What can be said that hasn’t already about Kevin Pietersen? On the pitch, he’s the most talented England player of his generation, a deadly blend of aggressive strokeplay and unwavering faith and confidence in his own abilities. A truly world class player with the rare ability to win a match in a couple of sessions. Off the pitch, Pietersen has been the centre of attention ever since he strode confidently to the crease with a shocking streak of blue running through his hair in South Africa.
For the press, the cricketing world, or at least English cricket, has revolved around planet Pietersen. Whether it was coaching bust-ups, texting scandals, countless accusations of arrogance or fall outs with senior players, Pietersen was at the middle of it all. It should serve as no surprise then that his departure has created a furore that has arguably eclipsed the shambolic events of the outgoing winter. However, for once, no one is blaming Pietersen. The anger is being directed firmly at the doorstep of the ECB.
Without going out of the way to list all the details, the basic gist of the story is this: Pietersen has been made a scapegoat of, for seemingly no other reason than being Kevin Pietersen. What the events over the past few weeks have shown is that England’s cricketing body is currently so out of touch with modern cricket that a serious re-think is required to stop England sleepwalking into yet another spell of prolonged mediocrity.
For a long time, the ECB settled for the easy life. Throughout the 90s, mediocrity was irrefutably attached to English cricket. Fletcher and Flower managed to break England out of this mindset. It took hard work, money and commitment, but England, in the end, managed to establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with. However, ever since England rose to the very top in 2009, progress has been brought to a shuddering halt. It’s almost as if those at the top were too busy patting themselves on the back to realise. Results became more inconsistent, fewer and fewer young players were introduced into the team, complacency set in. This winter, the England wagon which had been slowly edging towards the cliff fell off and burned. A rebuild is obviously required. But the ECB is slipping back into its old ways of clamouring for the easy life.
Appointing Ashley Giles is the easy option. A former selection committee member who is essentially a milder version of Flower who won’t need a lot of effort to be embedded into the side. Getting rid of Pietersen is the easy option. It will be less work for Giles to reunite the dressing room with such an unorthodox character out in the cold. But are either the right decision? No, simply.
Take Australia as an example. For years, they basked in the glory of their golden era. But suddenly, they were gone. They tried to take the easy route. They got rid of those who clashed with Clarke. They exiled Johnson. They plunged down the rankings. However, they reacted with a stunning brutality and threw caution to the wind. Appointing Lehmann was a risk. Asking him to unite the dressing room was a gamble and would require hard work, as was bringing back elder statesmen in Johnson and Haddin. And it’s paid off spectacularly
By exiling Pietersen, the ECB have effectively admitted that their new coach isn’t capable of uniting the dressing room. Why then, is he being appointed? The situation has now become such a media frenzy that Pietersen’s shadow will loom over this side for years to come, not an ideal situation for a team that will be packed with young, inexperienced players. England’s handling of the situation has been truly strange. A half-hearted statement was never going to satisfy the fans. It almost seemed like they were juggling the Pietersen debacle with something else.
And maybe there is. It’s almost been brushed underneath the iron curtain that is the Pietersen fallout, but plans have been confirmed to hand over control of the ICC to the BCCI, Cricket Australia and ECB, with those nations taking up three of the five seats on the newly created executive committee. The majority of new revenue will be divided between those three nations, making the rich richer. The playing field is no longer level.
What both of these incidents prove is that the ECB has its priorities wrong. Cricket is an entertainment business and needs its fans. And the best way to bring fans through the gates is to develop teams that play exciting cricket with big-name players. Not by making backroom deals to monopolise the game. Cricket will be worse for it.