“There is a massive trust issue between Kevin and I”
So there we have it folks. In an interview with Sky’s Tim Abraham before his press conference, Andrew Strauss spoke in depth about his position on KP. The overriding theme was ‘trust’.
Because the new director cannot ‘trust’ Kevin Pietersen, and ‘trust’ is apparently the most important aspect of international sports teams, the leading run scorer in English cricket history cannot play in this summer’s Ashes.
My initial reaction to the news is one of sadness. I’m not someone who thinks Pietersen should walk back into the England team – and I’ve criticised KP as much as anyone during his career – but it seems that, once again, England have allowed over-analysis and rigid dogma to obscure the obvious point: that selection should be based purely on merit and the ability to win matches.
Most of us knew what we were getting with Andrew Strauss: a very methodical man who sees things in black and white. It’s a mentality better suited to running an accountancy firm that an international sports team.
What Strauss fails to realise it that ‘trust’ is secondary or tertiary, not primary. Winning is the most important thing. And your chances of winning games depends more on the talent of your individuals than how much these individuals like each other.
I’m sure the current England players all trust each other implicitly. I’m sure they trusted Peter Moores too. It didn’t stop them from failing miserably at the World Cup or losing to the West Indies last week.
Did the ACB trust Shane Warne not to say outrageous things and get into trouble? Warne ridiculed the coach, took money from bookmakers for information, send lewd text messages to women … but most importantly of all he won cricket matches. Only in England could this tiny, but crucial, detail be missed.
Andrew Strauss’ interview also revealed that he’s fallen into the same trap as his predecessor: the failure to realise that the England cricket team belongs to the fans not the ECB:
“Over the years the trust between Kevin and the ECB has eroded” and therefore “it is not in the best short-term interests of the team” to recall him.
Strauss is painfully wrong. The ECB is separate to the team. The relationship between administrators and individual players is more or less irrelevant to the team’s chances of winning the Ashes. The England cricket team is not the personal fiefdom of the blazers.
Strauss’s referral to ‘short-term’ interests was also fascinating. He deliberately eschewed the argument that England are building for the long-term. Of course, such an argument would be fatuous in an Ashes year.
Were Australia worrying about the future when they picked Adam Voges (who is one year older than KP) and Chris Rogers (who is three years older) for the upcoming series? Do they care that Brad Haddin will be 38 in five months time? Of course not. If you’re good enough, you should be in the team.
However, because Strauss is clever enough to know this, a different reason had to be given – and this is why the Director pulled a Robert DeNiro: if you’re not in the ‘circle of trust’ you’re nobody and nowhere.
Of course, the trust argument is mere sophistry. One suspects Pietersen is not being picked because, in Strauss’s experience, he became too difficult for him personally to work with. We ‘don’t trust you’ effectively means ‘we don’t like you’.
Strauss does not care that he worked fine with Pietersen for several years, and the relationship only soured towards the end – within the context of the KP Genius affair.
Strauss does not care that Tremlett, Carberry, Panesar, Stokes, Root, Bairstow and (initially) Swann all said KP’s behaviour in Australia was exemplary.
Strauss does not care that Alec Stewart and the Surrey players all ‘love him’ (the words used by former England keeper Steve Davies on Twitter yesterday).
Strauss does not care that Simon Jones, Alex Tudor, Michael Vaughan, Shaun Udal and Andrew Flintoff (to name just a few) all think Pietersen should be recalled. The opinions of the last two are particularly significant as fans have been told many times that Pietersen was unbearable at Hampshire and that Fred hated him.
The truth is that Strauss is only seeing the Pietersen that betrayed his nebulous concept of ‘team’ back in 2012. He is also judging Pietersen on his overly emotional book – clearly ill advised, but clearly not disengaged.
According to Strauss, what happens in the dressing room stays in the dressing room – unless you’re writing about Peter Moores in your own autobiography, or spilling the beans to fellow commentators when you think you’re off air.
By taking this stance on KP, Strauss has revealed why he was a poor choice as director. He is still very close to the dressing room: to the same captain and former coach who share his peculiar weltanschauung (a worldview many disagree with).
However, although Strauss (and his own prejudices) are central to all this, one cannot overstate the importance of Cook.
It’s as clear as day that Cook doesn’t want Pietersen anywhere near the side. Pietersen, who was dangerously close to some younger players, was kicked out of the side for good when he had the temerity to criticise Cook’s leadership before the Sydney test.
We’ve seen many times over the last year how the skipper responds to criticism:
Cook wanted something done when Shane Warne offered the opinions he’s paid to give.
Cook had an unsightly tantrum when the selectors dropped him from the ODI team and revealed a worrying lack of self-awareness.
And most recently, rumours have circulated that Cook confronted Jonathan Agnew for being too chummy with Pietersen in the commentary box during the World Cup.
Perhaps Alastair was so angry because they betrayed his ‘trust’?
One suspects, therefore, that Cook would rather place his manhood in a blender than see the man that called him ‘Ned Flanders’ back in the side. As a result, Strauss’s views and the skipper’s conveniently aligned.
No doubt people will leap to Cook’s defence, and claim this is purely Strauss’s decision, but this argument doesn’t add up.
If someone like Michael Vaughan was captain – somebody who has a decent working relationship with Pietersen – the situation would be entirely different. There would be no (or very few) obstacles standing in KP’s way. The only dissenting voice would be Andy Flower.
My personal feeling, therefore, is that the reason for Pietersen’s continued absence is two fold:
(a) For all the changes at the ECB, men who have a personal dislike of KP are still running the show. These men are letting personal animosity get in the way of cricketing logic.
(b) Given that Cook and Pietersen now seem incompatible, English cricket has once again sided with the younger man (who conveniently fits the image the ECB wishes to project). This is understandable, but it won’t make the team any more watchable. It won’t help against the Australians either – KP has a far better Ashes record than Cook.
The inescapable reality is that KP’s absence continues to bolster Cook – a captain who isn’t strong enough (in Paul Downton’s words) to cope with dissent within the dressing room. This leads me to surmise the following …
Once again, the major decisions in English cricket revolve around Cook. Whether one calls this mollycoddling or not is open to personal interpretation – however, the strength of the squad is certainly being compromised because of individual prejudices.
This is what makes so many fans angry: it’s seems that entertainment, and value for money, are secondary to the personal feelings of men who have polarised fans almost as much as Pietersen himself.
Trust? It has, and always will be, a two way street. Would you trust teammates who created a parody Twitter account mocking you?
And how many people out there ‘trust’ the ECB? When you consider the way they treated Peter Moores, it will be very difficult for any prospective coach to trust them.
The hypocrisy stinks to high heaven.