January 7, 2009

Exile or Roman holiday?

22

As another Ashes year begins and English cricket has suddenly found itself pitched into a medieval-style power struggle. Metaphorical knives have been drawn, and either captain or coach (or possibly both) seems destined to be metaphorically stabbed, in either the back or the front (or possibly both).

It is a curious and unseemly situation – can the ECB afford, financially, to dispose of Peter Moores, or, cricketingly, to oust Kevin Pietersen? Can they afford not to? If Pietersen is sacked or disciplined, what effect would it have on him, the team’s best batsman and the key to victory against Australia? If he is allowed to get away with his attack on the authority of the coach, what effect would it have on the rest of the team and their relationship with their captain, also the key to victory against Australia? The ECB is essentially holding two frying pans, wondering with which one to smack itself in the head (or, alternatively, whether to clonk itself less hard with both pans simultaneously). Either way, it will make a noise and hurt.

The situation should not surprise even the most easily-startled cricket fan. When England appointed Pietersen, they knew it would be a bumpy ride. The question was merely whether it would be short and bumpy, or long and bumpy. It is, however, a little curious that the biggest bump to date should have ostensibly been caused by a dispute over the recall of Michael Vaughan (averaging 36 in 54 Tests since his eight-month explosion of batting greatness in 2002-03, and with barely a run in any cricket since last June).

The affair is complicated by the fact that a strong argument could be made for sacking Moores in any case. The English cricket boat has been drifting aimlessly in a sea of adequacy since its two-year golden age of 2004 and 2005. Moores has been paddling enthusiastically, but appears to have done little more than send the vessel round and round in circles, and claiming that the circles are definitely getting rounder.

He inherited a side that had just completed perhaps the most disastrous cricketing winter in England’s history, since when they have comfortably avoided both notable humiliations and meaningful triumphs. Most of the players have made little discernible progress individually. Under Moores, only Ryan Sidebottom averages under 29 with the ball, and only Pietersen over 42 with bat. The captain is also the only top-six batsman to have scored his runs quicker than 50 per 100 balls, and even his once formidable scoring rate and six-thwacking prowess have dipped significantly. The upshot of these statistics is that England as a team has lost its capacity to seize key moments of matches and series against strong opposition.

Of England’s best young players, Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, James Anderson or Monty Panesar have all performed reasonably, but none has improved markedly in the manner of, for example, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn. Moores’ reign has been characterised not by the disasters of the 80s and 90s, but by collective, individual and selectorial stagnation.

What, then, are the possible outcomes? The Confectionery Stall offers the following plausible scenarios for how this sorry mess may play out:

1. Pietersen wins: Moores to be sacked and/or exiled to an island in the mid Atlantic, Pietersen to become sole dictator of the English Republic Of Cricket, running the team like an old Soviet despot, overseeing parades of bowlers from the pavilion balcony in front of a 50-foot high portrait of himself.

2. Moores wins: Pietersen sacked, repatriated and sold to the IPL or Real Madrid for $50 million. Moores appoints Chris Adams captain, forges a passport for Mushtaq Ahmed, and calls up Richard Montgomerie to open the batting as he attempts to apply his successful county-championship-winning formula from Sussex to the international arena.

3. Compromise A: Pietersen to be given the Graham Ford he wants, but to promise not to be naughty in future and to do what he’s told like a good boy. Moores to stay involved in a backroom role, responsible for making tea, cakes and excuses for the team. If the ECB are going to have to pay him, they might as well get some of their money’s worth.

4. Compromise B: Pietersen to be sacked, and join Andrew Strauss, Andrew Flintoff, Paul Collingwood, a recalled Vaughan and an unretired Trescothick as ex-captains back in the ranks. It is frequently said that a great team needs many leaders, not just a captain. England should therefore fill the team with as many ex-captains as possible – ideally ten, eventually, plus a novice captain they can advise, bully and confuse. Moores to stay on as coach, but not say or do anything during practice, and observe a restriction order preventing him from being within 20 miles of the team during matches, other than for post-play press conferences.

5. Compromise C: Both to stay in their posts, but be forced to spend a week’s holiday together in Rome, to try to rekindle the magic.

Appropriately enough, this unseemly squabble has marked the beginning of the year in which multiple-royal-wedding fans and schism enthusiasts alike will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of ace squabbler Henry VIII ascending to the English throne. And what a fine cricketer he surely would have been – how intimidating for an umpire, about to raise the finger of doom after big Henry had been trapped with his big fat legs plumb in front of all three stumps, to see the latterly massive king at the far end of the pitch miming, chopping something’s head off with his royal bat. The umpires’ reluctance to trigger the mightily-appetited monarch would surely have led to him adding ‘the English Javed Miandad’ to his long catalogue of titles and nicknames (including: Defender Of The Faith, Bluff King Hal, Old Coppernose, and the Medieval Mike Gatting).

WG Grace may have had the chutzpah to replace his bails and announce that the crowd wanted to see him bat rather the bowler bowl, but even he did not wield Henry’s lethal two-pronged attack of (a) the power of life and death over opponents and match officials, and (b) a short fuse.

Later in life, when his youthful athleticism had transmuted into a colossal gut, the Bearded Beheader could even have taken up umpiring himself, and counted the balls bowled in an over with six special marbles, each decorated with a picture of one of his wives. “That was Anne of Cleves, so... two to come, batsman.”

I digress.

My money is on a pyrrhic KP victory. Moores as coach and Pietersen as captain are both dispensable. Pietersen as a player is not. But he has done himself and his team few favours in the last week.

New Zaltzman update

Thank you very much, dear Confectionery Stallers, for your kind comments about the birth and catch of my son. The boy and his mother are both in outstanding fettle, and recovering slowly from the trauma of having to rely on my historically-abominable catching skills at such a key moment of both of their lives.

The first few weeks of life are crucial to later development, and I thank a mixture of luck and the ICC that my son was born into the midst of three-Test series, with no one-day or twenty-over games to sully his earliest cricketing experiences.

Aside from his primary hobbies of squawking, guzzling and snoozing (the age-old triathlon of babyhood), he spends much of his spare time waving his arms around, perhaps suggesting that he is destined to become a spin bowler with a tendency to appeal over excitably for obviously-not-out lbw shouts.

He was patently delighted when, aged just 10 days, he was presented with his first plastic cricket set. Let me rephrase that sentence – I was patently delighted when, aged just 34 years, I presented him with his first plastic cricket set (which, with the help of some friends, I knocked in with a Test-match-intensity game of corridor cricket at 3am on New Year’s Day).

Inspired by the story of Tiger Woods’ father performing golf swings over his infant son’s cot, I have also now instigated a rigorous programme of pretend forward defences and mimed leave-alones whenever the boy is awake. One day, like his daddy, he will be a grinder. I can now only wait for the long-awaited cartoon biopic of Gary Kirsten to be released.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • colin froman on January 28, 2009, 17:10 GMT

    Unfortunately EW Swanton missed the annual Lotzof Zaltman Trophy Matches at Heilbron Andy Zaltsman needs to pay attention to the slaughter of Australia for inspiration

  • Aussie Din ks on January 15, 2009, 17:47 GMT

    I did really read the whole script and I found it very amusing. My beef with JK was about Pietersen being trouble and Strauss being fine because he has an upper class education. England used to have that class distinction but here in Australia we don't have it. And regardless of who you are and what your back ground is you should get a little bit of respect for your talent. By the way I was at the Gabba on Tuesday evening and Warner didn't do to well.

  • Ajit Dugal on January 14, 2009, 14:54 GMT

    On a less humerous note this issue highlights the dangers of power-sharing - there should be only one leader of the team and that leader should be the person who has the full authority on the field. It is the captain on the field who has to deal with any and all issues on the field no matter the numerous and ponderous team meetings and myriad assessments of the opposition and one's own players. For all the practice and the coaching every cricketer has his off-days and there is always the possibility of mis-reading the pitch which would render all plans redundant as a matter of rote - in such events, when your top bowlers are having an off-day, or the pitch is not living up to assessment it is the captain who has to decide what to do - and to do it on the field of play. Also, there is nothing to prevent the captain on the field from disregarding the coach's advice. The captain, therefore, must have the last word and, thus, the coach/manager must take the second rung and avoid conflict.

  • Gavin on January 12, 2009, 12:42 GMT

    To John Kidd, sorry I referred to you as English. Right now I think Australian is preferable with all the goings on. You have one of your own, who doesn't read the whole script, taking you out as well? To Aussie Din ks, if the English don't want KP, you can have him. It seems you need a batsman or two? Although Warner may keep him out the team after yesterday.

  • Aussie Din ks on January 11, 2009, 16:43 GMT

    You would argue in the sense that Andrew Srauss is "English" because at the moment he is doing well and it is an "English trait" to call them "English" when they are doing well. And when they are not doing well they get called the "foreigner with the 3 lions tattooed on his arm". I am sure at the moment after being stabbed in the back Pietersen may seriously want to challenge his claim to being English.

  • John Kidd on January 11, 2009, 6:49 GMT

    At the risk of abusing the hospitality of this site may I respond to Aussie Dink's above question? I would argue that Andrew Strauss is "English" in the sense that such previous foreign born but English raised skippers as Freddie Brown (born in Peru), Gubby Allen (born in Australia), and Colin Cowdrey (born in India)to mention but three. I doubt that any would seriously challenge thair claim to being English.

  • Aussie Din ks on January 8, 2009, 14:13 GMT

    Can JK please clarify for me about the English team being led by an English captain. I thought Strauss was the next captain of England and as far as I know Strauss is also from South Africa.

  • John Kidd on January 8, 2009, 12:35 GMT

    Oops, sorry about my mistake, Gavin Smith. In mitigation I would point out that England's new captain, although born in South Africa, was in fact raised and educated (to a high level) in England. Anyway, I fully agree as to the magnificent effort of your mamesake, Graeme Smith, as skipper of what must be the best South African team since the days of the Pollocks, Colin Bland, Denis Lindsay etc, not to mention the earlier days of Heine, Adcock and "Toey" Tayfield. As an Australian resident I am full of admiration for the team's superb fightbacks which won the first two tests and almost pulled off an almost unforeseeable draw in yesterday's Sydney Test.

  • Gavin Smith on January 8, 2009, 7:17 GMT

    As a South African, may I say it appears we did keep the best captain at home. Compare Graeme and Kevin over the past 24 hours and decide which you would rather have! Anyway, to John Kidd, sorry, you have another cast off South African captain.

  • John Kidd on January 8, 2009, 0:38 GMT

    This is not the first time that a South African captain of the English team has caused friction. Remember Tony Greig's leading role in the Packer assault on traditional cricket back in 1977? At least the team will now be once again led by an English captain.

  • colin froman on January 28, 2009, 17:10 GMT

    Unfortunately EW Swanton missed the annual Lotzof Zaltman Trophy Matches at Heilbron Andy Zaltsman needs to pay attention to the slaughter of Australia for inspiration

  • Aussie Din ks on January 15, 2009, 17:47 GMT

    I did really read the whole script and I found it very amusing. My beef with JK was about Pietersen being trouble and Strauss being fine because he has an upper class education. England used to have that class distinction but here in Australia we don't have it. And regardless of who you are and what your back ground is you should get a little bit of respect for your talent. By the way I was at the Gabba on Tuesday evening and Warner didn't do to well.

  • Ajit Dugal on January 14, 2009, 14:54 GMT

    On a less humerous note this issue highlights the dangers of power-sharing - there should be only one leader of the team and that leader should be the person who has the full authority on the field. It is the captain on the field who has to deal with any and all issues on the field no matter the numerous and ponderous team meetings and myriad assessments of the opposition and one's own players. For all the practice and the coaching every cricketer has his off-days and there is always the possibility of mis-reading the pitch which would render all plans redundant as a matter of rote - in such events, when your top bowlers are having an off-day, or the pitch is not living up to assessment it is the captain who has to decide what to do - and to do it on the field of play. Also, there is nothing to prevent the captain on the field from disregarding the coach's advice. The captain, therefore, must have the last word and, thus, the coach/manager must take the second rung and avoid conflict.

  • Gavin on January 12, 2009, 12:42 GMT

    To John Kidd, sorry I referred to you as English. Right now I think Australian is preferable with all the goings on. You have one of your own, who doesn't read the whole script, taking you out as well? To Aussie Din ks, if the English don't want KP, you can have him. It seems you need a batsman or two? Although Warner may keep him out the team after yesterday.

  • Aussie Din ks on January 11, 2009, 16:43 GMT

    You would argue in the sense that Andrew Srauss is "English" because at the moment he is doing well and it is an "English trait" to call them "English" when they are doing well. And when they are not doing well they get called the "foreigner with the 3 lions tattooed on his arm". I am sure at the moment after being stabbed in the back Pietersen may seriously want to challenge his claim to being English.

  • John Kidd on January 11, 2009, 6:49 GMT

    At the risk of abusing the hospitality of this site may I respond to Aussie Dink's above question? I would argue that Andrew Strauss is "English" in the sense that such previous foreign born but English raised skippers as Freddie Brown (born in Peru), Gubby Allen (born in Australia), and Colin Cowdrey (born in India)to mention but three. I doubt that any would seriously challenge thair claim to being English.

  • Aussie Din ks on January 8, 2009, 14:13 GMT

    Can JK please clarify for me about the English team being led by an English captain. I thought Strauss was the next captain of England and as far as I know Strauss is also from South Africa.

  • John Kidd on January 8, 2009, 12:35 GMT

    Oops, sorry about my mistake, Gavin Smith. In mitigation I would point out that England's new captain, although born in South Africa, was in fact raised and educated (to a high level) in England. Anyway, I fully agree as to the magnificent effort of your mamesake, Graeme Smith, as skipper of what must be the best South African team since the days of the Pollocks, Colin Bland, Denis Lindsay etc, not to mention the earlier days of Heine, Adcock and "Toey" Tayfield. As an Australian resident I am full of admiration for the team's superb fightbacks which won the first two tests and almost pulled off an almost unforeseeable draw in yesterday's Sydney Test.

  • Gavin Smith on January 8, 2009, 7:17 GMT

    As a South African, may I say it appears we did keep the best captain at home. Compare Graeme and Kevin over the past 24 hours and decide which you would rather have! Anyway, to John Kidd, sorry, you have another cast off South African captain.

  • John Kidd on January 8, 2009, 0:38 GMT

    This is not the first time that a South African captain of the English team has caused friction. Remember Tony Greig's leading role in the Packer assault on traditional cricket back in 1977? At least the team will now be once again led by an English captain.

  • Aussie Din ks on January 8, 2009, 0:16 GMT

    I think Kevin Pieterson should play the IPL and return to his own country. Greame Smith needs an opening batsman and Pieterson will work wonders in that position.

  • not just the Pm on January 7, 2009, 22:02 GMT

    Zaltzman warm-up! you're on next at the top end. Keep the batsman playing he'll spoon it up in the air sooner or later

  • Rex on January 7, 2009, 17:42 GMT

    At last! Another article! Usually I don't read articles that aren't too concerned with mainstay cricket. But even if you were to write a piece about a singularly shaped penguin in Antarctica I would happily gobble it up like a ravenous glutton (Is it an oxymoron? Am I moron to use it?). Thanks for everything so far, although I'd appreciate if your frequency of articles improved.

  • Biso on January 7, 2009, 16:49 GMT

    Agree with Stuck at Work. "Moores is not up to it and KP is flawed as a captain". But, with a difference- KP has lots to learn. He will.He will learn fast if and only if, he lets humility get to him. As for Moores, he hasn't got far to go.However, at this stage England might loose both if the administrators cant handle it right. Let us see how ,for once at least, the wise men do some fire fighting.

  • Rishi on January 7, 2009, 15:34 GMT

    Excellent humour on what are decidedly non-humorous cricketing situations and keep up with the corridor cricket,your son will learn to play in the 'V'!

  • stuck at work on January 7, 2009, 15:18 GMT

    Great article. Despite the jokes, you are probably right with the outcome. Neither can stay in his current role. Moores is not up to it and KP is flawed as a captain. Strauss to captain (1 of the few with a real brain) but a more innovative coach like Ford to come in. If KP gets the coach he wants but loses the captaincy, he will at least feel vindicated. But for a dip in form, Strauss would surely have captained England more frequently in the past in any case. I suspect he can also do a job for the ODI side batting in the middle order, tipping singles during the boring overs. This is all based on the total lack of knowledge you have from the outside. I suspect that fresh faces are needed generally. No idea what is really going on on the inside. Bell needs time away and although Collingwood always does just enough, there is surely more potential elsewhere.

  • Varun Oberoi on January 7, 2009, 12:34 GMT

    Congrats on your Jr. Confectionary. Make him sleep on Steve Waugh's autobiography. It makes for a good mattress anyway. Moving to the KP-Moores saga, I think the problem is same as what the Indian Board face during Ganguly vs Chappel long time back. It was actually more difficult - do you sack ur most successful captain who has been around for years or do you sack your foreign coach who himself has been a great player?? In the end, both the player and coach will lose.

  • Saurabh Somani on January 7, 2009, 12:18 GMT

    this has to be the best column in cricinfo! avidly wait for ur articles, please post more often!

  • Krishna on January 7, 2009, 11:45 GMT

    Hello Andy, Your apologies for the absence from these columns are reluctantly accepted. To make up, you have given us a better than usual mixture of perceptiveness and humor. But beware, if you make your son practice cricket now, you and Mrs Andy may have to face each other up exactly like KP and Moores! Does Moores make good tea?! Ha! Ha! Ha!

    Krishna

  • stumpythestumper on January 7, 2009, 11:17 GMT

    Hurrah for the demise of King Kev! Just who does he think he is? Being a decent player does not give licence to control the entire game in his adopted country, although had he made a better fist of it and taken that shameless pimp Giles Clarke with him too, we could celebrate some more. If the flies on the dressing room wall in Jamaica next month could talk.......I'd be listening.

  • Sean Robertson on January 7, 2009, 9:42 GMT

    Congrats Harry on becoming a father. I was amused to read about your foward defences and leaves in front of your son. From what i remember of your time at Penshurst you didn't tend to do either out in the middle! Are you still turning your arm(s) over and do you think the newcomer will be ambidextrous too?!

  • afzaal khan on January 7, 2009, 9:26 GMT

    hey man awesome article. And cong on becoming a father. May God bless ur family and make ur son an awesome cricketer.

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  • afzaal khan on January 7, 2009, 9:26 GMT

    hey man awesome article. And cong on becoming a father. May God bless ur family and make ur son an awesome cricketer.

  • Sean Robertson on January 7, 2009, 9:42 GMT

    Congrats Harry on becoming a father. I was amused to read about your foward defences and leaves in front of your son. From what i remember of your time at Penshurst you didn't tend to do either out in the middle! Are you still turning your arm(s) over and do you think the newcomer will be ambidextrous too?!

  • stumpythestumper on January 7, 2009, 11:17 GMT

    Hurrah for the demise of King Kev! Just who does he think he is? Being a decent player does not give licence to control the entire game in his adopted country, although had he made a better fist of it and taken that shameless pimp Giles Clarke with him too, we could celebrate some more. If the flies on the dressing room wall in Jamaica next month could talk.......I'd be listening.

  • Krishna on January 7, 2009, 11:45 GMT

    Hello Andy, Your apologies for the absence from these columns are reluctantly accepted. To make up, you have given us a better than usual mixture of perceptiveness and humor. But beware, if you make your son practice cricket now, you and Mrs Andy may have to face each other up exactly like KP and Moores! Does Moores make good tea?! Ha! Ha! Ha!

    Krishna

  • Saurabh Somani on January 7, 2009, 12:18 GMT

    this has to be the best column in cricinfo! avidly wait for ur articles, please post more often!

  • Varun Oberoi on January 7, 2009, 12:34 GMT

    Congrats on your Jr. Confectionary. Make him sleep on Steve Waugh's autobiography. It makes for a good mattress anyway. Moving to the KP-Moores saga, I think the problem is same as what the Indian Board face during Ganguly vs Chappel long time back. It was actually more difficult - do you sack ur most successful captain who has been around for years or do you sack your foreign coach who himself has been a great player?? In the end, both the player and coach will lose.

  • stuck at work on January 7, 2009, 15:18 GMT

    Great article. Despite the jokes, you are probably right with the outcome. Neither can stay in his current role. Moores is not up to it and KP is flawed as a captain. Strauss to captain (1 of the few with a real brain) but a more innovative coach like Ford to come in. If KP gets the coach he wants but loses the captaincy, he will at least feel vindicated. But for a dip in form, Strauss would surely have captained England more frequently in the past in any case. I suspect he can also do a job for the ODI side batting in the middle order, tipping singles during the boring overs. This is all based on the total lack of knowledge you have from the outside. I suspect that fresh faces are needed generally. No idea what is really going on on the inside. Bell needs time away and although Collingwood always does just enough, there is surely more potential elsewhere.

  • Rishi on January 7, 2009, 15:34 GMT

    Excellent humour on what are decidedly non-humorous cricketing situations and keep up with the corridor cricket,your son will learn to play in the 'V'!

  • Biso on January 7, 2009, 16:49 GMT

    Agree with Stuck at Work. "Moores is not up to it and KP is flawed as a captain". But, with a difference- KP has lots to learn. He will.He will learn fast if and only if, he lets humility get to him. As for Moores, he hasn't got far to go.However, at this stage England might loose both if the administrators cant handle it right. Let us see how ,for once at least, the wise men do some fire fighting.

  • Rex on January 7, 2009, 17:42 GMT

    At last! Another article! Usually I don't read articles that aren't too concerned with mainstay cricket. But even if you were to write a piece about a singularly shaped penguin in Antarctica I would happily gobble it up like a ravenous glutton (Is it an oxymoron? Am I moron to use it?). Thanks for everything so far, although I'd appreciate if your frequency of articles improved.