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ECB struggles to control Pietersen message

David Hopps

February 6, 2014

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Kevin Pietersen struck six fours and two sixes, England v Australia, 2nd NatWest ODI, Old Trafford, September 8, 2013
The absence of Kevin Pietersen from England's World Twenty20 squad was a topic that would not go away © Getty Images
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James Whitaker's attempt to justify the omission of Kevin Pietersen from the squad for England's tour of the West Indies and subsequent World Twenty20 in Bangladesh could not have been more carefully controlled: only the rights holders, Sky TV and BBC radio, were allowed anywhere near him and, with legal issues still swirling, the demarcation lines on what he could answer were clearly laid down.

For all that, Whitaker has had better days. With one unscientific poll on ESPNcricinfo suggesting around 80% of England cricket fans supported Pietersen - and about half of the rest wanted more answers - Whitaker, the new national selector, was probably on to a loser but he did nothing to swing sympathy towards the ECB's unforgiving stance.

"The ODI team and the England T20 team has played a number of matches over the past 12 months or so without Kevin and on occasions has performed very well so we would hope that is still going to be the case going forward," he said on Sky TV.

"Yes, while it's a surprise going into an ICC competition without one of our leading run-scorers, the players and the management group are well rehearsed in coping without him. So, yes, in a way a tricky decision, but in another way it gives an opportunity for players to play in that environment and excel in it."

At that point, he was temporarily put out of his misery when his mobile rang. "I thought I'd turned that off," he muttered, half apologetically, as he fielded a call from a figure who is thought to have been none other than the ECB's chief executive, David Collier. There have been many suggestions what Collier might have said, but "You're walking the argument, son" was not one of them.

As for the explanations the public has demanded, none were forthcoming: legal constraints being what they are, or what they are claimed to be. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to negotiate without acceptance of legal constraints, which would ensure the cricket-watching public got a fairer deal. Such a passing observation is doubtlessly legally naïve, which might be a jolly good thing.

But there were more references to England's need to rebuild their ethics and their culture. There were even vague suggestions that the ECB, or perhaps the new coach, or perhaps somebody in Whitaker's mind but as yet not as yet fully identified, is about to oversee a new code of conduct.

"What I can say," Whitaker said, "is that there's a group of players there looking forward to re-energising this team, going forward with different values, re-evaluating the culture of the team, and it will start in the West Indies, and I've every confidence that, in the players that we're take to the West Indies, that will happen.

"Any team has certain values, sometimes written down, sometimes they're just forms of communication, that good teams adhere to and good teams will carry forward with them, and England over the past four or five years has shown these good values. Over time they can precipitate [sic] a little bit.

"But now we believe is a time to rewrite those, and whoever's involved in the management group and the players will do that, they will continually communicate it. I believe it starts from smart work, from winning back the country's perception of what the cricket team is about, we want to see a pride back into the cricket, and I believe the players we select will show that to the country."

That begged the question. "Those values you believe haven't applied to Kevin?"

The question did not beg the answer. "Well sometimes performances go against us, you have to re-evaluate what is going on. No-one really is privy to what is going on within the intricacies of the team working, but we have to review various conversations with people and have to make decisions."

Asked if, in an ideal world, Pietersen would be a player Whitaker would want to select, he replied: "We would always review our options of players available to play for England."

Come again? If that was a hint that the door remains open for Pietersen, nobody was prepared to believe it.

"Players are resilient," Whitaker concluded. "They do get over issues. They can reboot, they can go back home, they can reassess and they can energise very quickly. Cricketers are used to doing that, it's a unique environment in that sense ... There's a great sense of optimism about the England team going forward."

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by   on (February 9, 2014, 16:53 GMT)

Let me get this straight. KP scored more runs for England in the Ashes debacle & he has been benched?? England management seems to have a death wish especially after going winless in the Ashes, One Days & 20/20s. This must be a record though of course 20/20s are a recent innovation. I suppose when they play to empty grounds in the UK like NZ in the just concluded Test Match with India they will get the message. Meanwhile KP will be free to play for big money in the IPL & Big Bash in Oz for a few years so not grieving very much. The challenge to any management is to get the best from your work force. The ECB has failed miserably & the beat goes on.

Posted by riprock on (February 8, 2014, 19:08 GMT)

The English board is goofing around with one of the most exciting players on the planet! KP's flamboyance may just make up for the controversies. Get him back, ECB..you'll miss out on something precious!

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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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