England's Pietersen dilemma October 2, 2012

'It hasn't been a great couple of months'

Andy Flower discusses the Kevin Pietersen affair and the way forward for England

Andy Flower, in his role as England coach, has not given an interview to the English cricket media for months as the Kevin Pietersen affair has raged around him. In the aftermath of England's ejection from World Twenty20 at the Super Eights stage, and with a truce between the ECB and Pietersen sensed to be hours away, he finally broke his silence.

Flower measures his words as carefully as anybody who has ever been involved in English cricket in the modern era. Nothing is glib, every answer is carefully considered. The media respect him but few could claim a warm relationship. All, though, would recognise the integrity that lies at his core.

English cricket's long-running sore has at times shaken Flower and at times infuriated him as it has undermined the team ethic, and the desire for maximum efficiency, that he prizes so dearly.

If, at weaker moments, it has made him question the sanity of carrying on, Flower is no quitter. It has strengthened his resolve in his belief that while egotism and individualism are necessary elements of top-level sport, they must always ultimately benefit the collective.

His reluctance to be interviewed during a stand-off that he regards as "unprecedented" in English cricket has been frustrating for the media, yet it probably arises from the best of characteristics: from a recognition that he cannot dissemble, or at least chooses not to do, and that the political and personal battles raging around him, have held sway and limited his freedom to speak out. Legal opinion has also been increasingly to the fore, amid been reports that Pietersen could sue if he is not awarded a central contract.

The debate over Pietersen's stand-off with the ECB has polarised opinion in English cricket to a manner not seen since the mid-1980s when Geoffrey Boycott went to war with Yorkshire. "You're either for or against me," Boycott would say and, although Pietersen has not said as much, the implication has been there among his fans and his critics. When England collapsed against Sri Lanka, Piers Morgan, the KP-supporting ex-tabloid editor turned chat show host, came close to celebrating the fact on Twitter.

Flower is a man who speaks his mind clearly and, on this occasion, we have decided to present the opinions of the England coach unadorned by interpretation or background, of which there has been ample.

The questions and answers below have occasionally been edited for the sake of clarity but, in essence are unchanged.

How much have you missed Pietersen as a player?
We definitely missed him there is no doubt about that. He would have helped our batting side enormously.

How much did his absence affect the team in other ways?
We tried to restrict that and our guys have been really good at concentrating on what we do so I think the group has been excellent.

And you?
I have had to do a bit of both obviously, as it has been an ongoing issue, but I have been very focused on trying to get the most out of our guys at this tournament and trying to do well in this tournament.

Did you sense the issues are close to resolution?
Yes, I think so… then at least the formal, legal side of things that has been ongoing for weeks will be behind us.

Will it be a relief when it is finished?
Absolutely. We always want to draw lines under situations such as that.

On a personal level, you didn't come into coaching to get into situations like this. Has there been any time when you have thought 'I can't be bothered with it anymore'?
Look, part of the job, part of reason why Hugh Morris [managing director of England cricket] employs me, is that you have to be able to deal with whatever situations come my way. You can't whinge about it. That is part of the job and you get on and do it.

It is unusual though, isn't it? Hasn't there been a time when you just think about walking away?
It is unprecedented. Look, it hasn't been a great couple of months but Hugh Morris is a good man and the board has been very supportive and clear in their thinking and I appreciate their support and their experience and their wisdom.

Do you think Kevin is a good man in many ways?
I think we all have good and bad in us, all of us.

Is the Test squad for India set in stone? Could it be tinkered with?
Let's get the legal stuff out of the way first.

Is it as simple as drawing a line?
It is not as simple as drawing a line. But if we can get the formal stuff out of the way we can move on with thinking about the day-to-day team stuff.

Will things ever be the same again do you think?
I always think that is dangerous to try to recapture what you have had in the past. Things are always in a state of flux and you move on and learn from the experiences you have had. You evolve. That is the healthiest way you go about it. We don't try to recapture the past. We try to move on and be stronger and better and wiser than before.

Has this affected your ability to do your job to coach the team in three formats during the time this has been going on?
I have been fully focused on my job as coach and part of my job as coach was to try to get some sort of resolution to that situation as well.

Having one of your best players on the outside of the group, with all the problems that entails, must be an awkward situation. Is that a situation you are keen to avoid in all games going forward?
I think we are quite used to having players either recently retired or just outside the group… some injured players are outside the group at any given time, sometimes commentating on the game and giving interviews.

Andrew Strauss used to say that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. What have you taken from this episode that will make you a better man manager in the future?
The tournament has just finished. I don't really want to get into that. Maybe when I have finished my career.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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