Archive for the ‘kevin pietersen’ Category
Tuesday, August 6th, 2013
The last time England won the Ashes, it was at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, in bright sunshine, with an innings victory.
This time, they retained the urn on a dour, dank, drizzly afternoon at Old Trafford, during a terminal interruption in play, before which they’d been stodgily batting out time in order to avoid defeat – while still managing to lose three wickets. There’s something appropriately British about this scenario. And yet it feels odd.
It feels odd because of the wonky nature of the reality compared with the bullish predictions beforehand; nothing feels resolved. Perhaps it’s because of the brevity with which England have achieved their main objective – this series has been wrapped up in only 14 days of play – but it feels like we haven’t even begun to unravel the readiness of each side for Brisbane in November, or even in relation to each other.
Australia came close at Trent Bridge due to a freakish innings from their debutant number eleven. They then dashed expectations that they’d be a proper threat to England at Lord’s, where they batted like the man in the story by Borges who dreams he’s been tasked with upholding the honour of his family at a historic chess tournament fought regularly between two rival dynasties, only to realise as he takes his place at the board that he doesn’t even know the rules. Unfortunately for Australia, however, Lord’s was one nightmare from which they didn’t wake up.
And now this Test. If Old Trafford had been the first Test in the series, with four more to come, you’d be forgiven for thinking that England were done for. Kevin Pietersen finally answered the call of destiny that invariably rings out when greatness is needed, and Ian Bell’s form has been a pleasant surprise on the back of his recent travails, but with a paucity of runs from such previous stalwarts as Cook, Trott, and Prior, there are worrying gaps in England’s batting form, dry patches on an otherwise lush lawn that suggests this English garden might need some tending in readiness for the harsher climes of an Ashes series down under.
And what if Australia, buoyed by the fact they’d likely have had this match won if not for the rain, win the last two matches at Durham and the Oval and draw the series? England will have retained the Ashes, but only by default.
And, looking even further ahead, Australia’s top order finally seems to be coalescing; it’s reasonable to assume that David Warner, promoted back up the order to open with Chris Rogers in the second innings, will remain there come November, while the disappointing Shane Watson, who still offers something with the ball, will be demoted to six. The only questions surround captain Clarke’s position in the order – his magnificent 187 came at number four, where previously he has averaged only 21.51 – and whether there is still a place in the side for Phillip Hughes, who arguably did nothing wrong before being shunted aside to let prodigal son Warner back in.
The warning to never underestimate Australia hardly bears repeating, but it would seem after their Lord’s defeat, many had started to do just that. England are still, on paper, the better side, but they won the first Test by a tiny margin largely due to the fact they were unable to bag Agar’s wicket until he’d enhanced the scoreboard by 98 runs. England were dominant at Lord’s, and then against all expectation Australia put 527 runs on the board at Old Trafford after winning the toss, and would have won had the weather not intervened. Australia could easily go on and win the next Test. Or they could collapse in a heap the way they did at Lord’s. Nothing is clear-cut. England, similarly, could take their foot off the gas now that the urn (metaphorically) isn’t going anywhere, and a series result of 2-2 sounds a damn sight less impressive than the 5-0 whitewash many were predicting.
This was also the match in which we were given a timely reminder that Michael Clarke and Kevin Pietersen are crucial to their sides. Clarke finally scored a captain’s innings, albeit two Tests too late, and Pietersen helped set up what the weather finished with an innings of 113 when everyone else bar Cook and Bell failed to significantly add to England’s total. In both men the spirit is as willing as it ever was, but the body in each case is looking increasingly rickety. In the case of Clarke, it’s hard not to envision a physio’s folder bulging with X-rays, scans, printouts, rehab schedules and pain-relief dosages. The discs in Clarke’s spinal column have been degenerating since he was 17, probably even before that. You may marvel now at his cavalry-commander, lead-from-the-front batting, the cultured aggression against spin, the ability to fly the flag, on and off the field, for his team, but at what price further on down the line when he’s no longer playing the game? Pietersen too is, by his admission “an old man”, revealing that he had decided to forego surgery on his knee because it would have put him out of action for nine months. While there were still the predictable digs in the press at his perceived short-comings as a man rather than appreciation for his greatness as a batsman, there will never be another like him. The introvert who loves the big stage, the man whose simple attitude to life is made so needlessly complicated by others, the man who, in short, lights up a cricket ground like no other when he is putting bowling attacks to the sword… we should enjoy him while we can because his career, too, is approaching a crossroads in terms of balancing an impossible workload with a worn-out body.
It may have been a damp, sputtering denouement after all the red-hot hype, but if there’s one scintillating memory that remains, it was Kevin Pietersen’s outrageous shot that brought up his hundred, a shot Errol Flynn would have been proud of in his Hollywood swashbuckling pomp; a whirl of the bat above the head, blade angled just so, a flamboyant uppercut that sent the ball sailing over third man, and the crowd surging to their feet, roaring their approval. It was Pietersen’s 113 that dug the defensive moat around England’s castle at Old Trafford, and it was the rain that filled it.
Wednesday, November 14th, 2012
I can’t tell you how much I’ve been looking forward to the Test series starting in India tomorrow.
It’s that time of year again: England’s winter tour to somewhere a damn sight warmer than the Midlands, while you shiver on your couch in the early hours tanked up on Red Bull and espresso, eyes misted over with sleep and hands shaking with an excess of caffeine and excitement – or despair, depending on how bad England’s batting collapse is.
There’s been the hype, the trash-talk and the warning shots across the bow from both sides; sensibilities have already been ruffled and contretemps between fans have carried a tinge of the tetchy. Sabers have been rattled and the warfare – up till now – has been psychological. Predictions have been ping-ponged back and forth. England will be hammered; India are at that transition period where they’re ripe for the picking. Ravichandran Ashwin has a mystery ball; Ravichandran Ashwin is no Saeed Ajmal. England will miss injured fast bowler Steven Finn as he is the only man who can bang the ball in, making full use of his height; the bounce will be so low so he’d be useless anyway.
Even the BCCI’s nonsense over broadcasting and image rights has a comforting inevitability about it – though maybe not for the Sky team, who will have to make do with commentating along to the BCCI feed on a television in a studio in Isleworth. It’s not ideal, but then a stream of commentary delivered through the medium of rap over a diorama of plasticene men with matchsticks for bats would still be preferable to the witterings of Ravi Shastri.
The overall consensus seems to be that India have this series in the bag, but, to be honest, after the recent barrage of T20, I just want to see some good, hard-fought Test cricket. Yes, the pitches will be deader than roadkill and twice as flat – at least until days 4 and 5, when cracks that would put the Marianas Trench to shame should start appearing – so batting first and piling up a massive first innings score will be on the minds of both captains.
There’s been so much talk of “the team” recently, that it’s easy to forget that it’s individuals who light up a stage.
Kevin Pietersen has been successfully “reintegrated” into the team, with the likes of Anderson and Broad mouthing the expected “we need to all move on and let bygones be bygones” platitudes, perhaps (hopefully) having come to the realization that for disparate personalities to rub along together requires some compromise; in which case, welcome to the real world. It’s good that that particular farrago is over and done with, and if some electronics boffin could rig me up to an alarm system that wakes me up when KP comes in to bat I’d be mighty grateful. England’s triumvirate of doughty plodders, Cook, Compton and Trott, will hopefully by then have laid a solid platform on which Pietersen can strut his stuff.
There was a great mention on Twitter the other day that Pietersen’s walk out to the middle in England’s final warm-up match was greeted with the cheering of children massed round the boundary. Ask them what they think of “team unity” and what should happen when “an individual transgresses” in terms of the “fabric of our society” and you’d no doubt get a blank look in response. Like me – like many of us, I suspect – their love of cricket is in large part based on watching players like him get runs.
If there is any player in the Indian team who can lay claim to being the opposition’s version of Pietersen, it is Virat Kohli. Young, outrageously talented and with fine Test centuries against Australia and New Zealand under his belt, he is every inch the modern batsman. Like Pietersen he can be a handful off the field; like Pietersen he can dominate a bowling attack and is exhilarating to watch when his dander is up. With this likely to be Sachin Tendulkar’s last series, Kohli could very well turn out to be the designated keeper of India’s flame.
Speaking of entertainers, it will be good to see Yuvraj Singh back. The man Kevin Pietersen refers to affectionately as “Pie-chucker” will return for his first Test since recovering from a rare form of lung cancer, and the fact he has already taken Pietersen’s wicket in the first warm-up game with his innocuous left-arm spin almost guarantees the fact he will be brought on to bowl at Ahmedabad as soon as KP comes to the crease. Cricket may be India’s religion, but Yuvraj’s illness was a timely reminder that it is, after all, still just a game. That he is now back in the game, as it were, is a wonderful story.
Aside from these headline grabbers there’ll be no doubt much to watch and mull over over the next few weeks. Alastair Cook’s captaincy will be tested. It may be premature to say he does not have the charisma or tactical nous of more illustrious international counterparts such as Graeme Smith, Michael Clarke, Mahela Jayawardene or even Darren Sammy, but then I didn’t see him becoming a success as ODI captain either. But this will be a trial by fire in the Indian crucible.
England entrusting Samit Patel with the number 6 spot is also good to see, as he was one of the few players who emerged from England’s woeful WT20 campaign with any credit; his ability to get runs against spin as well as provide back-up to Graeme Swann with the ball are the reasons he has been picked ahead of Jonny Bairstow, who will no doubt get his chance when Ian Bell flies home before the second Test to be at the birth of his first child.
On the Indian side, I’ll be interested to see how Cheteshwar Pujara goes when he bats at 3, not having seen very much of him. I’ve seen slightly more of their young quick, Umesh Yadav, and while he is yet inexperienced, there’s undoubted potential as well as pace there.
If I were forced to predict the result of this first Test I’d have to say the likeliest outcome will be a draw. But we will certainly have a better idea of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the teams by the end of it – as well as being, through a succession of early mornings (or late nights), a damn sight more tired. But when there’s the prospect of a feast in store, you don’t need sleep to sustain you.
Sunday, September 2nd, 2012
So farewell, then, England’s Test supremacy; farewell too, to Andrew Strauss, a man who, in his role as captain, took England to the top, and who enjoyed a fruitful opening partnership with successor Alastair Cook until everything began falling apart.
A decent, quietly dignified man, Strauss leaves the team ironically in the same state of turmoil it was in when he accepted the captaincy, but between then and now he, along with Andy Flower – the Steve Jobs to Strauss’s Tim Cook – made a team that proved greater than the sum of its parts through a vision that hinged upon keeping things simple. He deserves respect for his 7037 Test runs, the 24 matches won under his watch, the 3-1 Ashes series win and the first by an England side Down Under in 24 years. He deserves respect for his statesmanlike steering of the team through the rocky rapids of the Pakistan spot-fixing scandal, and, because he strikes me as an honest, plain-speaking bloke, I’m inclined to believe him when he says his decision to resign and retire from all forms of professional cricket had nothing to do with the recent ruckus surrounding England cricket’s current bête noire Kevin Pietersen.
Strauss’s successor, Alastair Cook, may not be the most inspirational of leaders, or of speakers, judging by Wednesday’s presser – “you have to throw yourself into it and meet the challenge head on – I hope I have it in me,” isn’t exactly the “we happy few, we band of brothers” stuff that fires the blood. But then, given he’s inherited a dressing room currently missing its best batsman, riddled, it would seem, with cliques and raging egos (and I’m not just talking about Pietersen’s), and a team on the receiving end of a comprehensive Test series beating, perhaps simply throwing oneself into it might be the best and simplest strategy. As Joe Cabot says in Reservoir Dogs, sometimes you just gotta shit your pants, dive in, and swim.
Strauss, not the most tactically imaginative captain, succeeded largely because he was utterly unflappable. On the field of play, this worked extremely well – there can be no greater contrast in terms of “game face” than Strauss’s arm-folded inscrutability at slip when a carefully laid plan resulted in a bowler being smashed for three consecutive boundaries, and Andrew Flintoff’s public, near nervous breakdown in the field at Adelaide in 2006.
Cook’s Bambi-eyed demeanour doesn’t quite inspire the same confidence, though. It’s not just the on-field stuff he has to control, it’s the dressing room environment as well, the “behind closed doors” nonsense we’ve unfortunately been hearing a lot about lately. The fact that Strauss said in a televised interview before Lord’s that the dressing room tension alluded to by Pietersen “has all been a bit of a surprise to me” is rather worrying. Plainly tensions did exist, as evidenced by the “KP Genius” Twitter account set up by a friend of Stuart Broad purely for the purpose of having a laugh at Pietersen’s expense. A parody account set up by a fan is one thing; an account set up by a friend of a team mate, likely with that team mate’s knowledge, makes a mockery of the “trust and mutual respect” demanded by the England management in response to queries regarding the timescale – or indeed any possibility – of Pietersen’s reinstatement.
Graeme Swann provided another example of hypocrisy at work; he was less than complimentary about Pietersen in his autobiography, but somehow, his book – released in a print run of thousands, available in paperback now, at a WH Smith’s near you – was deemed less damaging to team unity than private texts sent to a couple of mates during a moment of pissed-off indiscretion. Given Broad is already captain of the T20 side and Swann too, for all his jack-the-lad image, has captaincy ambitions (he led the side in the absence of Broad for three T20 matches against the West Indies and India last year) it’s all starting to suggest a pack struggle, a jostling for a higher rung on the dressing room hierarchy, the kind of playground unpleasantness that too often goes hand-in-hand with a group turning on one of its own. If Andrew Strauss was unaware of this, then Alastair Cook seems even less likely to be able to keep a lid on it.
The Pietersen problem is one that demands an urgent solution. Examining how the situation reached this state of urgency is instructive. How Pietersen’s very reasonable concerns over a congested international schedule degenerated via tweets and “derogatory texts” (since believed to be sent via Blackberry Messenger) into the current block-headed stalemate is an interesting study in tabloid media sensationalism, knee-jerk pettiness, mob behaviour, and group-think.
It has also demonstrated that if you repeat something often enough, it becomes accepted as truth. Take the infamous text messages, for example, reportedly sent to Pietersen’s friends in the South African team, reportedly “derogatory” towards Andrew Strauss and believed to contain encouragement to Dale Steyn to get him out, and later reported to contain advice on how to dismiss Andrew Strauss. Later, the tabloid that first broke the “exclusive” of these texts, admitted the messages contained no tactical information. Nevertheless, the damage has been done – the myth that these texts contained tactical information sent to the opposition persists on social media networks and “under the line” comments as sufficient reason for Pietersen’s permanent banishment. It has been an unsavoury, grubby saga of hearsay, leaks, innuendo and allegations, with precious little substance behind the hyperbole. Pietersen has since admitted sending texts, but the fact that it was not then – and still isn’t – known exactly what they contained while being cited in an ECB press release as a reason for his omission from the Lord’s Test is a quite staggering example of trial by tabloid in the absence of concrete proof.
As if this weren’t enough, we’ve been subjected to the deranged rantings of those such as Michael Henderson, who in a shrill, hectoring interview on BBC Radio, launched an unstoppable stream of bilious invective at Pietersen’s background, personality and motivation for playing for England. He referred to Pietersen’s replacement, Jonny Bairstow, as “a true Englishman” and justified his stance by saying it was one shared by those he spent time with while in the MCC President’s box – “no riff-raff”. Henderson has never considered Pietersen a “bona fide Englishman” and has grasped this controversy with relish, providing as it did another opportunity for him to air his xenophobic opinions. It was jaw-dropping, deeply offensive, and if you felt like having a hot shower and scrubbing yourself with a wire brush afterwards, you weren’t the only one.
Have we become so cynical that we accept that this is how the media can make or break a man’s career? Pietersen’s gaucheness may be to his disadvantage when it comes to his relationship with the media, but God help us all if a cricketer were ever to commit a truly heinous infraction such as murder or kidnapping – having already used up every known variation on words such as “vile”, “traitor”, “scandal” and “outrage” one tends to think a few of the sports commentariat have in this instance rather overreached themselves. But this, we are loftily assured, is how journalism works. It’s the way things are done. You’ll excuse me if I’ve had my faith in humanity, and my love for English cricket, dented slightly as a result.
Now, Pietersen is in the position where he is vilified if he says anything – no matter when he said it, or in what context – and castigated if he says nothing. That is how ridiculous it has become. He’s made a few mistakes, but isn’t it about time to get off the guy’s back and make a concerted effort to find a solution rather than letting it drag on?
From football-style tabloid sensationalism to the reinforcement of the stereotype that cricket is a game for public-school toffs who use servants as footstools and for whom the President’s box at Lord’s is the inner sanctum off-limits to those deemed “not one of us”, it’s fair to say the last few weeks have not been a shining advertisement for the sport.
Pietersen was due to sit down yesterday with Andy Flower in the first of a series of meetings that will, if pragmatism prevails, hammer out some kind of resolution that will allow the black sheep to return to the English fold. One hopes there will be compromise from both sides.
Kevin Pietersen may look back on this in time and know there were things he should have done differently. But he did not solely create this situation, or indeed the disunity within the team. He has only lifted the rock – or rather, kicked it over – and shown what is scurrying underneath.
Kevin Pietersen's future remains uncertain
Tuesday, August 7th, 2012
On any other day, I’d be writing this article about Kevin Pietersen’s batting.
Speaking on Saturday evening, after his inspired 149 that lit up the Headingley gloom and breathed life into a generally moribund England innings (James Taylor’s assured debut and Matt Prior’s feisty 68 aside) Pietersen was asked where he saw himself in a year’s time. “I don’t know,” he said, “we’ll see.”
It was an interview described as cagey and evasive, but, perhaps unsurprisingly given his at-times uncomfortable relationship with the English media, he seemed to me like a man terrified of saying something that could be construed as boast or bluster.
He obviously didn’t have to wait long for that to happen anyway, as, after receiving his Man of the Match award on a final day that briefly promised excitement and unpredictability but fizzled into an unsatisfactory draw, he faced the media at the post-match press conference. For about seven minutes he was bombarded with questions regarding his future; he made it clear he didn’t want to discuss his ongoing negotiations with the ECB regarding renewal of his Test contract, but nevertheless the questions continued. If you’d ever wondered what cricket’s version of bear-baiting looks like, this was it.
At last, irritated, he obliged. “For me, the saddest part about all this is that the spectators just love watching me play and I love playing for England. But the politics is what I have to deal with personally and it’s tough being me in this dressing room. Playing for England is tough. We’ll see.”
It’s tough being me. You could almost visualise the smoke pouring from laptop keyboards. Who in the hell does Kevin Pietersen think he is?
Pietersen is a Marmite cricketer. He rubs a lot of people up the wrong way. I wrote about this back when the storm clouds began to gather. I’m not really sure why some people have a dislike for him that sometimes is so vehement it borders on the irrational. Perhaps their constant calling for him to be thrown out of the team would have some justification if he was a shit batsman. Everything aside from that – and that should be the main criterion – is down to management, or, in this case, bad management.
One thing I suspected at the time was that the details of Pietersen’s contract negotiations that appeared in the press were leaked strategically by “ECB sources” (to whom the details were attributed). Pietersen alluded angrily to this in yesterday’s press conference. “I was blamed before the Test series for grabbing the headlines. But did I leak anything? I never spoke to the media for one second. I never said anything about what was said behind closed doors.”
Behind closed doors is where you would reasonably expect negotiations between employer and employee to remain. But of course this isn’t the first time it has happened. Pietersen says he still doesn’t know who leaked details of his row with Peter Moores back in 2009 either. What all this boils down to is the manipulation of public opinion as a negotiating tool. Now I don’t know about you, but if my boss leaked selected details of a contract discussion, which, without the benefit of all the facts being known, might be calculated to paint me in a bad light, I’d be pretty damn pissed off too.
With this leak followed by a press conference that, it could be argued, was allowed to go on way too long, it’s starting to seem very much as though the ECB are not just intent on watching Pietersen dig his own grave, they’re even handing him the shovel.
One outcome is that, in common with many other national boards, the ECB may eventually become more flexible and accepting of the IPL and their players’ participation in it. Unfortunately, the way things now stand, with a headlong race towards a messy divorce now inevitable, it seems as though Pietersen’s career as an England player will be the price.
Can England do without KP? Inasmuch as they will have to, yes. Is sticking to principle more important than coming to some kind of compromise via a sensible, non-combative – and carried out in strict confidence – discussion with one of the greatest batsmen ever to take the field for this country? The future of England cricket depends on their answer. Given their now tenuous hold on the number one Test position, now is not the time to diminish this England team’s strength.
Wednesday, July 18th, 2012
When, after Australia’s 4-0 ODI defeat by England, Mike Atherton asked captain Michael Clarke what, if anything, he has taken from the series, the more facetious among us may have been tempted to fill in our own answers: trench foot; double pneumonia; the gloom that settles in one’s soul due to the constant drip, drip of prolonged and unseasonable rain.
Gods, it has been an awful summer, and Australia’s five-match tour was as damp and drab an affair as the weather that accompanied it. The batting of the visitors was rickety; their bowling as penetrative as a soggy cocktail umbrella at a washed-out garden party.
The jet stream, which has hung over Britain like the albatross round the neck of the Ancient Mariner, is shifting and it finally seems that from next week warmer temperatures and bluer skies will be in the offing.
Just in time, then, for the commencement of a series that promises to be the sizzling braai to the international season’s so far soggy sandwich of a summer.
Much has already been written of the mouth-watering head-to-heads between the England team and their South African counterparts: Anderson versus Steyn; Broad versus Morkel; Strauss versus Smith; Pietersen versus Kallis.
South Africa are fired up after an arbitrary, unfortunate demotion recently in the Test rankings to 3rd position, and motivated by a strong desire to pay tribute to their fallen comrade Mark Boucher, forced into early retirement after a flying bail punctured his eyeball at Taunton – a horrific injury and one from which he will hopefully recover fully.
For England’s part, Andrew Strauss has admitted that his team’s humiliating defeat in the UAE over the winter still stings, and he knows they cannot rest on their laurels simply because they are number one.
Before the Australia series, I was reluctant to tempt fate by predicting victory for England, and the same still applies. But, if forced to nail my colours to the mast, I’d say England have the edge. While Strauss’s sentiment (often expressed since England reached top spot) that you should never underestimate the opposition is worth heeding, maybe it’s time to recognise that England really are that good. But you can bet that if the spoils go to the visitors, it’ll still have been a cracking series, so in terms of great Test cricket, we’re all winners, really.
The battle of the bowling attacks will be interesting; the swing of James Anderson versus Dale Steyn’s raw speed has been given top billing, but look for Vernon Philander and Tim Bresnan to make their mark as well. Philander has taken over 50 Test wickets so far in a career that’s only 7 Test matches old. He is accurate, gets the ball to move through the air and off the seam, and looks well suited to English conditions. Tim Bresnan is used to playing the support act to the headline stars, but surely the hackneyed view of him as a good, honest Yorkshire cricketer is starting to sound just a little patronizing. Averaging 26 with the ball and 40 with the bat, with two nineties to his name, he deserves to be regarded as more than just the yeoman dray horse to Broad and Anderson’s thoroughbred royalty.
One man above all will be fired up, and if his 234* for Surrey against Lancashire the other week is a statement of intent, then god help the opposition. That Kevin Pietersen is in the news again is not really news these days, but in leaving him out of the provisional 30-man squad named today for England’s defence of the Twenty20 World Cup, Andy Flower has underlined his intention to make no exception for players who do not wish to play all three formats. The latest ruckus over KP is that, in his willingness to come to some agreement with a view to carry on playing Twenty20, one of the proposals his management team have put forward to the ECB is that he agree to play some ODIs if he can be allowed to play in the IPL in its entirety, which would mean missing the two-Test series against New Zealand in May.
The timing and reporting of all this admittedly has me a little uneasy. Details of Pietersen’s “demands” have apparently come from sources within the ECB, among whom it is known that Pietersen does not have many friends. An off the cuff remark, or a strategic leak calculated to turn public opinion against a man who needs to be loved as a way of forcing him to reconsider his position? God knows it does not take much these days, but it seems that once again we are all Foaming At The Mouth About Kevin.
Andy Flower has said Pietersen may look back in years to come and regret not going to the 2015 World Cup, but regret is a double-edged sword that can cut both ways; all is rosy in England’s limited-overs garden at the moment, but come the Twenty20 World Cup in September and England may wish their Player of the Tournament in 2010 was still with them. Regardless of who you think is the more principled, the more arrogant, or the more inflexible, that it has come to this is sad indeed.
Before all that, though, there’s a Test series to be won, and boy, will this be some contest. Something to set this summer alight at last.
Friday, June 1st, 2012
Kevin Pietersen announced yesterday that he is retiring from all international limited-overs cricket, with immediate effect.
At least, he has voluntarily retired from one format – ODIs – and been forced into retirement from T20s, due to an ECB contractual obligation that stipulates he be available for selection for both or neither.
A press release from the ECB states the following:
“The terms of the central contract state that any player making himself unavailable for either of the one-day formats automatically rules himself out of consideration for both formats of the game as planning for both formats is closely linked.
“This is designed to reflect the importance of one-day international cricket which is a strategic priority as England look for improved performances in the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy and the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup.”
Interestingly, the statement also includes this comment from Pietersen: “For the record, were the selection criteria not in place, I would have readily played for England in the upcoming World Twenty20.” Sky Sports News also reported that Pietersen’s management has expressed the desire for some compromise to be found, a way in which Pietersen could be given a “special contract” for the World T20, as he is very keen to take part in the tournament, which starts in September.
The ECB are unlikely to budge on this. The message they seem to be sending out is that you cannot pick and choose; that you cannot cut your England cloth to suit yourself.
I have several problems with this. I cannot escape the suspicion that this isn’t a stance taken purely from a position of principle, but that it also contains an element of the personal.
For one thing, the inflexibility of the ECB’s position seems at odds with the latitude afforded other players, notably Andrew Strauss – who could not only pick and choose his formats (retiring from T20s while still playing in ODIs) but also which Test series he played in, when he was rested from England’s tour of Bangladesh in 2010.
Similarly, the ECB’s comment on the “closely linked” nature of ODIs and T20s doesn’t really wash when you consider the different selections made for the two sides, including, in 2010, the use of “T20 specialist” Michael Lumb.
Pietersen has long had an uneasy relationship with the England management, ever since his falling out with Peter Moores. Yesterday’s announcement came at the end of a particularly eventful couple of weeks for KP. According to the ECB, Pietersen “discussed his position” with the board during the recent Test at Lord’s. On the Wednesday following the Test he attended a disciplinary meeting which resulted in a fine for his less-than-diplomatically expressed Twitter critique of Sky pundit Nick Knight’s commentary. The timing of all this, culminating in the retirement announcement, is interesting, and perhaps not insignificant. Pietersen has for a long time given the impression that ODIs are his least favourite format, and England will be playing 13 of them this year. Plainly something came to a head at some point. Whether the Twitter fine was a reaction designed to put him in his place – and an over-the-top reaction it was at that – for the audacity of daring to ask whether he could have some time off, or of picking and choosing, as the ECB would doubtless prefer to see it, is anyone’s guess.
One could easily dismiss this as a conspiracy theory. But where Pietersen is concerned, it seems conflict is never far away, and if Mooresgate was anything to go by, more details may yet emerge. While the timing is puzzling, given Pietersen’s spectacular return to limited-overs form lately, it’s hard to escape the feeling there’s more to come from this.
The reaction to Pietersen’s announcement has been interesting, and in many cases predictable. When it comes to his batting, few players put bums on seats quite like he does – and no one divides opinion quite like he does. But it doesn’t seem to have taken very much to bring some of the old prejudices back to the surface with knee-jerk rapidity. Mercenary, show pony, traitor. Selfish. Not a team man. Disruptive. Not English enough. If you’ve heard them all before you can bet they’ll all have been given another airing in the light of yesterday’s news. Michael Vaughan’s article in the Telegraph echoes the sentiments of more than a few when he says “my gut reaction was he should never play again and kick him out of the team”. This is a quite ridiculous statement, given Pietersen’s undoubted value to the England setup – something which Hugh Morris, when he said he was “disappointed” at Pietersen’s decision, makes clear enough.
It’s been pointed out that Pietersen would have known what he was agreeing to in terms of his central contract when he signed it. This is true. But given the fact that in most other walks of life, contracts and conditions of employment can be renegotiated due to life changes such as family, illness, or other unforeseen circumstances, one wonders why the same cannot apply to sport. The notion that anyone who plays for a national team should constitute a pliant, forelock-tugging workforce grateful simply to represent their country is outmoded and needs to change, and that can come only come through compromise, discussion and negotiation. Professionals stopped walking onto cricket fields through a separate gate years ago – flexibility needs to be a two-way street. It’s time cricket boards accepted the reality of today’s economic climate and faced the fact that sportsmen will occasionally make decisions based on something other than what is best for Team England.
And this is where we touch on what is really riling some commentators – the idea that Pietersen has made this decision to free himself up for lucrative T20 tournaments, such as Australia’s Big Bash league which takes place in January, during which England will be playing ODIs in India. To brazenly admit one’s intention to chase after filthy lucre is frowned upon; to not admit it, it seems, constitutes an even greater sin, that of avarice compounded by deviousness. We need to stop collectively clutching our pearls every time a player makes a decision that may partly be influenced by the financial. As Michael Holding has said, you cannot take national pride to the supermarket, and it’s not going to put food on your table. T20, with its frequently-reviled technique-ruining hit-and-giggle slogathons, its cheerleaders and its vacuous commentary, its big bucks and its naked commercialism, may not be to everyone’s taste. But it isn’t going away in the foreseeable future and cricket boards need to accept that, not bury their heads in the sand hoping it goes away, and scheduling series that force players into making a decision as to who to play for.
Given all of this, it is especially ironic that the Pietersen announcement should come at a time when all the talk lately has been of the impact of the IPL on West Indies cricket, of player attitudes, and the WICB’s inflexible and dictatorial response.
And look how well that approach has worked.
Saturday, July 23rd, 2011
I have been present at three of Kevin Pietersen’s five Test centuries at Lord’s.
I wasn’t present when he raised his bat after smearing the ball through the covers for four to bring up his 202*, but I was there to watch him lay the cornerstone, making bricks out of mud and constructing the foundation of a major personal achievement and a big England total through hard bloody graft.
The first day of this Test was a frustrating one for spectators, topped and tailed by rain, runs at a premium, Zaheer Khan and Praveen Kumar threatening with the new ball under a gloomy sky that made it hoop and swing.
I only go to Lord’s about twice a year these days – the provincial on day-release to the Big Smoke – but it’s a magical place even when it’s raining. I’m still recovering two days later due to acute shoulder knack after carrying all the assorted junk needed for a day at the cricket when the weathermen can’t make up their minds as to when it’s likely to chuck it down, and besides, one never knows when one will miss one’s last train back to Hobbiton and be forced to construct a shelter for the night made of sticks, cardboard boxes and a shopping trolley. It pays to be prepared. Add to that the accumulated spoils along the way of newspapers, programme, obligatory book purchased from the Lord’s shop, and I feel like a squaddy who’s done a ten-mile run with a full pack. Maybe I’ll be lucky and regain full use of my arms by Wednesday.
Anyway, while Day One didn’t give us much in the way of action, in the light of Kevin Pietersen’s mighty knock yesterday it’s interesting now looking back on the notes I made when I got home on Thursday. Pietersen looked like the proverbial long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs that day; the ball found the edge of his bat more than the middle, and England didn’t so much look in top gear as they resembled a pensioner backing a Lada Riva estate out of the driveway and onto a busy street via a sharp turn, the cat, and the cunningly placed tricycle belonging to the kid next door.
While Pietersen looked undeniably nervous, there was also a grit-your-teeth determination to him, to make it through the day and grind out the runs now matter how hard, or how ugly, they came. It is easy to say this with hindsight, but I had a feeling today would be the day which, by the application of sheer bloody-mindedness and strength of will, would be the acorn from which a mighty oak would grow.
You could point to the support of Ian Bell and Matthew Prior at the other end while KP was accelerating through the gears yesterday, but to me his most important partnership was with Jonathan Trott on the first day, because that was when runs for Pietersen came the hardest. He finished Thursday on 22*, while Trott outscored him on his way to another inexorable 50. If Trott had departed before play was called off due to bad light, the unsettling effect on Pietersen could have proved disastrous for his search for fluency.
Trott gets his 50
That fluency was in full, imperious flow by the time Pietersen raised his bat yesterday to acknowledge the applause marking his third Test double century. His second came seven months ago in Adelaide, and while it does not feel that long ago, sprinkled as it will remain with Ashes stardust, seven months is an eternity in cricket, and in a batsman’s career.
Forgive me if I’ve gone on about this before, but the public’s relationship with Pietersen proves endlessly fascinating to me. There’s of course been all the ruckus over his vulnerability to left-arm spin, which seems finally to have been laid to rest (Strauss is now the subject of the spotlight’s glare due to his own unfortunate weakness facing southpaws) and the frequently expressed view that no one should be given a free ride due to past brilliance if this brilliance is constantly “on the cusp” of returning.
With KP, though, there’s always the sense of schadenfreude when he’s out of nick, as if he is paying the price for his arrogance, and the urge to kick a man when he is down is a temptation many are too happy to give in to. When Pietersen does well, it is expected of him; when he does not, the glee, the carping over his South African heritage, the barbs levelled at his “ego”… well, it all provides good tabloid fodder when often there is precious little else to write about. So it goes. No doubt he is used to it.
Pietersen’s first 50 runs came from 134 balls; the 50 that took him to 100 from 82. From 100 to 150 took him 85 balls; from 150 to 200 only 25. By the end he was seeing each delivery like the proverbial football; Ishant Sharma the lugubrious, floppy-haired victim of this late and gloriously unrestrained hitting.
I wasn’t present to watch Pietersen in full, triumphant flow yesterday, but on Thursday I saw him do the donkeywork. I missed the edifice’s completion, but I was there when the first stone was laid, and that feels as great a privilege.
KP lays the foundations
Finally, another thing I’ve liked from the play so far has been the relative lack of rancour between the two sides, but we are of course only on day 3 of a possible 20 possible days of Test cricket (16 according to a confused Jonathan Trott in his amusing interview the other day) so there is time yet for a vigorous ejection of toys from prams.
The banter between Pietersen and Praveen Kumar especially has been good to see. These two know each other from the IPL (ex Bangalore team-mates) and the moment in which PK congratulated KP, and vice versa – Praveen having stepped up admirably in the absence of a hamstrung Zaheer to take his maiden Test 5-wicket haul – was a great moment.
Having had a discussion recently with another cricket fan on Twitter as to whether the notion of “the gentleman’s game” has ever been anything other than rose-tinted romantic idealism, it was a pleasant reminder that decency and respect for the opposition does not need to be a casualty in these days of spiralling sponsorship deals and endless arguments over technology.
Still, early days… This series has a long way to go yet.
Tuesday, May 31st, 2011
With a first day wicket so flat it looked like the proverbial road to nowhere, this 1st Test instead proved a considerably bumpier affair for the team that found itself on the losing side.
Because yes, in spite of the bore-fest of the first four days, some superb batting performances notwithstanding, this encounter that looked like dribbling to a stale, bloodless, rain-diluted draw ended up anything but.
The moral of this story seems to be, if you are an England fan and you wish to attend the Cardiff Test – only go on Day 5. The first four days will be shit. The last day will be awesome.
In the run-up to the Test the brickbats in the press were reserved for Sri Lanka’s bowlers, but it was the batting that ended up being steamrollered by England yesterday.
A first innings total of 400; England reply with 496 declared (big runs for Cook, humongous runs for England’s Bradman, Jonathan Trott, and a handy ton for Ian Bell) and Sri Lanka all out for 82: more wickets than you could shake a damp umbrella at – all of them in fact, courtesy of Messrs Tremlett, Swann and Broad and the whole thing wrapped up in 24.4 overs, albeit after another late start due to this horrible bloody weather that seems to be paying us all back for the temerity of enjoying an unseasonably early spring.
How much did this bring back memories of this same ground against different opposition in 2009, and how badly must Sri Lanka have hankered after their own Jimmy and Monty double-act?
The bowling by England was too good. Swann made use of the rough outside off-stump that had given Rangana Herath some encouragement, and England team-sheets should now come pre-printed with Chris Tremlett’s name on them as standard. The old days where the latter’s perceived lack of bottle was questioned seem now to be part of some ridiculous alternate reality.
Jonathan Trott continues to astound. I’ve made no secret of the fact I’m a big fan of the bloke, because one of the great things about cricket is that it can provide a happy hunting ground for the oddest of talented eccentrics, and Jonathan Trott surely numbers among them.
Aside from all his scratching and muttering at the crease, and his OCD dressing room habits, there is also something amusingly Hakkinen-esque about his interviews. The great Formula One champion Mika Hakkinen was famed for his laconic utterances and his deadpan statements of obvious fact, all with a barely raised eyebrow that put paid to accusations of a lack of humour or intelligence.
When Trott (unbeaten on 125 on his way to an eventual 203) was asked at the end of the third day what England had to do to win this match, he responded, deadpan: “Score more runs than they do”.
And that is what England did, to the tune of an innings and 14 runs worth.
And that with three bowlers. Jimmy Anderson has been ruled out of the Lord’s Test with a grade one side strain and Jade Dernbach, most likely due to his performance in the Lions match, has been drafted in to the squad – though I’d be very surprised if Steven Finn was not an automatic inclusion in the XI come Friday morning.
There’s been a degree of agitation about the prospect of yet another South African born player pulling on an England shirt – which some folks really need to get over – but it’s another man of South African origin and erstwhile our brightest star who is the real source of concern.
We are talking about Kevin – again. This is the 19th time in Tests he has fallen victim to a left-arm spinner and denying there is a problem will not make it go away. It is real and it is messing with his head and there is going to have to be a drastic resetting of his entire approach if he is going to fix it.
Even before Herath got him, as he tried wildly to chop the ball to the off side with the result that it rebounded from pad onto bat, his footwork had all the assuredness of a stricken animal scrabbling for purchase on the blood-slick floor of an abattoir before the slaughterman puts it mercifully out of its misery. It was truly painful to watch, with a messy, protracted denouement: the on-field decision of not out was overturned on review with the aid of hotspot, which showed a clear mark on the pad together with a side-on view that showed ball hitting back leg before bat.
Pietersen’s mind seems now so scrambled that even the most innocuous left-arm trundler must seem like the devil incarnate. Perhaps he needs to heed Jonathan Trott’s advice – to keep it simple – because these demons need exorcising, and pronto.
What a bizarre Test this has been. Seems I was a bit previous in writing off this match, but then I get the feeling I wasn’t the only one. I like it when cricket proves me wrong. I like it when Test cricket proves me wrong.
Saturday, December 4th, 2010
When Alastair Cook was interviewed in front of the Adelaide Oval pavilion after close of play on Day 2 of the Second Test, he didn’t look like a man who had finished the day on 136 not out.
He did not look like a man who has scored 438 runs so far this series, or been on the field of play for all bar 11 overs to date, or, counting his epic second innings at the Gabba, batted for 1022 minutes without being dismissed.
He looked like a man who had had a bit of a net.
He looked as fresh as a fucking daisy.
As Australia’s seamers pounded in for over after over under a searing Adelaide sun it was a case of spent, rather than unstoppable, force meets immovable object.
Gone is the leaden footwork, especially against spin; gone is the stiff-legged hesitancy that minimised scoring options and left him stuck in his crease; gone is the suicidal tendency to waft outside off stump.
He has not so much reworked his technique as stopped worrying about it and gone back to how he used to play. The result is that he is now playing with the kind of regained confidence and technical assuredness that grinds down bowling attacks expecting easier prey.
It seems that every time he goes out to bat now, another record falls.
Aside from runs scored and minutes batted – breaking the records for both for an England player – he is now the second most successful England batsman to play in Australia in terms of average, and the first for ten years to follow a double century with a century.
All this and he is only 25 years old. Only Sachin Tendulkar had scored more centuries than him by the time he reached the same age.
After the early loss of Andrew Strauss, Cook and Jonathan Trott continued their consolidation of the record for England’s most successful second wicket partnership. Trott’s innings was an especially swashbuckling one – before lunch he was cracking along with a strike rate in the 70s – and his superlative onside play (shades of the great Gordon Greenidge at times with that raised left leg) was once again augmented with sweetly-timed driving through the covers.
Trott’s was the only other wicket to fall, and Kevin Pietersen set about the bowling in brisk and imperious fashion. It is no surprise that he targeted Xavier Doherty in particular, given Doherty has been included in this Australian side at the expense of Nathan Hauritz purely because of Pietersen’s recent, and self-inflicted, vulnerability against left-arm spin.
The way England have been batting recently, Doherty must have been wondering if he’d ever get a crack at the man he is supposed to unsettle. Pietersen, dancing down the wicket and at one stage driving the unfortunate young Tasmanian back over his head to the boundary, was very plainly having none of it.
Pietersen is back, and all is right with the world.
He and Cook will need to continue where they left off. England are 72 runs ahead. Andrew Strauss must surely be eyeing a total in the region of 600. If England achieve this – and there is, of course, no guarantee – Australia will need to dig deep if they are to escape from this with a draw.
Thursday, November 25th, 2010
There’s something strangely comforting in the familiar sense of helpless rage experienced on waking up to another bloody England collapse.
Truly, no winter is complete without it.
Having kept myself going throughout the night on a diet consisting almost entirely of coffee and foam bananas, I threw in the towel at tea time, when England were 171-4.
When I woke up this morning they were 260 all out, and Australia were 25 for the loss of no wickets.
The first over didn’t go so well.
Third delivery, Strauss got a ball from Hilfenhaus that seemed to nip back in and cramped him up; going for the pull he was out caught by Mike Hussey at gully. Rash shot or genuinely good ball? Bit of both, I think; nerves probably did for the England captain after all the relentless hype and talk leading up to this game.
Cook’s head is still falling over like a piss-head sailor negotiating a storm-tossed deck, but he played sensibly and solidly for the most part, that ugly-as-hell technique of his not such an issue since the ball wasn’t doing a heck of a lot.
Trott played well enough despite a couple of streaky boundaries and nervy edges that fell just short of fielders, but he batted with good intent and helped his team get a start. The fact he departed attempting a loose drive off a decent ball from Shane Watson is not a mistake he will want to repeat.
It is all too easy to hold Shane Watson up as a figure of fun, and he does bring it on himself, but he was the pick of the bowlers for me in the morning session, snaring Trott with one that nipped back off the seam, causing the England batsman to lose his shape while attempting to drive it through midwicket.
The small battle between Kevin Pietersen and new boy Xavier Doherty was entertaining, and nothing gave me more heart than watching KP charge down the wicket towards the debutant who immediately hurled the ball back at the batsman in anger. Tasty stuff.
There’d been a bit of hooha about Peter Siddle’s selection, with the explanation offered by Ponting for the omission of Bollinger not making a heck of a lot of sense (lack of match practice – a supreme piece of arsed-up logic).
Siddle proved the selectors had made the right decision in the most emphatic way possible.
Often referred to using the terms “blue collar” and “honest trier” – which sounds rather like a classic case of damning with faint praise – he proved to be England’s chief executioner. His hat-trick – Cook, tempted into playing forward to one that nipped away; Prior, full, straight, nipping back in, pegging back the off-stump; and perhaps the best of the three, the one that got Stuart Broad: full, straight, referred, upheld – was the bolt-gun to the forehead that knocked the legs of England’s batting out from under it.
It was a truly outstanding spell of bowling, an example of a canny bowler adapting to the conditions, a history-making passage of play that brings a cricket ground alive regardless of which side you are supporting.
After viewing that spell over a late breakfast, catching up on the action I missed when I retired to bed, I am more inclined now towards the philosophical where England’s situation in this match is concerned.
Had Siddle not bowled so superbly, Ian Bell, playing beautifully and with more assuredness than I have ever seen him play in a Test, would have gotten his ton and England would possibly have added another 100 runs to their total.
Instead he came up against a bowler seen as second best by many and with a point to prove, and whose removal of the batsmen at the other end put the mockers on a total of 350 plus, quite achievable on this deck.
England’s bowlers now have it all to do. I fear Day 2 might turn out to be a very long one.