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Discussions have been had and apologies made but the ECB are still not ready to welcome one the world's best batsmen back into the international fold
September 18, 2012
The ECB's treatment of Kevin Pietersen is as unforgiving as it is self-defeating. This issue could have been resolved by now. Apologies have been made. Pietersen has declared himself available for all formats. The ECB have what they wanted. They have won.
Yet, instead of welcoming back the prodigal son, the ECB management have chosen to be unforgiving. They have chosen to let their anger fester. They have failed to select purely on merit and have instead chosen to leave their best player out of the Test squad to tour India. They have, due to their inflexibility, squandered the talents of one of the finest batsmen England have possessed. The squad's chances of success are poorer for their intransigence.
Let us be clear: Pietersen was the instigator of this saga. He isolated himself from the team. He sent some foolish, rude messages. He was demanding, proud and awkward about his future commitments and, when he comes to reflect on his career, the disrespectful way he treated the blameless Andrew Strauss may be his greatest regret. In messing with Andy Flower, he pulled the tail of a tiger. The resulting bites are, largely, Pietersen's own fault.
But let us also retain some perspective. Pietersen's misdemeanours are, in the grand scheme of things, pretty minor. Players have been reintegrated into national sides after far more serious indiscretions. Shane Warne, for example, returned to the Australia side after serving time for a drug test failure, Mark Vermeulen returned to the Zimbabwe side after a colourful disciplinary past and Herschelle Gibbs returned to the South Africa side despite being tainted by the Hansie Cronje debacle. The ECB has, for years, been staffed by men such as Mike Gatting, Graham Gooch, Dennis Amiss, David Graveney and Bruce French who turned their back on international cricket to take the money on offer from rebel tours to South Africa during the apartheid years. If they can be forgiven, surely Pietersen can, too?
Pietersen, it should be remembered, had his own gripes. But while he has decided to let his concerns over comments in his team-mates' books and the identity of those he feels are behind the parody Twitter account go, it seems he is not to be extended the same leeway.
He has been punished, too. Left out of the team for the final Test against South Africa - a decision that might have compromised England's attempt to retain their No.1 Test status - he was then left out of the limited-overs squads against the same opposition and the World T20 squad. Again, such a decision has damaged England's chances of retaining the trophy. At some stage, the question will have to be asked: is the unrelenting anger of the ECB actually damaging the team more than anything Pietersen ever did?
|At some stage, the question will have to be asked: is the unrelenting anger of the ECB actually damaging the team more than anything Pietersen ever did?|
The intentions of the team management are, no doubt, admirable. Yet in trying to create a dressing room dynamic conducive to success, they are in danger of allowing cliques and cosiness to prevail. Team-mates need not be friends. They just need to be professional.
There is still some hope of a relatively imminent return for Pietersen. The likely departure of Ian Bell on paternity leave mid-way through the India tour provides the possibility that a player will be called-up as a replacement. While it is likely to be a member of the Performance Programme, it could - should, even - be Pietersen.
There is another sad omission. Ravi Bopara who, a couple of months ago seemed he might be on the brink of fulfilling his talent, now appears to be on the brink of international exile. The personal problems that forced his withdrawal from the squad for the second Test at Headingley are in danger of curtailing his international career. While the door will not be shut on him, Bopara has allowed several younger men the opportunity to stake a claim to his position. Sooner or later, one of them will take the chance.
It is a shame that the Pietersen issue has snatched the limelight from Joe Root and Nick Compton. Both have earned selection in a Test squad for the first time and could be on the brink of exciting England careers.
Compton, aged 29 and averaging a fraction under 100 this season, looks to be the finished article, whereas Root is a talented young man but something of a work in progress. There are worrying echoes of the bad old days of England selections in the decision to dispense with 22-year-old James Taylor after just three innings and call-up a 21-year-old instead. Where is the continuity of selection in that decision?
While Root may play the sweeter strokes, Compton has a wonderful attribute for a Test batsman: he is hard to dismiss. Indeed, such is his defensive strength and temperament, he might be considered an ideal replacement for Jonathan Trott at No.3 if Trott is promoted to open the innings. And as England look to replace two men - Strauss and Pietersen - who scored the little matter of 42 Test centuries between them - some solidity might prove no bad thing.
Compton's selection can also act as an incentive to all county players. Compton was way back in the England pecking order at the start of the 2012 season but, simply by weight of runs in a summer in which most batsmen struggled, he has earned himself this opportunity. Seamer Chris Wright, who 14 months ago was released by Division Two Essex, has a similar tale to tell having won selection in the Performance Programme after an excellent summer in county cricket.
By such a gauge, Eoin Morgan might consider himself fortunate. Dropped from the Test team after a grim tour of the UAE, he was sent back to the county game to prove himself. He has not managed to do that - he averaged just 18 in the Championship this year - but, having shown some technical improvements in the limited-overs game, he owes his selection largely to the belief that he possesses the temperament to flourish at the top level.
That is fair enough. It is the sort of gamble that selectors are paid to take. But the decision of the England management not to allow the selectors to even consider Pietersen is less meritocratic. Instead it speaks of revenge or rigidity. The ECB have their man on the floor and conceding. It is time to let him up.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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