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February 6, 2014
Pietersen decision continues to divide opinion
Andy Flower blamed Kevin Pietersen for a players' revolt in Australia against his intense coaching style and, even before he accepted his own resignation was inevitable, became adamant that Pietersen must play no further part in the England side.
Flower's determination to rid the team of Pietersen, on the grounds that he posed a danger to team unity, was only partly justified by events and owed much to memories of how Pietersen had already brought down a previous England coach, Peter Moores, five years earlier.
The outcome was spectacularly similar. Back in 2009, Hugh Morris, managing director of England cricket, sacked Moores as coach and Pietersen was forced to stand down from the captaincy he had held for only a few months. On this occasion, Paul Downton, in his first week in the job as Morris' successor, forced a conclusion in which Flower - his views on Pietersen made abundantly clear - resigned as team director with his reputation unimpaired and Pietersen was discarded from the England set-up forever.
The ECB hierarchy has always suspected Pietersen as a potential agitator and will protect the authority of senior figures ahead of all other considerations.
Pietersen, not for the first time, spectacularly misread the players' mood after Alastair Cook and Matt Prior, England's captain and vice-captain, called a meeting, with the knowledge of the coaching staff, on the redundant final day of the Melbourne Test after England had gone 4-0 down in the series.
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As ESPNcricinfo reported at the time, concerns were growing that that Flower's coaching methods were too suffocating, and having a detrimental effect on performance. The meeting, as perceived by Cook and Prior, was a well-meaning attempt to redress the balance, and encourage players to take more responsibility for their own actions. The absence of England's swollen backroom staff was intended to give players a chance to speak freely about what they felt was a growing predicament.
Reports in the Telegraph suggest that Pietersen then "embarked upon an anti-Flower rant". The tone of his remarks shocked many players, who had no wish to overthrow Flower and many felt guilty about the meeting as a result.
It was not long before Flower heard about what had occurred - and it was not long before he summoned Pietersen to his hotel room in Sydney to accuse him of unacceptable behaviour and undermining his authority, and that of the captain, Cook, during a highly-fraught exchange.
Pietersen had been agitating about Flower's severe management style for some time and was known to be hopeful that Ashley Giles, the one-day coach, would encourage a more relaxed environment.
Memories of Pietersen's derisive text messages in 2012 to South African players about his captain at the time, Andrew Strauss, meant that his team ethic remained in permanent doubt and, in essence, he was on final warning.
Flower, hurt by events, also asked senior players about what had emerged in their confidential, clear-the-air meeting and about the extent of their dissatisfaction with his coaching style. At that point, the sound of sheepish backtracking could be heard from players who for all their misgivings retained deep respect for Flower's integrity, drive and concern for their welfare.
Any imaginings Pietersen had that he could stoke a wider rebellion were proved to be illusory. His lack of empathy with the general mood, which tends to be consumed by his own ego, has previously been suggested as a tragic character trait that has repeatedly cost him.
An unseemly spat on Twitter has now revealed the sense among some Pietersen's closest allies that he has been left as the fall guy for a situation he did not engineer.
The chief source of their bitterness is Prior, who they asserted had "stabbed Pietersen in the back", accusing him of withdrawing his criticism that Flower was behaving like a school head teacher when Flower pressed him directly on the subject.
Prior responded furiously on Twitter, needing a series of tweets to get his point across. "I am not the kind of person to divulge what is said in team meetings, but all I will say is that Flower, Cook and the rest of my team-mates know exactly what I said and the way in which it was meant," he wrote.
"There is no story here, just an attempt to knock someone who has only ever had the team's interests at heart and tried my best on and off the field to help the England cricket team. I can hold my head up high in that knowledge."
Tim Bresnan became the first England player to back up Prior's insistence that his comments had been measured and non-rebellious. "I was in that TEAM meeting and @MattPrior13 said nothing wrong," he tweeted. "And only ever has the TEAM'S best interests at heart. Undeserved criticism."
Pietersen, who ironically had never felt himself more welcome in the England environment, nevertheless was stunned at how events gathered such pace that his England career collapsed before him. He had become the victim of a very English revolution.
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