It’s the story that just keeps giving …. the ECB a headache. Here’s our new guest writer, Tregaskis’ views on the latest twist in the tale.
On a day when England’s beleaguered team did themselves a massive favour by the simple expedient of not being the Netherlands, the Kevin Pietersen saga continued its epic Nordic narrative. The skirmishing between the uncontrollable berserkers at the ECB and the banished hero shows no sign of abating. There will be no moving on or piping down until the feud reaches a bloody denouement. The death-by-a-thousand-leaks strategy is not working and the end must wait till one or other of the protagonists is dealt a mortal blow. The grisly climax will probably happen sometime in the Norse Slaughter Month, around October, when the semi-permeable confidentiality agreement ends.
Yesterday, Chris Tremlett bowled a bumper into the ribs of the insidious ECB PR campaign when he expressed bafflement at the sacking of KP, who, he announced, did nothing wrong during the Ashes tour other than tell the truth. Graeme Swann was similarly supportive of KP shortly after the Ashes whitewash – “Since being reintegrated in 2012, his attitude has been great. He was England’s top run scorer in the Ashes and is one of the world’s best players, so why get rid of him?” Monty Panesar has spoken in glowing terms about the support KP gave him in the dressing room. Trott too, in his Sky interview, spoke warmly about his frequent batting partner. A day or so ago, Joe Root piped up: “I always got on really well with Kevin. I didn’t realise the situation that existed then. All I know is that he has had a fantastic career for England, that he is a fantastic talent, and I hope he can carry on showing the world how good he is.” Tremlett, Swann, Panesar and Root must have been early abed when KP unleashed his wrecking ball at the inviolable culture and ethics of English cricket. They must have all slept through the noise as values smashed to the floor before waking in the morning to take breakfast amongst the rubble. I can only presume his actions were captured on CCTV or secretly recorded on audio with the tapes now in the inside pocket of Giles Clarke’s double-breasted jacket. Otherwise, the idea that KP was a toxic presence in the dressing room and a malignant influence on the team simply does not stack up and is not being supported by the guys who were actually there.
At first, I was not entirely sure what was going on with the Root interview, since he is the only one of the quintet with a definite future in England colours and his minder had declared that the boy had been very well briefed. Was there a little devilment in the cherub, or was his au pair being deeply ironic? To be honest, I can no longer tell whether the ECB’s marketing propositions are ironic or post-ironic, flat lies or three-dimensional dissembling. It is all so soul-destructively Kafkaesque – someone must have been telling lies about Kevin P, for without having done anything wrong his career was arrested one fine morning.
But when one deconstructs Root’s answer to the KP question, it begins to dawn that the words “I didn’t realise the situation that existed then” are a black-capped sentence inserted in an otherwise hagiographic gobbet, much as a cinematographer catches in frame a newly erected gibbet as the camera slowly pans across a sun-bleached, god-fearing idyll. Has the ECB adopted a more subtle way of hanging KP? You can almost hear the quirky improvisations of an Ennio Morricone score kicking in as Root narrows his eyes and spits out the words “the situation that existed then” after sucking meaningfully on his charoot. Maybe he was very well briefed after all, or at least shown the grainy tapes.
Since Ashley Giles’s let his million-dollar asset drop through the trap door, KP’s value has lost a few noughts, and his numbers are now defined by a rumoured four-page dossier containing a list of 50 misdemeanours of unknown shades of grey. This invisible document is waved at a willing press like Dr Who flashing psychic paper. Fingers are pointed, much as courtiers drew the attention of a gullible public to the fine stitching on the emperor’s new suit of clothes. In an act of breathtaking hypocrisy the ECB or those close to them have leaked the existence of a charge sheet but released no detail of the crimes – Josef K never learned what he had done wrong either! No facts, no transparency and no child to blurt out the naked truth. Just a constant feed of winks, nods and innuendo. For all we know, KP did no more than whistle out of tune or look at Alastair Cook in a funny way. Maybe KP was capable of launching a devastating truth within 45 minutes of every defeat, or maybe the dossier has been sexed up or even made up. Who knows? Two facts we do all know – (1) England still keep losing, and (2) KP is now Gary Kirsten’s million-dollar asset.
For all the ECB’s efforts to manage their press and keep the cross hairs on KP, as players slowly let their guard or shackles slip, a picture is beginning to emerge of life aboard the doomed ship England. No doubt the pumpkin seeds of collapse were sown in the 82-page menu and other areas of micro-preparation, but rudder failure led to strategic drift from the off and the vessel was holed below the waterline with defeat in the first test. Tremlett talks of a disjointed tour, where communication closed down as defeats mounted up. The players spent weeks stifled and frustrated below decks in a fraught atmosphere devoid of answers or leadership. As plans fell apart, pressure built and tempers frayed. The crew began to desert, water reached the gunwales but the pumps were broken. Mutiny was in the air. Where was Flower during the chaos? Adding breadfruits to the menu? Where was Cook as scurvy took its toll? In the galley extolling the virtues of hard tack? No one should be surprised that KP took on the role of Fletcher Christian at the infamous players’ meeting. The tour was in disarray and leadership had evaporated.
Ordinary cricket fans – the ECB’s key stakeholders since they bankroll English cricket through gate money and Sky subscriptions – have never fully warmed to KP – he is lippy, self confident, undiplomatic, not immediately likable. But for the most part, they forgive him because his un-English traits are what make him a brilliant and entertaining cricketer. What the ordinary fan will never understand is why the management and captain escaped scrutiny. The unanswered or unasked questions could fill a more pertinent dossier. Was there ever a forensic review of the worst tour of all time? If no, why not? If yes, what was its scope and terms of reference and who gave evidence? When will the report be published? Or was it just a five-minute moan about KP around the ECB water cooler? Even Bligh was court-martialled for losing his ship. What were the lessons learned? What are the new ethics and how do they differ from the old ones? What structures are being put in place to enable the rebuilding of English cricket? Will the new head coach be given a blank canvas or will he be denied the use of burnt umber and a fan brush – though this question may have found an answer in Mike Walters’s piece in the Mirror yesterday. To most cricket fans, the current model looks just the same as the old one except KP isn’t there any more. Everything else is empty rhetoric, baloney, and doesn’t amount to a pile of beans – unless they are mung beans, of course!
We will never know what was really behind the mutiny on the Bounty, and we were never told what governed the behaviour of the Norse heroes or their nemeses. The thing about the sagas is the storytellers believed the actions of the protagonists were preordained by the gods and followed the inevitable flow of destiny, so they felt no need to offer up any explanations as the narrative unfolded. Sound familiar? We should have seen it in the runes!
Tregaskis, 25 March 2014