The ECB knew KP’s book was coming for six months. It was there, lurking in the background like an agitated troll, throughout the entire summer. They must have known it would be explosive so why, given they had months to prepare, has their response been so clumsy?
Whether you love Kevin Pietersen or loathe him – and as someone who regularly tore his hair out watching KP throw his wicket away (apparently it’s the number one cause of baldness amongst England cricket fans) I’m somewhere in the middle – I believe the ECB’s ineffectual response has thus far vindicated KP’s position.
The dossier wasn’t so much dodgy as dastardly. It read like a post-rationalised damp squib full of pedantry. What’s more, many of its claims are simply untrue: KP didn’t break protocol and corrupt a young player in Adelaide; he went clubbing with Stuart Broad. Once we know some of the accusations are untrue, how can we trust any of them?
However, I’m not here to talk about Pietersen. Shock! What I’d like to talk about is the relationship between Paul Downton and Andy Flower, and what recent events reveal about two of the most powerful men in English cricket.
Sometimes in sport one man becomes bigger than his employers. Had the Glazers sacked Sir Alex Ferguson when they bought Man Utd, there would have been revolution in the streets of Trafford (or should that be Cornwall?). The Glazers knew this. The big man was, for all intents and purposes, unsackable. Only a man like Fergie could’ve banished superstars like Beckham, Keane and Van Nistelrooy so assuredly.
I’m not trying to draw exact parallels here. Kevin Pietersen is not David Beckham. Andy Flower is not Ferguson, and cricket certainly isn’t football. However, there are similarities.
In this observer’s opinion, Flower was unsackable at the time of the Ashes. He was (and remains) a significantly bigger fish than Downton. That’s Paul Downton, a man who had been ‘outside cricket’ (I love that term, don’t you?), for several years, and was basically on his first day on the job when he arrived in Sydney.
In these circumstances, Downton was never realistically going to sack Flower. He needed Flower to get him up to speed: having working in the City for yonks, Dowton was unfamiliar with the dressing room culture. He was just feeling his way. Downton was not the strong, informed, ECB managing director England needed at the time.
One wonders whether a different managing director, one who had remained close to the game and knew the players – someone who knew what modern dressing rooms were like – would have made the correct decision and sacked Flower, and perhaps removed Cook as captain too.
Instead, an out of touch Downton arrived in Sydney (after missing a large chunk of the MCG test) and desperately sought a briefing. Obviously the briefing came from the least suitable person: the coach with a vested interest whose team were in decline and whose methods were stale.
In January 2014, when the Ashes had been surrendered and the dressing room was in turmoil, the most powerful man in England cricket was Andy Flower. He had the ear of the primary decision maker who, in cricketing terms, was a pigmy by comparison: Downton’s cricketing CV was nothing compared to Flower – the man who defied Robert Mugabe and averaged fifty for lowly Zimbabwe.
It is unfortunate for English cricket that Flower told Downton, as many in his position would, that England’s problems were not his fault. After all, he’d already decided that his tactics – bowl dry and wait for the batsmen to make a mistake – were still best for the team, even though they hadn’t worked particularly well since the glorious win in India.
Flower was therefore in denial and, as a consequence, when he spoke to the wet behind the ears manager director about England’s woes, Downton naturally developed an erroneous understanding of England’s problems.
Downton didn’t question Flower’s judgement because Flower was the most senior employee at hand. He asked a few of Flower’s closest confidantes (Cook, Prior etc), but he failed to realise the obvious: of course, they were going to back their coach. The last captain who criticised their immediate boss, back in January 2009, was sacked.
And so it came to pass that Downton promoted the coach, retained the captain, and sacked the star batsman who, according to Michael Vaughan – someone who knew KP and was closer to the dressing room – should have been given more responsibility and made vice-captain.
At the current time, as the evidence emerges and the lies are gradually exposed, the decision to ostracise Pietersen and make him a scapegoat for the Ashes disaster looks wrong. It seems unfair and was not based on an accurate assessment of events.
Was Downton therefore seduced by Flower power? Make up your own mind.