England's Pietersen dilemma August 21, 2012

IPL 'catalyst' in Pietersen controversy - Flower

Andy Flower, the England team director, has defended England's handling of Kevin Pietersen and suggested that the player's desire to appear in a whole season of the IPL proved to be the catalyst that destabilised his relationship with his team-mates and the ECB.

Flower, speaking for the first time since Pietersen was omitted from the final Test against South Africa, admitted that batsman may never play for England again, but insisted that the team could retain their No.1 Test ranking even without the man many consider to be their best player. Flower also joined those calling for a window in the international schedule for the IPL, though he conceded there was little realistic hope of that at present.

"I think it's fair to say that Kevin's issues over being available for the entire IPL have changed his attitude," Flower said. "I think that was the catalyst for a lot of the stuff.

"The IPL and the international fixtures in England are an area of conflict. And it will continue to be an area of conflict in the future. It would be better if there was a very clear window prior to our international season starting. But it doesn't look like that is an issue that is going to be sorted out in the future so it may well recur."

Flower did accept responsibility for some failures of man management within the England set up, but insisted that Pietersen was guilty of far more serious errors of judgement.

"You are questioning whether he has been managed properly," Flower said. "I suppose it's fair to ask that question. I think that's what we've been doing over the years. There are certain behaviours that are unacceptable and I think we've seen some of that just recently. So to move forward we must get over those hurdles.

"If you are asking if we take some responsibility for it I'm quite happy to take responsibility for a number of issues if that is the case. I don't think text messages from an England player to South African players with some of the content I've heard that is in them is my responsibility.

"I think one issue that I could have handled better is when I heard that some of the players were occasionally looking at that Twitter account that had been set up by some England supporter, or Nottingham supporter. I could have nipped that in the bud earlier.

"But let's just be perfectly clear on the severity of the situation. There is one thing a few players having a giggle at a Twitter account, there is another on some of the issues that we have seen rear their heads over the last two weeks. It is not just about the text messages, there are other issues to be resolved."

Flower confirmed that the ECB had approached officials with the South Africa touring team with a view to being shown the text messages Pietersen sent to their players that are alleged to have contained derogatory comments about England captain Andrew Strauss, but insisted the issue extended deeper than a mere spat between two senior players.

"The issue is not specifically between the captain and Pietersen," Flower said. "There are a number of unresolved issues and it would be inaccurate to judge it as just an issue between those two.

"At this juncture there's no meeting in the diary. We've just finished this Test match. I understand some people would like this resolved overnight, but I don't think it is something that can be resolved overnight if we want to go about it properly. There are a number of outstanding issues to be resolved. An example of that would be finding out exactly what these text messages contained if we do really want to move forward either way.

"I think face to face and man to man, where you can look people in the eye, is always the best way to resolve most issues. I think these things should remain private. I don't think they should be played out in the media so leaking information, using PR agencies etc to resolve this issue is not the correct way to go about it.

"I'm not sure of exactly the best way to investigate it, to be honest. We've tried to focus on playing cricket leading up to this Test match which is how this Test series should have been. It's really sad for everyone involved the focus wasn't on playing cricket here."

Flower was quite clear that Pietersen's current apology - either the YouTube video or the letter sent through his management company - was inadequate and did not constitute a resolution to the situation. He also hinted that it was hard to see the issue being resolved before central contracts are offered to players, which is likely to happen before the team departs for the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka in mid-September. That suggests Pietersen may well not be considered for England's tour of India. He confirmed that Pietersen would not be offered a central contract until the issues were resolved.

"He sent an apology via his agent to the ECB," Flower said. "If you are going to move on from situations such as this you need to know exactly what situation you are moving on from. So I think we need to get to the bottom of some of this speculation and rumours before we move on.

"Regardless of central contracts, I wouldn't like to put a time frame on it because that might unrealistic. To resolve certain issues of trust and mutual respect, it might take longer than that. I would rather not speculate [on whether Pietersen may have played his last game for England]. But he was speculating on it during the Test series, so there is a chance I suppose.

England's one-day side has shown it can flourish in the absence of Pietersen with Ian Bell slotting into the openers' role, while Alex Hales made 99 in the Twenty20 against West Indies. Flower believes that, if the situation is not resolved, the Test team can move back to the top of the rankings without Pietersen.

"Without a doubt," he said. "English cricket has a great history and it has a great future. It is bigger than any one player. You will always move on from anyone, whether it be a captain, a coach or a player. I think the most important thing is that we do the right thing for England cricket. That's how we will make our decision.

"We try to make decisions that are in the best interests of the England cricket team or English cricket. That is what I've tried to do since I joined this team and that's what I will continue to do."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo