England news January 9, 2014

Flower, KP and the England blame game

The blame game seems all the rage at the moment. Andy Flower and Kevin Pietersen are both attracting flak and English cricket is all the worse for it

Hopps: England can't be two-faced on IPL promise

The blame game seems all the rage at the moment.

It's obvious, isn't it, that Kevin Pietersen was entirely at fault for the 5-0 Ashes score? He constantly falls out with coaches and management; plays irresponsible shots; doesn't pull his weight; fields on the boundary; gives warm-up matches short shrift; is a bad influence on younger players and, of course, he wants to play in the IPL.

Or is it? How about it is Andy Flower who can't work with Pietersen; those irresponsible shots were an attempt to wrestle some initiative back (this is, after all, was an England team called too timid and defensive); he was his team's top scorer and if someone had helped him could have laid a foundation for a win in Melbourne; he has never been much of a catcher so why not field on the boundary; he trains as hard as anyone and if those young players have his work ethic they will go far; and all England contracts now allow for an extended IPL window.

The ECB dropped the ball on Twenty20, it's not the players' fault for wanting their slice. Those that want to play should not be castigated, just as those who decline should not be made out to be saints.

The point is not to suggest that either side of the Flower-Pietersen argument is wrong or right - some of those examples are too simplistic - but just to encourage some rational thinking in the whole affair.

It is a good job Flower is no longer in day-to-day charge of the one-day side and to a lesser extent that Pietersen is rested because everyone just needs to take a step back and a deep breath. In defence of Flower, that is what he has publicly said he wants to do.

Clearly differences have emerged on the tour - these things tend to happen during a whitewash - but no one believed that Flower and Pietersen would become bosom buddies after what happened in 2012. Even before then it was fairly obvious it was nothing more than a professional relationship. Flower, remember, was part of Peter Moores' backroom staff when the debacle between Pietersen and Moores occurred at the end of 2008. Then when Pietersen left the 2011 World Cup injured, Flower made it clear that he thought the batsman could have battled through the pain.

Neither does it sound like Pietersen, if he has transgressed, was the only one. Matt Prior, in his Daily Telegraph column, talked in general terms about the team losing their respect, becoming lazy with little details such as dress code and team meetings. They sound trivial, but also sound strikingly similar to what happened to Australia in India.

During that episode four players were suspended for not doing 'homework'. One of them was Mitchell Johnson, now an Ashes legend, along with Shane Watson, a key part of Australia's side, and James Pattinson who can still develop into a world-class quick. Only Usman Khawaja has drifted off the scene.

The man to pay the biggest price, ultimately, was Mickey Arthur. His reputation has taken a hammering due to how his Australian career ended, but he remains a highly credentialed coach. In the end, Cricket Australia decided it was him, rather than some potential bad influences among the players, who needed removing.

That is not to say the same should happen to Flower - it clearly won't, given the support he has within the walls of the ECB boardroom. The only way he will leave is if he is not backed over his Pietersen stance, once it becomes apparent how extreme that stance will be.

Flower had his chance once to remove Pietersen from English cricket and was talked around, in no small part to Alastair Cook and it remains to seen how much influence Cook (who is in Australia for another three weeks) will have this time. The call has been for Cook to be allowed to build the team in his mould, but Flower will be in a tough position if that mould still includes Pietersen.

Pietersen is far from faultless in all this. For starters he needs to step away from Twitter for a while and just lie low. There are some raw feelings at the moment and retweeting columns where Michael Vaughan calls for you to be made vice-captain are unlikely to help. Neither, for that matter, is engaging with respected cricket journalists who make cogent arguments regardless of which side of the fence you sit on.

Pietersen's track-record of alienating people is long, involving most, if not all, his former teams. But since committing his future to English cricket (what happened in South Africa was perhaps a warning of what could occur later on, but also stemmed from wider issues) would any of them really be telling the truth if they said they were a better side without him?

What must Paul Downton be thinking? Those 5.30am alarm calls to go and tackle high-level investors and stock-market fluctuations will seem easy compared to the mess he is stepping into. In fact, he doesn't actually start officially until February 1 but you suspect that his inbox is already overflowing.

The transition of control from Hugh Morris to Downton (along with James Whitaker taking over from Geoff Miller as national selector) has encouraged a feeling that Flower has unimpeachable authority within English cricket. He is a fine man and outstanding coach but that is not a healthy position to be in.

And, while it is not the be-all and end-all, English cricket could do with regaining a human element. It is easy to make too much of the 'fun' introduced by Darren Lehmann, but neither should it be overlooked. What can't be doubted is that Lehmann has helped Australian cricket re-engaged with the public.

If it is Flower who wins out in this latest power struggle, he could do worse than heed that lesson. It would not look good to have ousted the most dynamic player in the team and not respond by becoming a touch more accessible.

This may be the end for Pietersen, who knows, but it should not be made out that he provided all the ills of an Ashes campaign where few came out smelling of roses. The problems in English cricket, which have festered for longer than this blighted tour, will not be solved by just removing one of the greatest batsmen of this generation.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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