The elephant (or gorilla) in the room for this blog in the past few days has been the feverish chatter about the return of Kevin Pietersen. Is it on, or isn’t it? What do I think (as if I have a microbe of influence at all…)? Where do I think this might be going?
All, seriously. I have no idea. This is a game being played by loads of machiavellian characters, each with different wants and needs, each adept or inept in media management at any given time.
Let’s put it this way, because this is one line that annoys me. Who would Pietersen replace, out of Ballance, Bell, Root or Moeen? Well, with Moeen needed more for his spin, with his batting not convincing anyone at test level yet, you could have him as a number 7. It’s negative, but I have a feeling we’ll be needing runs this summer. Or, the answer is, he wouldn’t replace any of them if he wasn’t better than them. If he is better than any one of those, then he should play because England should be putting their best team out on the field. It’s how people are recalled to teams every series. If Prior is a better player than Buttler, then he should play. If Finn is bowling better than Anderson, he should play. We got in this mess because we decided, in our infinite wisdom, that personalities are more important than performance. So KP’s disappointing, but not disastrous last two Ashes series are highlighted, while Cook’s disasters in both are less important because he is captain. And because Root has milked some pedestrian attacks for runs, we have to ignore the performances, one or two knocks excepted, of his Ashes cricket. It’s bonkers.
This narrative has allowed to become received wisdom. The four middle order batsmen are set in stone, they are the future, they are the men in possession. That carries no weight in my opinion. None whatsoever. If you believe that KP is better than them now, then he plays. Let’s go back to the 2005 Ashes. Pietersen made his case, forthrightly, in his appearance on the scene. Let’s put it this way, KP made 75% of the one day centuries that Ian Bell has made in his career, in his first series. He smashed that innings at Bristol that still makes Sky Sports Classic. He came into the team because he was a better bet than Thorpey. They backed Bell, because he was the future, and stuck with him, even though it was Thorpe who should have played in hindsight. We picked on percevied merit then – Thorpe was not as good as Pietersen. Now we have the old player being Pietersen, and the younger players thrusting to get in. No-one is dropping Joe Root, Ian Bell to me is KP-lite, but I know not all agree with that, and just like we are all reminded of Cook’s 2011 as proof of his mightiness against Australia, so we’ll all be reminded of three (small) tons in the 2013 series. Ballance, I like, but better than KP? Really? Are you sure? On the evidence of three hundreds against, let’s be frank, popgun attacks. Popgun attacks, I might remind you, that Alastair Cook did not make 100 against, although we all now know 95s are better than tons.
Also, there’s this nonsense that Pietersen should have been dropped on form. Rubbish. Utter codswallop. This inconvenient fact that he made most runs by an English player on that tour, had a half decent preceding series is just wiped out. Stop it. Now. Don’t rewrite history to suit the circumstances. As for the ludicrous notion that he was “inconsistent” or “random”, or prone to low scores under 10, well….. Makes you wonder how you suffered the Atherton years against Australia and West Indies if you think like that.
KP was dropped because Andy Flower wanted him out, and the bosses, thinking they could talk down to the proles, went along with it. Because these people have to be convinced of how damn clever they are, they tried to finesse. KP may not have helped his position, and his book certainly didn’t, but with the absence of the smoking gun, this lot were always open to ridicule. There’s been so much spin over Moeen, Gary et al, and a 3-1 win over India that I thought the earth might go off its axis. Aided and abetted by a compliant press, enjoying every anti-KP statement with relish as if personal scores were being settled, the England firmament felt rather confident at the end of the test summer last year. Sri Lanka had been swept under the carpet, Cook had his three half-centuries, and KP look banished. Hip Hip hooray.
This blogger, in a previous life, kept mentioning the Cook captaincy elephant in the room (as did the commenters on here), kept reminding the media of the incompetence of Downton, were dreading Moores in charge of something important, and worrying about our conservatism in the treatment of people like Hales and, yes, once they tried him, Taylor. The edifice was crumbling during the ODI series v India, where we were handily beaten at home, and yet ignored the same team had been destroyed in New Zealand not nine months before. It was collapsing after the series in Sri Lanka. There I was cheerfully reminding myself of someone who said my rabid hatred of the ECB was clouding my judgement, especially on Downton. I should be crowing now, but I’m not. I’m sad it’s come to this.
KP has been a sideshow to me. Once departed with, I’m afraid that anything that happens now is going to be a freak show. KP needs to score runs for a county team, something that Matt Prior, for instance did not need to do last Summer, and he wasn’t even the incumbent. When he does, if they are for Surrey, we’ll have the old “second division runs” debate (batting coach Mark Ramprakash may be able to empathise with that), and every failure will be greeted with relish and glee. It’ll be tedious in the extreme. Then, if he makes a ton or two, the hype will go into over-drive, every injured England batsman will know the shadow will be following them, and any run of failure will be madness. Any others in the logjam will have no chance – James Vince for example – if KP is the county story. This isn’t KP’s fault – the ECB did this with their ludicrous nonsense last week.
John Etheridge is quoted in the comments as saying he has a 1% chance of playing. Why? He scores runs at county level, we all know he is international class, he should be in front of everyone, should he not? Stuff his age. Never bothered them in the past. So why is it only 1%? Tell us John, in words plain and simple to leave no doubt in our minds.
We think we know why. Because it makes Downton, Whitaker, Moores, Cook, Anderson, Broad, Newell, Prior, Swann, and most importantly Giles Clarke and Andy Flower look more stupid than the current situation paints them. That’s why this is a farce. We pick on personality, we pick on not looking stupid. Nothing else can explain the bloody-mindedness we saw in the World Cup selection, the hanging on to Cook as ODI captain, and yes, as test captain. We are held hostage by these people. This is our team, we ask you to pick the best players, that is all. It is you who make this more difficult than it really is.
Seriously, in my mind, it should be 0% or 100%. The first is he has no chance, and should be put out of his and our misery. We can then slag the decision makers off to our content, and although it will be enjoyable from time to time, we can walk away from the sport at any time in disgust at the conduct of all. It’s pure victimisation. If there’s a smoking gun, it would have been displayed all right. No doubt about it.
Otherwise, he should be in the team. Give him a couple of warm up games and in he goes. Hell, I said it. He’s better than them all on his day. We know it, they know it. That’s what scares them.
But what I also will say, and have said all along, it is not about KP this. It’s about the way the sport is run in this country. It’s about the media coverage and how KP has been treated. Yes, I know Pietersen is an exceptionally smooth operator with the media, and has played a blinder by and large. People recognise why he did that book like that, and it was high risk. But, as time has gone by, he’s not exactly been proved wrong, has he? On Moores, on Downton, on the clique, on the attitude, on Flower, on the ECB leaking etc. etc. He had a good, not great Big Bash, but what he has is that mentality that so few of our players seem to have. He wants it. He ain’t going to shy from it.
There’s also this nonsense about our team being too nice, as if they’ve heard the KP stuff and done the opposite. As if Moores is being too careful. I don’t know what the heck is going on. What seems to be clear is that the previous regime has scarred a number of people. It’s the school equivalent of getting rid of the sadistic old senior master who dished out corporal punishment at a stroke, and getting in a supply teacher! You can say a lot, but there’s always that old sadist in the background! Look what happened to the last one who kicked up a fuss…
Vian summed it up superbly BTL on the Telegraph. And you know I don’t want to blow smoke up his you know what…
I don’t care whether Pietersen plays for England again or not. I do care that he should be available to play for England again. Not because he should or shouldn’t, but because it moves away from this beyond stupid consideration of England being about having the right sort of family, or whether someone is disinterested in the eyes of one person, or whether they looked out of the window or whistled after dismissal, and focuses on people who can score bloody runs, take bloody wickets and catch the bloody ball.
I want England players to be able to tell the coach he’s wrong without being labelled difficult, to play their own game and take risks without being labelled irresponsible by those who then praise them when it comes off, who are individuals with their own personalities and not automatons terrified to speak up, who can focus on their own ability within the team without someone who’s never picked up a bat piping up that it’s a team game (it isn’t. Not really), and who above all else knows how to get the best out of themselves without someone holding their hand throughout the entire process.
We DO have talented cricketers. Let them be all they can be, and stop treating them like unruly children. And if you don’t like someone, seriously grow a pair. No one likes all their work colleagues, that’s life. Get over it.
And as for the coach, whoever it may be, the hardest thing is to know when to shut up and please God don’t look at the data to tell you what’s bleedin’ obvious.
And one last thing. Enjoy it. Cricket is fun. Make it look like it.
Give that man a blog.
We have just watched a World Cup campaign where our team looked like they were studying for exams, that they had their heads full of stuff, had plans upon plans upon plans, and it was all about executing plans. It was, and looked like, a job for them. Something to pay the bills and something to get through. They give no idea that this is enjoyable, that the getting there can be fun. We’ve all spent long afternoons on playing fields (those of us who played of course) watching the oppo rack up a massive score as nothing comes right, you drop catches, you misfield, you feel out of your depth, and then you go out and bat, and that ball pings off the middle of the bat and flies for four, or you have a great day and you bring your team close to victory, or win unlikely games, or you take that screamer of a catch, and you think this is why. This is why I play the game. Because as much as I hate the bad parts, I love the good parts more. I enjoy it. I love it. I am not being naive, but I don’t see that. I just don’t see that from our guys, and I have before.
As a nation we will always fear losing more than embrace winning. That’s why a South African born (yes I used it) perturbed us, I’ve been laughed at for this before but I’m sticking with it. KP looks like he loves batting. He loves being the man who wants to win the game. He wants it to happen. He isn’t your man to bat for a draw. He isn’t particularly a man for a crisis. He’s the man you want when the game is in the balance. And he wants that moment. Most of our’s give the impression that in that position they don’t want to fail more than they want to succeed. KP is different. It’s not about process and executing plans, it is playing the moment. We don’t embrace that sort of attitude in this country, we run away from it. I maintain if Virender Sehwag were English, he’d have been constrained to the odd T20 and ODI appearance.
This diversion, now, comes because we’ve been abject in the World Cup. The ECB cleared the decks (don’t forget though, the Aussies did not want the Ashes this winter because of the World Cup – it’s not just the ECB’s fault) for this and now need to be seen to do something. KP is a nice distraction. I said to Ali Martin on Twitter that my main motivation to see KP play for England again is because it would anger so many people and Pam Nash would need to give up everything she owns. That’s not why he should play for England. He should never have been dropped. Those people that were responsible have been left to play their way and they’ve given us our worst ever World Cup performance. They gambled. They lost. They pay the consequences. Let the dice fall wherever they might now, and let’s get back to a proper selection policy, not vindictive shenanigans.