February 9, 2014

Was Pietersen outspoken or insubordinate?

Did England sack him because he thought differently from his captain and coach or because he was a disruptive force in the dressing room?

Was Kevin Pietersen eventually sacked because he disagreed with aspects of Alastair Cook's captaincy? Any English player who wasn't exasperated by some of Cook's captaincy in Australia deserves to be demoted.

Is it better for England to cut Pietersen adrift and choose a player who is more compliant, or is it just easier? There's no doubt that working on a difficult relationship takes a lot of time and effort, but sometimes that's what good leadership entails. So was Pietersen unmanageable, or should questions be asked about the way modern cricket teams are run?

What I do know is that when selecting a cricket team, it's performing not conforming that counts. A selector only has to ask himself if a player can get him a hundred or take five wickets.

There's no doubt Pietersen is still capable of scoring Test centuries, so he must have been sacked for reasons other than cricket ability. That's another thing about selection: likes and dislikes shouldn't enter the discussion. A player should be chosen on merit and then it's up to the captain to sort out any personality clashes and ensure there's a degree of harmony in the team. That doesn't mean everyone has to be in agreement with the captain; a bunch of yes men won't help a team win.

Players who question the way things are done actually help the captain. Firstly, the skipper can learn from the way others think, and secondly, the argumentative players off the field are usually the last ones to concede defeat on it. While cricket is a team game, it's played by individuals. A captain can't expect a player to be an individual expressing his talent on the field and then demand that off it he be subservient. Occasionally a captain has to live with the consequences of individuality, whether it be on the field or off it.

That said, a captain can only put up with so much and if individuality turns into insubordination then he has to act. A captain should do all in his power to inform the individual he's wanted in the team but the player has to be prepared to compromise. If, after exhausting all avenues, a player won't compromise and is a disruptive force, then it's time to cut him loose, even if he can score a century or take five wickets.

Had it reached that point with Pietersen?

There's a theory that Pietersen vented his feelings about the operating style of coach Andy Flower. If so, it wouldn't be the first time Pietersen had expressed a strong opinion about a coach. He was sacked as captain for speaking out against Peter Moores when he had the England job.

Doesn't Pietersen speaking out show he cares?

The priority should be appointing the right captain. Then you worry about choosing the coach. If Pietersen was considered the best man to captain England, surely he deserved the right to have a say in who was coach?

Nowadays players are outnumbered by the support staff, who all have a say in team affairs. In matters affecting team spirit, it's best if the captain alone deals directly with the players. The more personalities that become involved, the greater the chance of likes and dislikes playing a part in the selection process.

The captain - if he knows what's good for him - has a vested interest in having the best players in the team, as all the wins and losses go against his name.

The England hierarchy makes a big thing of "team culture". Selectors can pick players of good character but team "culture" can't be manufactured, it has to evolve through strong leadership and natural friendships. Character only comes into selection when two players are even in ability. Otherwise, picking the best player is the wisest choice.

Cook took such a battering from Michael Clarke and his team, I believe that if he's opposed by the same captain in 2015 he'll be too mentally scarred to regain the Ashes. And England certainly won't beat Australia if they don't pick their strongest team.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator for Channel 9, and a columnist

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