To say that no one comes out of this well is an understatement.
The failings and mistakes of Kevin Pietersen himself have been well documented, and as this saga continues to unfold, the malign ineptness of the ECB’s handling of events has rightly attracted increasing attention.
As we suggested a few days ago, the role of the managers is to manage. The well-resourced ECB is stuffed to the gills with professional managers, who are supposed to bring the acumen of their MBAs and human resources techniques to bear in a situation like this. And they’ve made a total balls-up of it
In the words of blogger The Old Batsman, “it is not their job to be as confused as Kevin”.
Last year, Graeme Swann criticised Pietersen in his autobiography. No action was taken. But when KP made a fairly tepid criticism of Nick Knight on Twitter, he was fined £3,000.
And now he’s been dropped from the team for allegedly sending some private text messages, the recipients and content of which are unknown. How do his actions, and the consequences, compare to those of his team-mates?
On Saturday, James Anderson laid into Pietersen in his Daily Mail column. His – very public – criticisms lay behind a thin veil of carefully impersonal language, but were explicit nonetheless.
He has not been reprimanded, and neither have Swann or Stuart Broad, who’ve also discussed the issue in their own columns. None of what they’ve written has helped promote the ECB’s precious “unity of purpose and trust”.
Andrew Strauss yesterday said: “I’m a big believer in not airing dirty laundry in public. What goes on in the dressing room stays in the dressing room. Any time anyone has fallen foul of that they have been disciplined”. Well, up to a point. It depends whether or not your name is Kevin Pietersen.
The Swann-Broad-Anderson triumvirate keep popping up in all this. It’s interesting that neither Anderson nor Swann were bought in February’s IPL auction. If they’d ended up on lucrative deals – like KP – rather than looking on empty handed from the sidelines, then maybe the dynamic of the England dressing room of late would have been different.
If this trio particularly cared about team “unity”, they probably wouldn’t have become party to the infamous spoof KP Twitter account.
You might say it’s rather petty of me to bring up something so trivial, but don’t blame me – it was the ECB who decided that texts and tweets were a matter of cricketing life and death.
Stuart Broad – who is an England captain – has been accused of collusion in generating the KP Genius Tweets. He is a friend of its creator, Richard Bailey.
Broad yesterday released a very carefully worded statement in which he denied involvement in the “creation” of the account. The way it reads, to my eye at least, doesn’t rule out Broad being involved with the account at a later stage.
I wonder why the account was closed down so quickly after the row blew up last week. As Derek Pringle says in the Telegraph today:
“Why would Bailey, a self-confessed showman, close the parody account unless there were others involved, perhaps in more sensitive positions? Unless an account like that is forced to close, its creator would surely bask in the notoriety.”
The more we drill down, the more we wonder how and why Pietersen became estranged from the greater part of the England dressing room.
If he’s ever done or said anything dreadful, we’ve never heard about it. And I can’t imagine that the IPL/contract dispute is really what’s fired up emotions.
Here’s my hypothesis. KP is insular, a bit weird, an outsider, and in no way one of the lads. He has little sense of humour.
Broad, Anderson and Swann are macho and slightly boorish roisterers. KP is an easy target for them; they start taking the piss out of him, or perhaps worse; and he takes it much more to heart than they ever envisaged. If these guys were at school – and they’re behaving like they are – you could imagine Broad flushing Pietersen’s head down the bog.
But just as plausible is that KP has dreamed up most of this abuse, or at least exaggerated it, dwelling on trivial occurrences and letting them build up in his head. He is a bit mad, after all, and probably rather paranoid.
The England players are, in the main, quite young men, as prone to human folly and mischief as the rest of us. They are not politicians or statesmen, who carefully regulate their behaviour in all situations. My guess is that the dressing room has been struck by a dose of laddish exuberance which has now turned very sour.
For all the rebukes of Pietersen for alienating himself from the rest of the squad, I’d argue that there is a collective responsibility for every player to do their bit for team harmony. Unless KP has done something genuinely terrible, the other players need to grow up, accept him for who he is, and leave him be, not bully the weirdo in the corner.
Meanwhile, the ECB could have taken a leaf out of the Australian board’s book. Shane Warne publicly criticised coach John Buchanan at great length in the 200os, without meaningful censure, and stayed in the team, because they would have been crazy to leave him out.
Instead, the England management hoped that by dropping Pietersen, they would take the heat out of the situation, and remove an unwelcome distraction before the crucial Lord’s test. This strategy has spectacularly backfired: the story has become 1,000 times bigger.
Hugh Morris, the England team MD, could have fronted up, like a man, and appeared in public to explain what’s going on. But with typical cowardice he’s hidden in a cupboard for the last week, and sent poor Tim Bresnan into press conferences to deal with the media onslaught. As Morris chickened out of answering any questions about KP’s sacking as captain in January 2009, this has not come as a huge surprise.
Another problem of the ECB’s own creation is the disrupting influence of money. Pietersen has been accused of greed – he wants to miss the New Zealand series to line his pockets. It’s worth remembering that only England players, unlike the Aussies and Saffers, face a clash between the IPL and their home season.
But who exactly institutionalised the pursuit of cash in English cricket? If the ECB are so ill-disposed to the IPL, why did they kowtow to the BCCI’s demand that players aligning with the rival ICL be banned? If it’s wrong to put money first, why consort with Allen Stanford, or sell the public down the river in return for Sky’s TV dosh?
To change tack, Piers Morgan has attracted a vast amount of abuse and flack for wading into the row and supporting Pietersen. Personally, I think it’s refreshing to have a complete outsider ruffle feathers and shed new light on the saga.
The regular cricket commentariat is an incestuous beast: the majority of pundits and correspondents are too close to the establishment, or hidebound by how things worked in their own playing days, to see things with fresh eyes. Morgan is not part of that establishment, and in this context probably cares little what the cricket authorities think of him. He’s successfully embarrassed the ECB, and put them on the back foot.
In the last twelve hours, there has of course been a major new development. Pietersen has reportedly apologised, in a fashion, via his agent. And there are already rumours that this may even be enough to restore his place in the side tomorrow.
Whether he plays or not, and whether we win the match or not, the result will inevitably be attributed to KP-gate. If we do win, the selectors will be praised for their wisdom. And wouldn’t it be ironic if both Taylor and Bairstow score centuries?