England's Pietersen dilemma

Being tough on KP

The power struggle between the ECB and Kevin Pietersen about the value systems of English cricket will only have been justified if it results in a happy ending

David Hopps in Colombo

October 3, 2012

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Kevin Pietersen and Giles Clarke at their press conference, Colombo, October 3, 2012
Giles Clarke and Kevin Pietersen declined to dig up the past during their press conference © Getty Images
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Those in charge of England cricket are convinced that Kevin Pietersen has been taught a lesson he will never forget as he returns to the England fold. In the words of the ECB chairman, Giles Clarke, he has one final chance to earn the forgiveness that is the very fabric of a civilised world.

As Clarke delivered his statement in a Colombo hotel with all the gravitas he could muster, he made it sound as if Pietersen had just been released from a lengthy prison sentence. Condign punishment had been exacted and it was now time to try to reintegrate him into "our society". It was an interesting choice of words. This power struggle, at its core, has been about the value systems of English cricket.

But what exactly did Pietersen do to incur England's wrath? On the grounds of confidentiality, that must remain unspoken. "We aren't here for archaeology," Clarke pronounced after it was asked of both men, perfectly properly, how Pietersen had got into this mess in the first place.

Archaeology was an appropriate image for the last few months, in which both Pietersen's career and England's World Twenty20 challenge have been in ruins.

At least England, and Pietersen, are digging themselves into a hole no longer. We have a framework in which we are told that both sides can move forward, a framework that Andy Flower, the team director, and the ECB board unanimously support. No one should doubt that Flower retains control and Pietersen is on probation.

It is Flower who is now in charge of the integration process, Flower who is in charge of suppressing the bad and seeking out the good. In this uneasy truce, England's team director has not lost one iota of his power - as Clarke made clear when he insisted as vehemently as he could muster that Flower will remain in his position until at least the end of the 2015 World Cup.

There is no good reason with goodwill on all sides why Pietersen should not be added to the England Test party to tour India. But the stand-off has stretched over nearly two months and, in that time, great damage has been done. England have lacked their most destructive batsman and arguably they failed to qualify for the World Twenty20 semi-finals as a result.

In a previous era, as Pietersen's relationship with the England dressing room became strained, there would probably have been a bit of a barney at the back of the Headingley pavilion. The following day, life would have resumed as something approaching normality and any black eye suffered by one of the protagonists would have been explained away as a ball that had reared up in the nets. It might not have achieved much, and it would certainly have not been very PC, but it would have been over quickly.

Nowadays, to move on - in a mutually constructive process naturally - it takes emotional apologies on YouTube, the mass interviewing of interested parties, involvement of agents, the to-ing and fro-ing of lawyers, emergency board meetings, reports, preliminary and final, "reintegration" processes stretching to several pages and who knows what else.

But what exactly did Pietersen do? If it has been accepted by both sides that he did not send derogatory text messages about Andrew Strauss to the South Africans, or reveal tactical secrets, what exactly did he do?

Archaeologists a few thousand years hence may study Pietersen's skull and have the power to conclude that in the summer of 2012 his ego had expanded like few cricketing egos ever seen before. The inescapable conclusion is that Pietersen had become so arsey that people - and we can assume that Flower and several influential senior players were prominent among them - had simply had enough.

 
 
"Archaeologists a few thousand years hence may study Pietersen's skull and have the power to conclude that in the summer of 2012 his ego had expanded like few before"
 

Great players - or, in Pietersen's case, players occasionally touched by greatness - can be difficult. They can also be inspirational. They dance to a different tune. "What should we do about Kevin?" has been a refrain throughout his career. The extraordinary self-confidence that can make him so gloriously successful on the field can occasionally make him taxing off it. That much has always been known.

In the summer of 2012, when he could not play the whole of the IPL or pick-and-mix his England games (a quite ludicrous belief that he could behave like an international tennis player), and was refused licence to reduce his involvement in England's highly disciplined training regime, things began to grate.

There are places on the England domestic circuit that he at times finds, shall we say, a little too provincial for his tastes, especially when the weather is churlish, the excitement is lacking and there seems no end to England's programme of one-day internationals.

The feeling took hold - and took hold among strong-minded men not given to fantasy - that the prime reason Pietersen was playing for England was that he needed to maximise his commercial appeal. He was the one South Africa-born player in England's side who had not persuaded his colleagues that he had true pride in the shirt. There was too much obsession with money.

"It's tough being me playing for England," he famously complained in a media conference after the Headingley Test against South Africa, in which he made a brilliant century. Strauss, his captain at the time, could not believe what he was hearing. "It's even tougher being us," was the private rejoinder of some of his team-mates.

Flower, who had seen the last England coach, Peter Moores, lose his job after Pietersen, as captain, encouraged and then led a rebellion, must have sensed familiar danger signs. What was it Flower had said in Kandy barely 24 hours earlier when asked if Pietersen was a good man? "I think we all have good and bad in us, all of us."

The England hierarchy is convinced that their uncompromising stance has left Pietersen shaken, that their assertion that the team ethic is more important than any glorious individual achievement has been sounded loudly. Pietersen now has the chance, once and for all, to harness his talents to the demands of the team. That it is his last chance could not be more certain.

He is also available for England for all forms of the game, his ambitions to play the whole of IPL abandoned, and if he vacillates again over where his priorities lie, his new contract will give him little room for manoeuvre. The ECB will congratulate itself that it has quelled a rebellion. But resisting the IPL in the medium term is unsustainable and they know it. If there is no accommodation with India, other stand-offs will follow.

In their desire to remind Pietersen of collective values, England's ambitions are to be lauded. Cricket has always required a delicate balance of individual achievement within a team setting, part of the reason it remains so engrossing.

It is just the delay that is so hard to stomach. England, for sure, had some important cricket on their mind when Pietersen intimated at Headingley that the world was against him and Strauss' resignation as England's Test captain did not make closure any easier - but a bit of multi-tasking would not have gone amiss.

The only conclusion is that England wanted to make Pietersen sweat and they probably secretly wanted to see how the team would do without him. Now they know. Pietersen is back, who knows for how long. Only if history relates that everybody lived happily ever after will this stand-off, a rather overblown stand-off when all is said and done, prove justified.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by JG2704 on (October 5, 2012, 19:23 GMT)

@Hira1 - CTD Personally,I probably will place alot of the blame at Flower's door if/when we lose in India , just like I did when we lost in UAE ,drew in SL lost vs SA , and our poor T20WC but this is nothing to do with KP who played in most of those matches but due to formations for the test series and various tactical and selections for the T20 WC. I also don't think the majority of English fans would blame Flower if KP is not there in India and I don't think we'll do well there with or without KP. Many on here predict a 4-0 whitewash.Sorry but no player transforms a 4-0 WW into a positive score.I honestly don't believe it's a form reason why KP is returning.I believe it is totally a legal reason something like ECB don't have the text evidence but we all know that those texts were derogatory otherwise KP would have come clean straight away. The whole episode stinks.Please publish this time , nothing of offence or untrue and is a direct response to a poster/post

Posted by JG2704 on (October 5, 2012, 13:27 GMT)

@Hira1 on (October 04 2012, 13:53 PM GMT) re not bending rules to accommodate him . I'm talking about the rule re ODI/T20 contracts not being separate , which led to KP himself retiring from ODIs/T20s. England made plans to play the T20WC without KP from then onwards. I'd like to have seen KP in the WC but I fully back Flower's decision and I believe he'd have carried out that decision regardless of the texts debacle. The whole thing has reached this stage because of KPs ego IMO. Wasn't Flower who tried to have the contracts bent to suit him was it? Wasn't Flower who sent the texts was it? BTW Please give me an example of where KP has been treated any worse by Flower than other England players under similar circumstances? I noticed you evaded this again. Please publish this time , nothing of offence or untrue and is a direct response to the poster

Posted by   on (October 5, 2012, 10:22 GMT)

But really, just what has KP done to merit his out or proportion punishment?? The second-rate cricket of the 20/20 team without him was egg-on -the face to the ECB. Players who can turn a match in a few overs, as Pietersen so massively can, do much more than their just make runs, they bring despair to their opponents in a way that strengthens the resolve and confidence of the whole team.

Posted by JB77 on (October 5, 2012, 1:42 GMT)

@ Milhouse79 - if by 'gutted' you mean 'rolling around the floor with laughter' then, yes, we Aussies are gutted. It's been a long time since KP was a cricketing force to be feared - a fact that makes England's desperation to have him back all the funnier.

Posted by all-in-1 on (October 4, 2012, 23:29 GMT)

Considering the last T20 against India, it was obvious that they where out played by the spin bowlers, they reached that score it was only because the tail enders scored few extra runs. It shows they need players who can stand up to spin and they have a player who can which is Pietersen, i agree he is not the best but he is the best that England have at the moment. it is a shame that they left him out of the T20 world cup. with him the result would have been much better. It doesn't take a genius to realise you need players who can play spin in the Asian pitches.

Posted by   on (October 4, 2012, 19:35 GMT)

@kaidranzer: I'm aware that you meant the England team - my point is he is not as good against spin as people on this site make out and that his recent record is no better than anyone else in the England team. His record against slow left arm bowlers is poor and has been for sometime. I'm not asking that he plays "miraculous" innings all the time, just a few more decent knocks - especially in the 1st innings - more consistently than he has recently. He's played for England for 7 years now and the matchwinning knocks he's made are actually quite rare considering the number of innings he's played. Chasing 140 odd in the second innings of the 2nd Test against Pakistan last winter cried out for a matchwinning contribution from him - to take the game by the scruff of the neck, but alas no.

Posted by   on (October 4, 2012, 19:27 GMT)

A pox on both their houses? Many mazeltovs Hoppsy - a sticky wicket navigated with Hutton-like mastery.

Posted by Hira1 on (October 4, 2012, 19:21 GMT)

@Charlie101 no one knows the exact content of the text and when there is no proof of it then how ECB can win a legal battle against KP any ways I think KP is a great player and an asset to English cricket. as a fan I am not bothered about whether he is a good human or not but when he is on the field he is only playing for his team and you did admit that without him your team has gone so weak so sooner or later he has to be included in the squad the sooner the better

Posted by Jaffa79 on (October 4, 2012, 19:08 GMT)

The Aussies have to be gutted. After their recent embarrassing pummelings at the hands of the old enemy, they desperately needed England to be without KP for the Ashes to be even vaguely competitive. Hang on, England won in 2009 with KP only playing a minor part and he didn't play during the summer ODI cakewalk. KP needs to play in India but I don't think we'll need him in the summer...

Posted by   on (October 4, 2012, 16:44 GMT)

One of the villain of the piece escaped unscathed, still 'flowering' in the bushes in the backyard! George Orwell, where are you? You were right on the penny when you wrote in your classic 'Animal Farm', ..."all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others"

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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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