It took Paul Downton a month to fatally and irrevocably destroy his authority by making an absurd decision which defied all logic, and which he was entirely unable to explain in public.
Andrew Strauss has managed it in just two days.
Very few people were calling for the immediate restoration of Kevin Pietersen to the England side. The desire was only for natural justice: for Pietersen to be treated in an identical manner to any other player – or if not, to have the reasons properly and frankly explained.
For the last fifteen months, Andrew Strauss and Tom Harrison watched from the sidelines as the ECB tore English cricket apart through a combination of arrogant mendacity and moral corruption. They observed everything which went wrong, and then, after due deliberation, decided to do exactly the same thing again.
At the heart of today’s events lies the very same crime as was committed in February 2014 – to judge that the English cricketing public deserved no explanation for the ECB’s decision-making.
Andrew Strauss promised “some really honest and open conversation about Kevin Pietersen”, and then proceeded to offer not one shred of honesty. He will exclude Pietersen because of a breach of trust, but will not say what that means or what it involves.
What is trust, in the context of a cricket team? What can they not trust Pietersen to do, or trust not to do? How does that trust affect the way the team performs? As Pietersen has given his all – and sacrificed large pay-cheques – to return to the side, how likely would he be to breach trust in a meaningful way during a final year in England whites?
And how could Pietersen be trusted with an ODI advisory role, but not to hit cricket balls for runs?
Strauss believes we have no right to know the answers to any of these questions. As ever, the ECB expect us to shut up and keep buying the tickets.
On the BBC, Jonathan Agnew asked Strauss to clarify exactly what the “trust issues” with Pietersen are. Strauss replied by saying:
A number of issues over a long period of time. I don’t need to spell them out for you Aggers, you’ve been there all the way through it.
Which is fine, as long as they only person who needs to know is the BBC cricket correspondent. Alas, further probing from the interviewer came there none. Nor was Strauss subjected to forensic questioning during his principal TV interview, conducted by his friends at Sky Sports, who until one week ago were also Strauss’s employers. Talk about incestuous.
With one hand the ECB speak of reconnecting with supporters while with the other, they patronise, dissemble, and insult our intelligence. According to chief executive Tom Harrison:
This has been a tricky issue. What we’re focussing on now is the future of English cricket. There’s a sense of excitement about where we can take English cricket in the years to come.
Feeling excited, huh? Do they really think we’ll swallow this nonsense? Or do they simply not care? I’m not sure which is worse.
Strauss’s silence entitles to us to draw our own conclusions. Here are mine. The ECB would rather kill cricket stone dead then cede one inch to the Great Unwashed. They care for nothing except the gratification of their spite, vindictiveness and pride.
Strauss identifies the long history of distrust between him and Pietersen. Yet the pair had no dealings with each other between the time of Pietersen’s “rehabilitation” after Textgate, when the slate was officially wiped clean, and Pietersen’s sacking in February 2014. Downton’s official reason for the dismissal was Pietersen’s “disinterest and disengagement”. So which is it?The trust or the disengagement? Is Strauss moving the goalposts and retrospectively re-punishing Pietersen over charges for which he’s already served his time?
Tom Harrison alluded to Pietersen’s book. This was written after Pietersen was fired. Was he therefore sacked for something he did after he was sacked? Would he have won back his place had he not written it? As Pietersen made no significant criticism of any current England player in his autobiography, what difference does it make anyway?
But in that volume Pietersen did attack the ECB – and there’s the rub. When they speak of trust and loyalty, they mean loyalty to the ECB itself, as a corporate entity – which is rather different from the England cricket team.
The Lord’s top brass and their friends in the press will no doubt dismiss today’s furore as the frothing of ignorant, internet-addicted lunatics. Which is why two of the most telling remarks have come from that well-known keyboard warrior and cricket outsider, Alec Stewart.
Kevin is entitled to feel let down a little bit by the ECB following the comments of the incoming chairman, Colin Graves, when he said six or seven weeks or so ago the slate had been wiped clean, to find himself a county, score runs and he’d be considered, or words to that effect. Which Kevin has done: he’s had two phone conversations with the incoming chairman, so it wasn’t a misinterpretation just from that Gary Richardson [BBC Radio] Sunday morning sports show.
I’d like to know who at the ECB doesn’t trust him, because from when that decision was made 14, 15, 16 months ago, there is now a new chairman, new chief executive, new director of cricket and there now will be a new coach, so which individual or individuals don’t trust him?
This evening, Kevin Pietersen himself said:
I had two phone conversations with Colin Graves and he was crystal clear in saying I had to get a county, score runs and that there was a clean slate. He said that when he comes in as chairman he wants the best players playing for England. He told me that on the phone in two separate conversations. He also repeated it to national newspapers.[At the meeting with Strauss] I asked: “Who doesn’t trust me? You have a new chairman, a new CEO, we have spent the last 10 minutes sorting out our differences like adults. Let’s go through the batting order.”
I rattled off names. [Strauss] could not give me any names. He said it is a broader thing and not just the players.
Strauss could name no players who didn’t trust Pietersen, because he could only have said – at a pinch – James Anderson and Alastair Cook. That’s the same Alastair Cook who is a living embodiment of trust – so trustworthy in fact, that he ran to Andy Flower to tell tales about Pietersen after the infamous Melbourne team meeting. This fact was not cooked up by rabid blogs but disclosed by the ECB in the ‘dossier’ last October’.
So why did Graves’s pledges come to nothing? Here’s a hypothesis. Graves made the promise in good faith, but hadn’t accounted for the fragile ego of Alastair Cook, who threw a tantrum at the prospect of not getting his way. Graves was then persuaded that, with the Ashes looming and Cook still under pressure, nothing should be allowed to disturb the Dear Leader’s equilibrium.
In the same way that most general elections, whatever the polls, usually result in a Conservative victory, so every dispute in English cricket results in Alastair Cook getting what he wants. Once again, the priorities of English cricket must be inverted from sane principles. Everything must revolve around Cook and serve his best interests. Heaven forfend that any irritant be borne by this pampered, indulged, Little Lord Fauntleroy. Pietersen is the bolus beneath the pile of mattresses. The princess and the KP.
What chance now that Jason Gillespie leaves an excellent job to walk into this mess? England have just lost the best coach they will never have. Even if Dizzy is prepared to take charge of a team for which he can’t pick the best players for unknown political reasons, could he possibly stomach the idea of churning out the ludicrous party line in public? Shares in Paul Farbrace rose sharply at today’s news.
In the days ahead there is plenty more to discuss from Strauss’s press conference. He has appointed Joe Root as vice-captain, will appoint a single head coach for both ODI and test cricket, and will take part in selection meetings – despite deciding to retain the “services” of James ‘One Cap’ Whitaker. Yes, we live in a world where James Whitaker is deemed more useful to English cricket than Kevin Pietersen.
We’ll unpick all those talking points later on, and meanwhile, I hope that despite everything Pietersen continues to play for Surrey. Technically, Strauss has not entirely ruled out the possibility of Pietersen playing for England again, at some unspecified point in the future – but not this summer. A clumsy piece of sophistry, Strauss has constructed a convoluted position which in its ambiguity is guaranteed to cause further trouble. If Pietersen continues to score runs, and England are in serious Ashes jeopardy, what can Strauss say?
In the final analysis you can only admire the ECB’s ingenuity. For fifteen months, the Pietersen saga has wreaked immense damage to English cricket. Somehow, Colin Graves, Tom Harrison and Andrew Strauss have now pulled off the seemingly impossible feat of making it even worse. Astonishingly, they’ve sunk the ECB’s reputation even lower. That takes a special kind of skill.
When Downton was sent packing, we began to harbour faint hopes of a new dawn at the ECB. Now look at it. They can’t even sack people properly. First Peter Moores finds out he’s been fired by reading about it on the internet – during an England match – because no one at Lord’s could be bothered to tell him in person. Then the ECB chairman promises Pietersen he can be re-selected, at the cost of forfeiting lucrative contracts, only to change his mind. All within four days. These guys are making Giles Clarke look good.
When Graves offered Pietersen an olive branch, and Harrison dismissed Paul Downton, the ECB gave themselves a second chance. A chance to repair the alienation of supporters. A chance to reunite the team with the public. A chance to show that English cricket belongs to everyone.
That chance was squandered, and they may never get another. By their actions today, the ECB have made their choice abundantly clear. Cricket belongs to them, not to us. It is their personal property, to use, abuse, and exploit as they wish. Cricket is none of our business.
The ECB speak trenchantly about trust. They have lost the public’s forever.