Know your place

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.

5 Responses to “Know your place”

  1. […] author of one of my favorite cricket blogs makes an interesting point about the rigidity of contractual obligations: “It’s been pointed […]

  2. Suhas says:

    Got here through a search for Roebuck’s “It Never Rains”. Enjoyed your review. Unfortunately the book seems impossible to get hold of here in India, and it is frightfully expensive on sites like Amazon. Any idea where it can be ordered online for a reasonable price?

    Good blog, too. Can we trade links?

  3. legsidefilth says:

    Hi Suhas,

    I bought mine from an Amazon seller, but I think I was just lucky to find a reasonably-priced copy – and eBay are probably worth keeping an eye on as well.

    Your blog looks good – have added it to my blogroll.



  4. Suhas says:

    Thanks, will keep an eye on them. Have blogrolled you too. Cheers!

  5. SB Tang says:

    Hi Legsidefilth

    Thanks for your great piece on KP.

    One of the first things I noticed when I moved to London is the ambivalence towards Pietersen which, although by no means universal, is certainly widespread in England. As an Australian, I have never understood it and I don’t think I ever shall.

    Here’s a link to my full response in blog form:


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