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September 28, 2013
Andrew Strauss has revealed for the first time how he feared his England team would be undermined by Kevin Pietersen's antipathy towards those running English cricket long before matters came to a head in a home series against South Africa in 2012.
The fallout from the ECB's refusal to sanction Pietersen's wish to retire from 50-over cricket, and also be free to play more IPL, was seen in a long-running furore centred upon a series of disenchanted text messages sent by Pietersen to South African players.
Strauss has now admitted that he suspected "treachery" as the affair so dominated the summer and ensured that what should have been a celebration of Strauss' 100th Test at Lord's instead became a frustrated climax to his career. He retired "tired and generally hacked off with life".
In his new autobiography, Driving Ambition, which is being serialised in the Daily Mail, Strauss tells of how he took Pietersen aside at a golf day ahead of the South Africa series to discuss his state of mind. "I had heard some troubling rumours he might be preparing to separate himself from English cricket after a further attempt to get the ECB to yield ground had failed," he writes.
"At a golf day a few days before the first Test, I took him to one side to ask what was going on. It was clear he was far from happy. I challenged him to think about his legacy and the goals he wanted to reach with the rest of his career. Unfortunately, we were interrupted and it is fair to say that I did not know at the time quite how close he was to the edge."
England suffered a heavy defeat in the opening Test and the Pietersen situation worsened in the week of the second Test at Headingley. "On the practice days, he seemed completely withdrawn, as though he was consciously distancing himself from the team, and on the first day of the game itself he seemed determined to let everyone in the ground know just how unhappy he was.
"As captain, I could not let it go and I called him into a back room to make it clear his behaviour was unacceptable. I was shocked by his lack of contrition and his apparent hostility towards me. It felt as though he was trying to goad me into a confrontation. It was almost as if he was trying to engineer an excuse to turn his back on the team."
Despite his issues, Pietersen played one of his finest Test innings at Headingley; 149 that helped England get a foothold in the series. But in his press conference that followed, he expressed his difficulties and suggested he was about to take some decisions that "would make me very happy".
"I was unsurprised to then hear Kevin had given a disturbing press conference following what was a thrilling drawn Test match. What greatly puzzled me, though, was his comment that, 'It's tough being me, playing for England', seemingly implying he was being treated badly by his team-mates in the dressing room. For me, he had crossed the line. He seemed to be at best destabilising and at worst undermining our carefully cultivated team environment."
Strauss describes the draining effect Pietersen's behaviour had on his captaincy. "I feel incredibly tired, as though I have simply run out of energy - I have nothing more to give," he said. "I am also wallowing in a rising tide of sadness. This is not the way I wanted my England career to end."
Pietersen was dropped for the final Test at Lord's but the issue marred Strauss's 100th Test. He retired following the defeat and admitted his "unbelievable frustration" at the manner in which his carer ended.
"This is the last time I will make this walk as an England cricketer, although I am far too frustrated, tired and generally hacked off with life for it to be a rousing emotional affair," he writes. "I find my space in the far corner of the room, near the television set, and sit down. I pack my helmet in my kitbag and then bury my head in my hands. For 10 minutes I sit, unable to move."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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