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December 24, 2013
Dobell: England enter rebuilding phase
It was lost amid the din but, in 2012, with his career hanging by a thread, Kevin Pietersen made a point that has largely been vindicated.
Scrape away at the surface of the "text-gate" debacle and the "it's not easy being me" press conference and Pietersen had one prescient opinion: he was tired and needed a break. He felt he needed to cut down on his playing commitments.
Now, as the best England team for many years disintegrates, their minds and bodies prematurely aged by the erosive nature of the treadmill on which they live, it has become increasingly obvious that too much is asked of too few. Pietersen may have expressed himself clumsily but he had a point.
Certainly, there was a desultory air to England's training session at the MCG on Christmas Eve. While the bowlers, Ben Stokes in particular, were permitted to bowl no-ball after no-ball without intervention, Alastair Cook continued to cut a painfully out of form figure with the bat. Even Joe Root is beginning to look careworn.
Meanwhile the bowlers warmed up for the challenge of batting against Mitchell Johnson and co. by facing the part-time spin of Joe Root and Gary Ballance. It was like preparing to wrestle a tiger by playing with a kitten.
All of which led to the observation: if Graeme Swann or Jonathan Trott had been used a little more sparingly, might they still be fit and firing as part of this Ashes squad?
At least Pietersen has confirmed that he has no intention of following Swann into retirement in the near future. Pietersen, one of only five England players to have scored over 8,000 Test runs, insisted he was "as good as gold" in terms of his enthusiasm and commitment to international cricket and reiterated his desire to continue.
While he admitted he had, to date, endured a disappointing Ashes series, he claimed he was batting "as well as ever" and insisted he would continue to bat in the positive manner which has characterised his career.
So far in this series, Pietersen has registered just one half-century and has been accused of recklessness after playing shots that contributed to his dismissal in five of his six innings. Twice he has been caught attempting to hook or pull, twice he has been caught attempting to flick through midwicket and once he has been caught at long-on trying to clear the fielder positioned for the shot. Former England opener Geoffrey Boycott labelled him "a mug" in his column in the Daily Telegraph and called for his omission from the side.
'Deep down we are hurt' - Pietersen
"I'm 33 years of age," Pietersen said. "I'm batting as well as I've ever batted. I'll retire when I can't get up to play for England. I'm as good as gold at the moment.
"I felt like a clown in Adelaide - when I hit that ball to midwicket off Peter Siddle - I just didn't feel good at the crease at all. Some days you have them. Every other time I've batted on this trip, I've felt really, really good. I've got myself in every time I've batted and a couple of times I've got out, and a couple of other times fortune didn't favour the brave.
"It's just a case of making sure I keep doing what I do because it's proved successful. If the situation dictates a certain way that I play, I've proved over the last however many years that I'll play to the situation of the game. I haven't got 100. Who knows? I might get one on Thursday and we might be sitting here, all nice and happy.
"I have the greatest admiration for Geoffrey Boycott, what he achieved for England, but I think the way Geoffrey played and the way I play are totally different. I said after the first or second Test, that you have good days, you take all the plaudits, you have bad ones, you take all the criticism, and I've had a couple of bad days. I'm so cool with it."
While the England camp will be relieved to hear of Pietersen's commitment, they may be less than overwhelmed by the manner he dealt with questions about Swann.
Offered the opportunity to douse suggestions that Swann's "heads up their own backsides" comment was aimed at him, Pietersen instead fanned the flames. Instead of saying 'Swann made it clear those words were not aimed at anyone in the England dressing room' - a reply he could and should have given - Pietersen instead replied: "There's a lot worse things I've been called."
"You should come and field with me on Thursday or Friday and see what I get called on the boundary," Pietersen said. "Yesterday was a family day and I'm not giving any energy to what happened. The only energy I've got on this tour left in me is for Melbourne on the 26th, training today, training tomorrow, and Sydney."
It is no secret that Swann and Pietersen are unlikely to spend their retirements embarking on bivouacking trips together. It is usually suggested that they are two vastly different characters with little common ground, though it may be that, in reality, they actually were rather too alike to enjoy such close proximity.
It need not matter. It is a fallacy to presume that all the individuals within a team need to forge close relationships off the pitch. The fact is that Swann and Pietersen found a way to work together constructively for the benefit of their team. Any post-career sparring they engage in is likely to be of little benefit to either of them.
There was better news of Stuart Broad. He bowled nicely and came through a fielding session unscathed to increase his chances of playing on Thursday, while Ian Bell took Swann's position at second slip in the catching sessions. Quite who will field at short-leg remains unclear.
Such issues are relative details among the problems England have to face. The most pressing is how they are to score enough runs to put Australia under pressure. It is now 23 innings and nearly 10 months since England reached 400.
"We've been hurt," Pietersen said. "We've been hurt big time here. Deep down, we are hurting as international sportsmen, as proud sportsmen and sportsmen who have achieved a hell of a lot over the last four or five years.
"I do think this team acknowledges we need to play a lot better this week. We owe it to ourselves and to a lot of people who've paid a lot of money to come and watch us.
"We've proved we're world-class players. You don't play three Test matches and become horrendous cricketers; you don't turn up on an Australian tour and lose whatever we lost - 5-0 in 2006/07 - and never have a good day in your career again.
"I wake up every single day trying to improve. There's a bunch of blokes in that dressing room trying to make ourselves better people and better players every single day. The pride is there; the passion is there.
"When you lose, there's a lot of people taking pot shots at a dressing room. I've been in unsuccessful English dressing rooms, all around the world. I've also been in really good ones, and the way these guys are taking it now is really well."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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