England's Pietersen dilemma

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

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

David Hopps in Pallekele

October 2, 2012

Comments: 23 | Text size: A | A

Andy Flower speaks to the media, Kandy, October 2, 2012
Andy Flower gave a rare press conference before England departed Sri Lanka © Getty Images
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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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Posted by bumsonseats on (October 4, 2012, 18:08 GMT)

chris silva i think if you check englands selection policy has been very good with little changes over the last 2 years. and as we were in the top 2/3 in all formats flowers and the selection committee have stood by all players. be it that KP is a tit what else could he have done, other than back the squad

Posted by Maccanui on (October 4, 2012, 11:59 GMT)

Chris Silva, that's some serious food for thought all right. Especially the pruning the rose bush business. And I look forward to seeing this Chris Broad chap in action.

Posted by   on (October 4, 2012, 11:27 GMT)

Why on earth are they making out as if KP is a criminal. He is an excellent batsman but a very arrogant, awkward person from what we have heard. Chris Broad is no role model either. How he got captaincy T20 beats me. He is no way ready to do that. England management do keep making a lot of blunders with selections etc. Perhaps a change in England Management is long overdue. When you prune a rose bush you do not cut off the roots but the top!!!! Food for thought.

Posted by   on (October 4, 2012, 8:24 GMT)

I broadly agree, in so much as flower needs to take responsibility for recent performances including the t20 world cup (notwithstanding the test series against SA being of greater importance), but please! A bit of balance! KP is a great player, but essentially a poor mans Matty Hayden. Sympathy which he receives from Indian fans is on the basis of him playing IPL, this is not the same as loyalty. Flower has done an excellent job, the series win in aus (although the worst aus team in 25 years) was still the pinnacle

Posted by   on (October 4, 2012, 7:10 GMT)

Now all of a sudden Flower is the culprit.When he put KP in his box at the beginning of his tenure and England won the ashes Flower was a hero.Now for the first time in a long time England are not doing so well for a couple of months and Flower is a villain.This is dammned if you do, dammned if you dont ,unless retain the world no 1 ranking in at least 2 of 3 forms.

Give him credit for supporting his captain and board,and KP a few black marks for opening the divisions.Give him credit for not creating a press war.I am sure he is too big to say a lot of things. It was not too long ago KP could barely get a job for his county when England didnt need him either.Great as he is KP has limitations.,and needs to sort them out like any technique flaw would need sorting

Posted by __PK on (October 3, 2012, 22:01 GMT)

The tournament hasn't finished yet. It's just over for England. And Pietersen is one man - drop him, or pick him, but stop making excuses.

Posted by Zahidsaltin on (October 3, 2012, 18:41 GMT)

History won't remember Swan, Broad or Andy, but KP will always fair as one of the greats. Small personalities could not take KP with a million dollar price tag in IPL.

Posted by RandyOZ on (October 3, 2012, 17:48 GMT)

England are just terrible at all forms of the game. Their policy of continually poaching from South Africa has backfired now that the so-called 'new wave' (Kieswetter, Meaker, Dernbach) have been proven to be failures. The cupboard is well and truly bare, and I can see it in person living in England as I am now.

Posted by xylo on (October 3, 2012, 14:11 GMT)

Is it just me or does anybody else think that this KP thing came up all of a sudden in an attempt to deflect focus on the sorry performance in the T20 World Cup?

Posted by Flat_Track_bullies on (October 3, 2012, 14:05 GMT)

FLOWER should go, simple! He divides team - guys like Samit patel would remain on the fringes if he stayed.

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David Hopps David Hopps joined ESPNcricinfo as UK editor early in 2012. For the previous 20 years he was a senior cricket writer for the Guardian and covered England extensively during that time in all Test-playing nations. He also covered four Olympic Games and has written several cricket books, including collections of cricket quotations. He has been an avid amateur cricketer since he was 12, and so knows the pain of repeated failure only too well. The pile of untouched novels he plans to read, but rarely gets around to, is now almost touching the ceiling. He divides his time between the ESPNcricinfo office in Hammersmith and his beloved Yorkshire.
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