claim to the press. Whoever is right, how did details of a confidential personnel issue escape their proper confines? Which one of Cook, Downton or Whitaker told anyone else what happened in the meeting?

To be continued…


  • One of the big issues of the whole KP saga which has been very eye opening is the role of the cricket press. One knows that in politics there are journalists who are nothing more than PR agents for various political parties. Seeing as many newspapers align themselves with various political parties, it is not surprising that the political editor acts as a propaganda outlet for his owner.

    But the notion that the sports department or the cricket section of a newspaper is nothing more than the PR arm of the ECB has been very revealing. Newman has zero credibility in my eyes. His column should be prefaced with the disclaimer “there now follows a party political broadcast on behalf of the ECB.”

    Whatever your views on KP it can’t be good that certain so called
    journalists are being used (quite happily by the way, and one wonders what kick backs they are getting, free tickets for their mates perhaps? Or the promise of nice cushy jobs at the ECB ‘cough cough’) act as ECBs Pravda.

    The embarrassing, cringing defence of Cook over the last year has been vomit inducing. In some ways the defence of a lack lustre captain, who’s form has been terrible has been even more horrific than the attacks on KP. The way certain cricket journalist defend him,and slur other players the moment they are put forward as an alternative is very revealing. It can’t be very nice being in the England dressing room knowing you are being watched. And if you say anything wrong to the coach it might appear in a tame newspaper 2 days later. Maybe that’s why England look such a joyless team to play for?

  • My reading of the situation is that Cook didn’t really want KP out, or was a little ambivalent, and the sacking was very much the ECB’s idea (as they needed a scapegoat). Cook simply went along with it because he was in a very weak position, and knew he’d been lucky to keep his job. He was in no state to make a stand over someone he possibly had mixed feelings about, and was arguing with a close ally (Prior).

    When Cook was interviewed after KP’s sacking, and suggested there were things he wanted to say but couldn’t (and all would become clear in time etc), I believe he was simply implying ‘this has nothing to do with me guv, but I’ve got to do what my employers say’. That’s my subjective reading of the situation anyway. My suspicions were somewhat confirmed by KP’s book, which says there’s no bad blood between the two. I certainly don’t remember Cook ever directly agreeing with Downton’s team ethic baloney.

    • James you may well be right, which of course opens up the can of worms about what sort of captain England should have,and what sort of captain the ECB want. Two very different things.

      The ECB obviously want a puppet captain who is telegenic, and sponsor friendly, who will promote the sponsors products and do what ever the ECB say, and take to the field with what ever players the ECB deems appropriate.

      The ECB model seems now to reject the idea of a strong captain in favour of a strong football manager coach who sits in the dug out and micro manages each session of play. The captain is now reduced to a painting by numbers job. He should where a paper hat and say “do you want fries with that?.”

    • “I certainly don’t remember Cook ever directly agreeing with Downton’s team ethic baloney”

      Cook said in April ““we all know how important team culture and team unity is”. He also said “The England rugby team has evolved particularly well and it would be wrong not to look at the way they’ve done that, that kind of stuff, the Englishness, the legacy you want to leave behind of the culture we want to create”.

      Cook’s expression is so tortured it was hard to know what he meant but he hardly seems to be disagreeing with “Downton’s team ethic baloney”! I don’t think we can much about Pietersen’s relations with Cook from his book as he was obviously treading carefully in an effort to keep some sort of door open.

      By the way, the rugby team that Cook so looks up to for inspiration lost their 10th out of the last 12 matches against the big Southern Hemisphere opposition yesterday.

      • Simon,
        I made this point in a Twitter conversation with James yesterday but it bears repeating. Much of what Lancaster is trying to build in terms of a team culture and ethos comes directly from the All Blacks. Not sure what’s wrong from trying to learn from the best – either for Lancaster or Cook.

        • I’m not against learning from the best – it is the highly selective nature of it I’m against. I wish Lancaster would try to learn something from the ABs handling game which I’d suggest has more to do with their success than team ethics.

        • And let’s not forget that the All Black’s “no dickheads” policy is complete bollocks. They had no problem selecting Zac Guildford when they all knew he was a dickhead, and they’d select McCaw, Carter, Read and a few others even if they redefined the definition of dickhead.

          This whole approach seems to suck out everything which makes sport worth caring about in favour of middle management soulless horseshit. And far too many journalists are entirely in favour of it.

          • I don’t wish to remind anyone of the 2010 leaders’ debates, but I agree with Nick. Specifically: “This whole approach seems to suck out everything which makes sport worth caring about in favour of middle management soulless horseshit.”

            This goes right to the heart of the matter for me. It is an issue which has come up several times, in various forms, BTL at the Guardian and on cricket blogs. People are seeing uncomfortable parallels between the way in which sport is now being run, and a) the corporatisation/managerialism that rules their daily working lives and b) the Newspeak and “There is no alternative” ethos that dominates modern politics. These parallels really deserve a long-form article, but you will *never* get such an article from the mainstream cricket press, because their perceptions are entirely different. To be brutally frank, they are too close to the protagonists because of professional and personal links, and/or they have not shared the disillusioning experiences of contemporary working life common to many BTL commenters. Both factors make it almost impossible for most cricket writers to empathise with the disaffected fans who post below the line. Look for example at the way Downton’s City background was portrayed as an asset, and his twenty years outside cricket glossed over by men who, er, played alongside or against him. And then look at Downton’s “I would have preferred you to say you wanted to win matches for England” comment, and its context. That is straight out of the corporate playbook for getting rid of an employee who doesn’t fit the mould. It is the sort of crap that should have no place in sport.

            There have been three other occasions when I’ve been incensed by England selection decisions: David Gower in 1992, Robin Smith in 1996 and Graham Thorpe in 2005. None of them were handled with this degree of high-handed arrogance. Dexter, Illingworth and Fletcher all knew the press would hold them to account. This time, Downton and Flower appear to have been pretty sure most of the press would help conceal them behind a steaming pile of “middle management soulless horseshit” instead. How right they were.

        • I’d suggest two points on that:

          i) cricket and rugby are not the same and it should not be assumed that what works for one would work for both.

          ii) I think there’s a chicken or egg question:

          Is the success of the All Blacks, the Steve Waugh Aussies, etc the product of a certain culture or ethos, which can be reproduced?

          Or, is the culture a by-product of success? By getting the right people in a group and playing well they naturally develop a way of doing things, a certain culture, which can only be replicated by success, not mimicry?

      • I’d forgotten about Cook saying that! Doh. Still it could be interpreted as yes boss, no boss. I dunno. Strauss was also quite big on the team ethic stuff, so I suppose it’s feasible Cook’s a believer. However, I still don’t think he was the architect of KP’s sacking.

    • I don’t understand why the feeling is that KP was sacked because a scapegoat was needed. Could it not be that there was simply evidence for a change of direction and KP was not seen a viable part of that process? I have never seen the need for a scapegoat but maybe I’m missing something.

      • What should happen after being whitewashed by a mediocre Australia side?Difficult to say, because it’s never happened before, but we ended up giving the head coach the job he wanted, keeping the bowling coach, allowing the batting coach to continue coaching England players, keeping the captain, keeping the vice captain, and making no changes at all to the management of the team, or the way English cricket is run. Contrast that to what happened after we were whitewashed by one of the greatest sides of all time a few years ago.

        The people who might have lost their jobs following the Australia tour had a very strong incentive to create a scapegoat, and it all seems to have worked out rather well for them.

        • Exactly this. And will will our press start asking questions? Oh that’s right, NEVER.
          Absolutely pathetic.

      • What I’ve always found bizarre is that Pietersen was ‘sacked’.

        That isn’t normally how it works in cricket, is it? Players are dropped or rested. If you think a player is yesterday’s man, you don’t select him. Then maybe for the next tour you don’t select him again. But you keep your options open and eventually he quietly fades away as a possibility. Or maybe he comes back if you need him. Given Pietersen’s injuries, there were good excuses for leaving him out of the squad, even for the World Cup. “We’d like to be sure that Kevin is fully fit, the Australia tour was a strain on his knee” etc.

        You might even discuss with an older player whether he might like to go free-lance and not have a central contract next year.

        What you don’t do in cricket is call in a star player, even a fading star, and tell him that he will never be selected for England again ever, and then go public with that. It’s just weird. Unless the person has been match-fixing or something, but it appears that was not the case.

        The only reasons for doing it that I can see are 1) a scapegoat was needed; 2) somebody wanted to humiliate Pietersen publicly; 3) The ECB wanted to re-hire a coach that Pietersen unseated last time round; 4) all of these.

        • I have read all the responses with interest and everyone has made very good points. I can see more than one reason why the ECB might have wanted shot of Pietersen but the handling of that situation was, as you say, bizarre. It certainly could have been done in a different and much less contentious way.

          I guess the bottom line is that the ECB wanted to make it clear that he was not coming back, no time ever, no matter what a coach, captain or supporters might like at any time, now or in the future. The exact reasons for that are still at the bottom of the sea and it looks like it’s going to stay that way, for some time at the very least.

        • Good post, Zephirine – the only thing that I think you’re missing is the importance of the T20 world cup. The coach, the captain and a large number of the players from the England T20 team publicly supported Pietersen, and I don’t think it’s been suggested that players from that team were attacking him in private.

          Add to that the fact that Pietersen was at the time probably England’s best T20 batsman, and it becomes very difficult for the ECB’s new managing director to unilaterally make the decision not to select him. Flower was retiring, so the selection panel for the T20 was made up of Giles, Whitaker, and one other (which turned out to be Angus Fraser), with the captain having some input.

          Persuading Downton to sack Pietersen was actually the only way that Flower could be certain that KP wouldn’t be picked as soon as Flower had left. And if he had been picked, had succeeded in Bangladesh, and had then been a successful part of the team for the next few years while Flower was forgotten…well that just didn’t bear thinking about.

          • Yes, that makes sense, Nick.
            Then it all comes down to whether you believe Pietersen is such a ghastly individual that all manoeuvrings were justified if they got him out of the side, or Flower is a vindictive control freak.

            Or both. Either way, England cricket looks like a vipers’ nest.

          • Also, the ECB may have believed they were doing the ‘right thing’ by firing KP so bluntly. They wanted to end all speculation, and make it clear to KP there was no way back. This allowed him to maximise his income by signing up to a fgull season of IPL and the big Bash and the Carribean T20 comp. He wouldnt have been able to do so under an ECB contract.

            Arguably better than keeping him on tenterhooks hoping for another call-up only to be disappointed. That would have seemed even more malicious.

            Of course they shouldn’t have decided to drop him in the first place but if it were to be done, better it were done quickly I guess…

            • Tom,
              I think the biggest problem for the ECB wasn’t sacking KP per se – it was “not” sacking anyone else. If they’d turfed KP and Flower, as they should have done, and announced some sort of root and branch enquiry into the Ashes disaster, then I think they would have got away with it. The die hards on either side would still not be appeased, but there would at least have been some accountability, and a genuine sense of moving on. Appointing someone other than Moores would have helped with that – although I have a lot of sympathy for Moores because none of this is his fault.
              As it is, they’ve played straight into the strongest part of KP’s whole argument – that it’s all an exercise in self-preservation with KP as the scapegoat. The ECB’s total ineptitude makes it look that way, and for that, they have no one but themselves to blame.

              • I still don’t see him as scapegoat. There had to be better reasons than that. For all their faults I can’t believe the ECB would be quite so unimaginative and silly.

              • Oh, I don’t think that’s why it was done either Jenny. I think there were compelling reasons for him to go – most of which actually become clearer after reading his book. But by only acting on KP and not doing anything else to address the Ashes disaster, it looks a lot like KP is the convenient scapegoat. And as we know in these things, appearance is almost as important as reality.

  • Mark,
    I don’t think the ECB want a puppet captain at all – either on or off the field. They want a strong and successful captain – they just don’t have one. And none of the alternatives to Cook would be any stronger – which is the unfortunate part of the current cycle that English cricket finds itself in. They want another Strauss – who was certainly no puppet – and they’re hoping against hope that Cook will grow into the job.

    • 3-4 years ago I would have agreed with you Kev. Although Flower and Strauss seemed to be of the same mind,so it was less clear who was running things.

      But in recent years the coach as taken on a mission creep role.I am convinced Flower was making the decisions in New zealand about when England should have declared. Cook denied that, but I’m not so sure.

      As the coach has taken more control, and the number of back room staff have mushroomed, the number of strong leaders has declined. Coincidence? Maybe. But the model is not producing strong leaders. Accident or by design?

    • I agree, but there is a lot of good in him. I just wish he was a better tactician in the field. I thought at the time that he did a much better job without Matt Prior behind the stumps. I hasten to say that I fully appreciate the contribution made by Prior over the years.

  • What a stitch up and a disgrace to treat England’s highest ever run scorer and most entertaining batsman like this. I will never forget or forgive the people involved.

    • A disgrace it indeed is, Rav. And they have the arrogance and stupidity to think we’ll just forget about it.

  • Well said Mark. This, for me, has been the real lowlight of the whole saga.
    The idea that sacking KP and promoting Andy Flower and employing the nearest coach to Flower is the right response to losing 0-5 Down Under boggles my mind.

    But it doesn’t seem to bother Etheridge, Selvey, Newman et al.

    And the ECB promised a full inquiry into the 0-5. What happened to that? Once again, not a peep from Etheridge, Selvey, Newman et al.

    I’m not asking for Woodward & Bernstein here, these are not complicated or difficult questions to ask…

  • My biggest disappointment with both the ECB’s decision to sack KP and the contents of his book, is that neither have actually properly tackled the question of what went wrong on that tour.

    On that tour we took

    – Tremlett who has lost most of his pace
    – Finn who apparently was so out of touch we couldn’t pick him
    – Swann with a dodgy elbow
    – Matt Prior who was not fully fit
    – KP who was not fully fit
    – Jonathan Trott who clearly had problems of his own

    Our captain ran out of ideas quickly, our bowlers apart from Stuart Broad were fairly toothless and none of our batsmen averaged over 30 apart from Ben Stokes. The whole thing was a disgrace.

  • So many holes, so many inconsistencies, so many questions, so many people not asking, not telling and now not speaking.

    Never mind. Buy your Ashes tickets, drones….

    • Absolutely spot on Dmitri. Someone has to pay for all guzzling and quaffing going on by the embedded press and commentators. So roll up you people “outside cricket” and pay us our dues for spending the past nine months spouting garbage and having to endure the most excruciating cricket we have seen in a long time.

  • Anyone else finding the recent choice of subjects for The Spin at The Guardian increasingly arch, contrived and irritating?


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