Being, occasionally, a contrary sort I have been reading all the reports, tweets, FB posts etc about Strauss and KP and I’ve been thinking, ‘If everyone agrees that this is all wrong, how did some clearly intelligent people who know cricket, especially international cricket, far better than I ever will get into such an unholy mess?’ The fact is, Strauss looks like an establishment man who has let a personal spat interfere with a much larger situation, while the ECB continues to crash around like a drunk, embarrassing itself and others while occasionally popping up to say, ‘I’m not drunk you know.’
The bare facts suggest that Pietersen was told that if he wants to be considered for selection he has to ditch the IPL and score runs in county cricket. He pulls out of the IPL contract, plays for Surrey (for nothing) and scores 355 not out. Then he is told he can’t play after all because of ‘trust issues’. He won’t play this summer but a return in future isn’t ruled out. Although really we all know it is.
As opinions of KP vary so wildly and views on how the situation should have been handled are equally diverse, I wondered: is there any way at all Strauss and co. could have come to a better solution?
It’s only been eight months but I think some people have forgotten the sort of things KP wrote in his book. He wrote about Anderson, Broad and Swann running the dressing room and commented, “I thought, ‘I reckon I could hit these guys’”. Two of ‘these guys’ are still playing.
His reservations about James Taylor, who remember only played once alongside Pietersen – and they put on 147 runs together – extended to recommending a career as a jockey rather than an England batsman.
Alastair Cook is Ned Flanders, Andrew Strauss the reverend, and a player who many current players remain fond of, Matt Prior, is the Big Cheese or, according to KP, “a Dairylea triangle thinking he’s Brie”.
In 2012, KP sent texts to his South African friends in the opposition saying Strauss is a doos. About the new Director of Cricket, he wrote in his book, ‘Sometimes you have to tell Straussy the facts of life’. I imagine Strauss had that printed out and stuck on his bedroom door, and whipped a copy from his inside pocket before the ECB interview.
Speaking about the book at its launch, Pietersen said, “My character has been assassinated for the last five or six years on a regular basis by the ECB publicity machine.”
In response, Cook said about KP that his autobiography has tarnished one of the most successful eras for the national team and that he did not recognise “the culture of bullying” Pietersen alleges occurred in the dressing room. Cook said he “feels hurt” by the claims in the book.
In November Strauss said that the fact that there was so much negative comment from KP about such a successful period for English cricket was ‘hurtful for all of us that had been part of it’. He added, ‘That is why the pride feels diminished. We all worked incredibly hard to achieve something special and it doesn’t seem so special anymore.’
Of course it’s equally hard to trust the ECB at the moment. They have been a shambles in the last few months and I’m sure the victims of various leaks wouldn’t put ‘trustworthiness’ at the top of their list of the ECB’s attributes at the moment. Remember, too, that KP was dropped after tops-coring on the recent Ashes debacle and was sacked as captain arguably because of Peter Moores’ failings. And of course, Strauss called KP ‘a complete c**t’ just a few months ago. It’s a long way back from there.
This is only 7 months ago. Feuds in history tend to be measured in decades and years, not weeks and months.
People say that these critical words don’t bother them but of course they do. At least Strauss is honest – he says there are trust issues. I expect these issues would stretch to the aforementioned players too. Blame who you like but there would be some serious hurdles to jump. Perhaps the ECB have concluded that at 34, it’s just not worth the effort with KP. By the time he’s integrated again, it’ll be time to retire. And who’s to say that after one match he might change his mind or get a serious injury? What a lot of effort, sacrifice, awkwardness, distraction, compromise and damage limitation for the sake of a game or two. Yesterday’s decision, as far as the management are concerned, is the only realistic way out. I can see their point. Having made a poor decision initially by sacking him, this was the only course of action this time. They set themselves up for this.
There’s lots of other stuff too. Pietersen is nearly 35, had a poor run in his recent tests etc but frankly this has – ridiculously – become irrelevant.
It seems to me that KP constantly needs a new challenge to keep him alive. He needs to prove people wrong, prove himself right. He’s not alone in wanting what is forbidden more than what is allowed – this is a fact writ large in the human condition. Remember he retired from ODIs because he wanted the IPL. He unretired because he was told he wouldn’t play T20 for England if he didn’t play ODIs. He called county cricketers muppets and played nine county championship matches in nine years before 2015. Then suddenly it became the most important games of his life. He was committed to Surrey…until yesterday. Now he’s leaving on Friday. Did he wonder how that would be for his team mates?
The challenge had gone so the desire had gone.
Interestingly he said before the Strauss meeting that he wanted to win the Ashes back for England. I wonder whether he meant ‘with’ England. Probably not.
So, to summarise, this matter was closed until ‘no-nonsense’ Colin shot from the hip. Colin Graves made this situation foreground again instead of a background rumble. Now everyone at the ECB is scrambling to say they’re all singing off the same hymn sheet but of course they’re not. Otherwise Graves wouldn’t have sung the solo before the choirmaster was ready to choose the choir.
The damage had already been done in the shambles that was the ECB ditching KP in the first place. This time around, Strauss had no choice. He would have taken the job and fully understood the implications of the still-smouldering bridges behind KP. The fact that KP was standing there with a fire extinguisher meant nothing. Too little, too late.
nb I haven’t mentioned the fact that Strauss offered KP a role as England’s ODI consultant. For the life of me, and despite reaching into the far corners of the part of my brain marked ‘reason’ and ‘logic’ and ’empathy’, I simply cannot understand the thought processes that came up with this spectacularly ill-judged and crass idea.
nb 2 On overnight reflection, I think the above situation was nothing more than a piece of disingenuous political posturing. Strauss said just enough about it to leave us to infer that this was Petersen’s way back in, the olive branch, the first step in the mending of trust issues. By making Pietersen an offer he could only refuse, Strauss laid the foundations for a ‘Well, we tried to start repairing the relationship with him’ comment months down the line. This is unedifying from Strauss and the ECB, and ironically (or maybe deliberately) echoes Petersen’s own faux naïveté in accepting Graves’ words as gospel. Please see here https://smelltheleather.com/2015/03/18/return-of-the-prince/ for my unusually prescient piece on this.