In the words of Darth Vader, “the circle is now complete”.
When the dark lord slew Ben Kenobi in their Death Star duel, he finally exacted full revenge for an ancient feud which had disfigured both their lives and brought chaos to the galaxy.
And now the ECB have done pretty much the same thing. Swap a light-sabre for a press release, and Sith robes for a blazer, and there you have Paul Downton in his fully armed and operational Lord’s office, appointing a new coach with all the contemptuous glee of Vader swishing his weapon through Obi-Wan’s midriff. The dark side has prevailed.
By hiring Peter Moores, the ECB have at last achieved their full, final and irreversible revenge on Kevin Pietersen. This moment has been five years coming, and they have awaited this day so long they’d almost forgotten how sweet it would taste.
A deranged theory? I beg to differ. How else to explain the ECB’s decision to make sporting history by re-employing a coach they’d already sacked for being completely shit, in the hope he might have got a bit better since the first time.
To elaborate, let me take you back to January 2009. For all the talk-about text-gate (which has been erroneously cited every time anti-KP evidence has been required during the last ten weeks), the overwhelming likelihood is that those infamous BBM messages were the symptom, not the cause. The key to this whole story lies in the circumstances of Moores’s original dismissal, and Pietersen’s as captain. They lead directly to today’s events.
We will probably never know exactly what happened, because the ECB have barely told their side of the story, and during the press conference held at the time, the then managing-director, Hugh Morris, refused to answer any questions.
But Pietersen’s account – largely corroborated by Lord’s – is that he was asked to write a strategy paper for Morris outlining his ideas for taking the team forward after the test series defeat in India. In that paper he expressed his dissatisfaction with Moores’s performance, and said he was not prepared to lead the side if he remained as coach.
Unfortunately, these comments were leaked to the media, and thus the course of history was changed. Hell hath no fury like an ECB discommoded or embarrassed by a player, especially one they perceive to have rebelled. Feeling exposed and embarrassed, and obsessed with control, they lashed out in a frenzy – sacking Moores because his authority was now bankrupt, and sacking Pietersen too for his insolence.
KP was essentially fired for writing a misconstrued private e-mail, and one he’d been asked to write. He did not leak it. As then ECB vice-chair Dennis Amiss said at the time:
“Once the information was in the public domain that Kevin Pietersen didn’t want Peter Moores as his coach, it was always going to be impossible to resolve amicably. We understand his frustration at it being leaked by other parties.”
Pietersen said the ECB sacked him by treating his e-mail as a resignation letter, and broke the news to him by phone. He told the News of The World:
“[He] said they had had an emergency board meeting and they had accepted my resignation. I said, ‘on what basis has it been accepted?’ They had no answer.”
Nothing was ever the same again. Stripped of his innocence and self-confidence, Pietersen never batted as freely, joyously, or effectively, as he had before. More traumatically, he became paranoid – and justifiably so – about the treachery not only of the ECB, but the press, who’d facilitated the whole saga, and then savaged him.
Isolated and suspicious, and cast as the carpet-bagging outsider, Pietersen niggled and fretted. Unsure of his future, the IPL became increasingly attractive. His insecurities and frustrations manifested themselves as an aloof, untrustworthy, awkwardness, which continuously eroded his already ruined relationship with the ECB. It is in this light that we should see those moany, rude text messages (content unknown) to a friend in an opposing team.
The ECB in turn saw themselves as the real victims of the piece. Lord’s simply could not bear the indignity and turbulence they felt KP had caused. Throughout the entire history of English cricket administration, there is barely an example of a truculent player forgiven. Rebellion, even if only inferred, is their cardinal sin.
From that moment on, the ECB had it in for Pietersen. They were intent on payback and began a deliberate and systemic campaign of leaking against him. Every supposed misdemeanour of Pietersen’s was embellished and disseminated to co-operative hacks. They saw fit to disclose his confidential contract negotiations, and details of private conversations – anything which could undermine or suppress him – which was a peculiar way to treat not only an employee but the man who became England’s highest ever run scorer.
But none of this would ultimately satisfy the mandarins of St John’s Wood, especially because Andy Flower – Moores’s deputy, and then his successor – was supposedly also traduced in KP’s strategy report. Flower never forgave Pietersen, either for the personal slight or the disloyalty to his friend and mentor Moores, and forever after regarded him with an irrational degree of hostility and contempt which verged on a vendetta.
Any minor issue involving KP was magnified to a ridiculous degree, best illustrated by text-gate. Had any other player – Ian Bell, say – provocatively texted a South African, no one would have cared. When the claims emerged, the ECB inverted the usual principles of justice by assuming Pietersen was guilty until proved innocent, on the basis of little more than a rumour.
Rather than require anyone to prove the messages even existed, never mind what they actually said, the ECB instead demanded Pietersen prove he hadn’t sent them, which was impossible because he’d deleted them. But that didn’t stop Hugh Morris and Giles Clarke propagating the notion that KP had abused Strauss and disclosed tactical information, until – much later – they were forced to quietly concede that those allegations had no foundation.
Fast forward to early February 2014, and the vultures which had circled for years had their opportunity to strike. The catastrophe in Australia justified a scapegoat – so Lord’s reasoned – in the context of making a fresh start. Flower was to quit as coach, but crucially, remain within the ECB and retain an influence, especially over Cook and the new MD, Paul Downton, whose arrival provided further pretext for a shake-up without the baggage of Morris. Flower still harboured his grudge and sought justice for his old friend. And who would replace him as Team Director?
The ECB had never wanted to dismiss Moores in the first place, despite the fact England had lost every major series during his tenure. They could never re-instate him, though, while Pietersen was still in the team. Hang on a moment…what if…?
In a trice the pieces fell into place. With Flower coaxing them on, the ECB realised they could achieve everything they wished in one fell swoop. By firing Pietersen, they could bring back Moores, but only with some careful stage-management – a respectful delay of eleven weeks in which they pretended to consider a range of other candidates, and hung Ashley Giles out to dry.
For the ECB, revenge was a dish best served in two courses. Sacking Pietersen, on the vaguest of grounds, was delicious enough, but only the hors d’oeuvre. The juicy steak of the main course was today’s re-appointment of Moores.
It was one thing to banish Pietersen from the English dressing room. It was quite another to dance on his grave by immediately restoring his arch-rival to the throne. In hiring Moores, the ECB have re-instated the pre-KP status quo; a flagrant, impeccably pompous vindication of their moral and cricketing righteousness. Moores is a cipher, whose real meaning is: “we were right all along, and Pietersen was a deluded, selfish vandal”. The circle is complete