What else could I call this post? While my good friend and colleague on here, Vian, aka thelegglance, held the fort so spectacularly this morning, I sat in my room, here in New Jersey, at 6 in the morning wondering what the hell was going on. I couldn’t shout or swear at the screen because didn’t want to wake the beloved or mother-in-law up. I was interested in seeing how the new dawn of Harrison and Strauss looked, and what new ideas they had going forward. I also wondered how prepared and how briefed they were for the KP onslaught.
I sort of owe Stephen Brenkley an apology. Compared to this, Paul Downton and Peter Moores handled their questioning with aplomb last year. I’ve just seen George tweet “Bring Back Downton” and I’m inclined to believe it might not be worse. Downton could have been told to wind his neck in, eat humble pie and go with a selection policy based on merit. If he didn’t like it, he knew where the door was. The ECB needed a scapegoat after the World Cup, Downton inserted mouth and put his foot in it, and eh voila, we had our token sacrifice. But by doing this early enough, one man would still have a vital say in the replacement.
Someone said today, I think it was Harrison, it may have been Strauss, that the decision to axe KP, although he’s not banned (they think they are so effing clever, don’t they) was unanimous at board level, with the names mentioned being Strauss, Harrison, Graves and Giles Clarke. There you have it. That man Clarke. There was absolutely no way he’d countenance a return to the fold for Pietersen, an uppity man who dared challenge his monstrous ego. No way would Clarke allow this. Whether he should have been mentioned is a point for debate. After all. wasn’t he being shunted overseas, out of the way, not to get involved and let Graves run the show. Or is he the ultimate back seat driver? Instead we’ve got into this position. Downton’s early termination by ECB standards may have been part of the plan. They needed a scapegoat and no-one was going to bemoan his departure. By doing so swiftly enough the current Chairman was going to get involved in the selection process. There have been whispers in the press that there was no way he would go quietly. So, how better to construct a false competition, with the illusion of rivals for the post, and then, when one dropped out and one was ignored, we arrived at Strauss. A man with well known views on Kevin Pietersen, made clear in a book (funny how that worked, eh) and on air. Hey, that’s all right, he took time away from the game to do all that. Every man and his dog knew he was biding time before getting back into cricket admin. I think I’ve spent 500 words saying I don’t believe Giles Clarke is going to let go at all. We’ll see.
So to today, and Andrew Strauss. Having woken up appallingly early, I managed to get a Sky Sports News feed, and given no-one else was using much internet at 6am, I got an unbuffered stream. My first surprise was that we weren’t shown the press conference, a la Downton, but that there would be interviews first. OK. I didn’t hold out much hope. Tim Abraham comes off as a good guy, but he’s not Pat Murphy. Now, I’ll have to trust to memory and Vian’s recall here, but the first words out were something along the lines of “we need to have an honest, open discussion about Kevin Pietersen.” I sighed. I couldn’t swear. I sighed. By implication this means you have not been honest in the past about it, and that you’ve not been open at all. You’ve had all night to prepare for this question and you come out with startingly obvious platitudes that those of us who have followed this for 16 months now will see straight through. Andrew, old bean, you threw a fit over text messages and you called him a c—. You are not some impartial, detached honest broker. Don’t hold yourself up to be one.
To his credit, this early gambit didn’t hold, and he didn’t even try. What followed was bilge. Some believe it is those dastardly lawyers, clamming everything up again. That pesky employment law, eh? But what we had was the key element of trust, and Strauss couldn’t make up his mind if the key factor was at corporate level (a unanimous view of the board) or his own (we’ve had serious trust issues and I don’t trust him). There’s the first error, a massive one. He put his own personal beef above English cricket and he never went into detail why. Not that I heard. When even Paul Newman says we needed to read between the lines, you know this was not working. Only a couple of usual pillocks – Selfey, Lovejoy Jr – went hurrah! Here’s his excerpt from the book: So a grudge, eh? Yet again, when it comes to the crunch, Strauss never went into this with an open mind. But we knew this from what he had said before. But many came to the same conclusion – what the hell is he on about? This bloke (KP) was just completing his 355 not out – a special score – and Strauss is still going on about a beef three years ago? What was he talking about? What the hell did it matter? How many runs did “trust” score? Oh, I’ve seen those who liken sports teams to corporations say that you can’t do what he did and return. Pietersen would be the one with the problem, not them. It would be Pietersen ostracised in a dressing room, not them. If KP could go in there and take it, then so should they.
No. I came to a pretty swift thought. This is about Alastair Cook. Again. Cook doesn’t want him back, he never goes into detail why this should be the case, and Cook rules this roost. Once again, another senior management figure gives this man carte blanche. Denials do nothing to convince me otherwise.
Strauss gave it the big one over sacking Moores. Bravo. He wasn’t tactically adept enough at the international level. Well, that’s nice. I suppose all those press boys who fell over themselves last year have recanted their sins on both Moores and the man who appointed him (sound of crickets). There then came all the stuff that Andrew Miller, in his excellent Cricinfo piece, called the “white noise of corporate bullshit”. If you’ve read Driving Ambition, and I have, the bit I most recall was Strauss’ devotion to managment text books, team bonding exercises and military disciplines. People here will know how much I absolutely adore all of that. We try to escape this sort of claptrap in watching sports. I’ll bet Lionel Messi has never read a management text book in his life. I’ll bet Ronaldo doesn’t do team bonding. It’s drivel. We are playing sports, not planning a mission to invade Afghanistan, or to deliver a leveraged buy out. But here they were all trotted out, the most vacuous of them all being the “long-term strategy”.
We had the shock that he was keeping Eoin Morgan as captain of the ODI team – hey, while we’ve just sacked the coach, let’s kick him even harder by saying the World Cup was ALL his fault by keeping the captain (who just happens to be a Middlesex player, but I wouldn’t be that cheap to draw a conclusion based on that). Then there was the promotion of Joe Root to vice-captain, which, who knows, may have been based on the legendary leaked performance on some leadership exercise by Ian Bell to demote him back to the ranks. Then there was the woolly philosophy of separate ODI and Test teams, but under one coach. There would be more of a distinction but we’ll flog a head coach to death to do it. Well, good luck with that.
And that was pretty much it. A trust issue where there was no-one to blame, and I didn’t go into the semantics of the following old shite where he said KP had no future, but he absolutely wasn’t banned. Some contrition for the manner of Moores dismissal, but a dismissal of Moores himself (and how that contrasts with his book which when KP and Moores were having their spat, Strauss almost indicated that “it was nothing to do with me guv”. He certainly worked with him there, didn’t he? (Driving Ambiton, by Andrew Strauss is available from normal sources if you wish to read the full book). Tom Harrison came on and did a speak-your-Downton regime. First of all, his credibility is shot because he looks like Tim Westwood. Secondly, when challenged on the KP front, he then did what all good charlatans do when caught on a weak issue for them, and said, I don’t want to talk about the past, it’s about the future, and then went on about excitement and long-term strategies. I lost the will. He’s dead to me. No more than a Downton in a sharp suit, but with more of an attitude.
Of course, since then, the main copy has been provided by the Pietersen sacking (for that’s what it is, don’t bullshit us) and what KP had or had not been told.
Like last night, I’ll divide the post in to two, and have a real pop in the second part. Because I want my dinner, and I’ve topped 1500 words. I’ll hand it over to thelegglance to take things up.
UPDATE – Not really been at it today, even though I seem to have devoted a full day of my holiday for this nonsense. I’m likely going to take a couple of days away from the blog (don’t hold me to it) and I know Vian has something up his sleeve for tomorrow. I feel a bit of my spirit is broken, to be honest. I’ve felt this way before. I get over it, and get on with it. It wasn’t helped by listening to Tuffers and Vaughan, to be honest. If we showed one tenth of the bile for Cook or Strauss that is doled out to Pietersen, we’d be annihilated. We don’t come anywhere near close.