England in India 2012-13 September 18, 2012

Pietersen stance continues to damage England

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

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 ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on September 21, 2012, 11:26 GMT

    @SachinIsTheGreatest on (September 20 2012, 06:57 AM GMT) - You're saying about allowing cliques to prevail. OK so say (and I'm not saying this is my view) Swann,Jimmy and Broad were guilty of making it very uncomfortable for KP , the straw which broke the camel's back so to speak was the texts issue which while no one knows what was said seem to be about Strauss who is not even part of the so called clique so whatever you think of cliques etc what KP did was unrelated. If he has been singled out for unjust treatment then please tell me which England team member has sent derogatory texts to opposition players and been let off? There is nothing but suppositions that any other player would be treated differently had he done the same. Who knows about Flower but to my mind he has kept fairly quiet and has had no fallings out with any other player.KP has (rightly or wrongly) a rep for being at best difficult. Please publish this time - nothing offensive

  • Simon on September 20, 2012, 21:40 GMT

    Good article George. KP has been the instigator, the ECB have tried on numerous occasions to forgive and forget, but each time KP finds a new way to annoy everyone. However, the ECB must remember it must not be proud or arrogant, and do what is in the best interest of cricket. If that means have a volatile character in their team then so be it. On the other hand though, if N. Compton does well, and I sincerely hope he does, then maybe there will be no need to bring KP back.

  • Martin on September 20, 2012, 15:59 GMT

    Why do England continue to successfully implode as soon as they get somewhere? Is it part of our mentality? Following 2005 we lost Ashes 5-0 in Australia after half the team became injured or lost form, now 6 years on after getting to no 1 in the rankings the half the batting line up will be in their first few tests or unproven at that level, such as Morgan. Also the bowling attack which a year ago was one of the best in the world, certainly if you factor in the back up options now looks insipid or at best inconsistent. What set the Australians and West Indians apart a few years ago was that their dynasties lasted for long periods and only disappeared when several players retired together. Even South Africa have been there or there abouts over a long period with different players being replaced successfully even if they have not acquired much dominance. At least it looks like we may be in the rebuilding phase again soon. Winning is boring!l

  • Robert on September 20, 2012, 10:28 GMT

    This isn't really about the text messages and the IPL; Pietrsen has ALWAYS been demanding, proud and awkward; there's no comparison with the Warne affair, the rebel tourists or any of the other examples cited. The Flower administration has made England into a committed and successful side simply because they have made it a genuine team. Unfortunately, Pietersen will only ever play for one team - K.P.'s XI - and the bad feeling he has clearly generated in the dressing-room over many years means that he will never truly fit into the set-up. Top-class batsman though he can be (when it suits his own purposes - 'I want to play Tests for England because it gives me opportunities to play for Delhi') his removal can only be a benefit to England in the long run - and if we lose a few games til a new team gels, it aint the end of the world.

  • John on September 20, 2012, 7:49 GMT

    As for the touring party, I don't really see Root as a replacement for Taylor so I don't see that as a return to the bad old days. Root is obviously pegged as an opener to replace Strauss, either now or in the future, so his selection would be unrelated to Taylor being dropped. It's more the case that they've included Morgan at Taylor's expense, presumably in part because they feel he can replace at least a bit of the international experience lost with Strauss and KP. I'm not sure I agree with that decision but I guess if they went with all freshers and England lost badly then there'd be a lot of criticism. Not from me though. I see this a s a bit of a rebuilding phase and if we lose a few then so be it.

  • Steve on September 20, 2012, 7:49 GMT

    @Yorkshirepudding,Ashes61 and all the others that hide behind the numbers.... Remember "there are lies, damned lies and then there are statistics". Use your common sense guys and if you have ANY cricketing savvy ...... apply that! COME ON ENGLAND!!!

  • John on September 20, 2012, 7:45 GMT

    According to the ECB, there are some residual issues to address before KP can return to the fold. Does the author or anyone else know exactly what those issues are? If not then I don't really see how it can really be said that they should just relent and put him back in the team. It's possible that those issues could have been resolved by now if KP had stayed in England instead of agreeing to commentate for Sky on the WT20, which decision I see as yet another poor one by KP regardless of his selection status. Let's not forget also that this is not KP's first transgression. He has a history of falling out with his cricketing associations and I would not be surprised if the whole Moores affair has not been completely forgotten. The ECB may just want to try to ensure that this is the last time KP is the eye of a storm in English cricket. I'm not anti and I want and expect him back in the team. I'm just not ready to condemn the ECB for not making it happen immediately.

  • Dummy4 on September 20, 2012, 7:45 GMT

    George says: "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."

    He then goes on to mention Warne, Vermeulen and Herschelle Gibbs. The first of these was banned for drug offences (where there was a mandatory suspension), the second was banned for violence and later for arson, the third was associated with corruption and returned after a 6 month ban.

    Nobody is suggesting that Pietersen offended against the law, or regulations having the force of law. Purgation of the offences is not, therefore, a clear-cut matter of serving a sentence. Rather, he has done a number of things (also listed in George's article) that destabilised the team. Within the confines of profesisional team sport, that is probably harder to deal with than someone who burns down the pavilion. "Apologising" by press release probably doesn't do it.

  • Satish on September 20, 2012, 6:57 GMT

    Brilliantly written. The one very pertinent point George Dobell has noted that no one seems to have picked on is "allowing cliques and cosiness to prevail." The fact remains that by far the most powerful man in English cricket is Andy Flower and he has shown a total lack of flexibility and an absolute disinclination to work with someone he does not like. It will be interesting to see how much more implosion England will suffer before Flower is shown the door.

  • Jason on September 20, 2012, 2:41 GMT

    @Rob Steen, I may hail from yorkshire, but live amongst the unwashed southern softies. If you look at club level most Rugby union(and league) stadiums run at an average of 70% capacity for every game through a season, county cricket is maybe 5%, even domestic T20 only runs at between 50-60% capacity, Rugby also gets larger viewing figures on sky than an international test. Tennis is debatable, hence the 3rd/4th tag, for cricket, although Athletics may replace it.

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