Bridge down, troubled waters ahead for KP and ECB

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.

9 Responses to “Bridge down, troubled waters ahead for KP and ECB”

  1. Yates says:

    If someone leaked my contract discussions to the media I’d kick my boss’s door down and force the truth from him with one hand on his throat and the other on his scrotum. Good job KP doesn’t have my short fuse or Hugh Morris would be dead/castrated/in hospital.

    It was Hugh Morris who chickened out of sitting KP and Peter Moores down and sorting their issues out. Or at least trying to.

    Now it’s Hugh Morris failing to do his job yet again. He seems incapable/unwilling/scared of dealing with people driven in the way that KP is.

    As the Managing Director of England Cricket it is Morris who should be held ultimately responsible for the leaks. It is Morris who should be getting off his overpaid backside and trying to sort this mess out.

    The ECB have been pathetic in this affair. I have lost a lot of respect for the senior management of the ECB. It is time for them to man up, come to the table and work something out with KP before KP decides he’s had enough of the retards at the ECB.

    KP is not blameless in this but I loathe stupidity and the ECB has been showing this in spades. So whilst I don’t want KP to quit tests and I want some kind of compromise to be reached, if KP wants to be free of the ECB then I’ll wish him good luck and if I see him in the Members’ Bar at the Oval I’ll shake his hand and buy him a drink.

    And if he does quit tests then Hugh Morris and other senior folk at the ECB need to be sacked.

  2. A very good piece, mate.

    I think it is eminently clear that the ECB won’t back down, there are just too many underlying issues remaining from the Peter Moores saga for that to ever happen. I get the unwelcome feeling that the ECB are, as you say, hoping that this leak will turn public opinion against Pietersen (which it has to an extent – though thankfully those with a modicum of sense like you and I remain), in which case they can wash their hands of someone that has clashed repeatedly with them all the more easily.

    It’s a crying shame. We are talking of England’s greatest batsman of the modern era, one of the greatest we have ever had alongside the likes of Hobbs, Hutton, Hammond et al and an incredible entertainer that puts bums on seats and gets the sport of cricket on to the world map a whole lot easier than it otherwise would have. Pietersen is a rare breed, and the effects of his premature retirement (or possible sacking?) would likely reach far beyond a drop in England’s performance (and entertainment value) in the short term. KP is the kind of batsman that inspires youngsters – how many will have picked up a bat after his 158 at The Oval ’05 for example? – and it’d rob Test cricket of an incredible asset in a time where questions as to its sustainable future are forever being raised.

    We must hope for compromise, but sadly it looks to be beyond it. A terrible, terrible mess.

  3. Tom says:

    Good piece as usual.

    I’m with you for the most part, I think KP has every right to be pretty pissed off with having details of his negotiations released in public. I also agree entirely that complex characters, with all their quirks and egos (and KP’s is undoubtedly enormous), need to be managed. One of Nasser Hussain’s best qualities as captain was that he would not discard players on the basis of their character flaws, as had been the case under previous regimes. Caddick, widely known to be a pain in the arse, and Thorpe, often an obstinate so and so, both excelled during Hussain’s era.

    I do think though that KP has done himself few favours. He might be embittered over the Moores saga and now the contract leak, but his speak-first-think-later approach will always ruffle feathers, and some of his quotes during his England career are pretty baffling. When he comes out with things like ‘I’m not English, I only work here’, the public and the media are always going to turn on him when the opportunity to be critical should arise. Also, I’ve watched him at close quarters in net sessions with the England team, and he’s undoubtedly a bit of a cock, albeit a hugely talented one.

    A final and rather depressing point – KP, as he has said, is not English, and that’s a major reason why the media, the public, and perhaps even the administrators have an uneasy relationship with him. Much as we might not like to admit it, xenophobia is never very far from the surface in English sport. KP has fulfilled the qualification criteria that are set, and that should be the end of it, but his non-Englishness will always rankle in some quarters and affect the way he is treated and portrayed.

  4. Yogesh says:

    As a neutral, who is the English batsman that will get me to the TV ? – KP. Not since i started watching cricket from 1992 has there been one English batsman like him to get me to the TV. So, it will be sad if has to go out like this… Bang on about how someone in the ECB doesn’t quite want him.

  5. legsidefilth says:

    Strong words, Yates – but I do think a lot of this stems from the ECB’s fear of things it cannot control. Right now, that includes Twitter, the IPL, and Kevin Pietersen. Their response to all three has encompassed disproportionately draconian penalties, occupying the self-righteous high ground with talk of principle while drip-feeding often prejudicial information to the media, and complete inflexibility. While KP might not be the most diplomatic negotiator when it comes to putting his case across, I completely agree – none of this is helpful in solving this impasse.

  6. AotearoaXI says:

    Nice piece – I’m thankfully neutral so my only bias is to cricket. It seems the ECB has made some large errors of judgement but politics does that, and it’s fair to say that sports management inevitably becomes political – not in the governmental sense but in the chance to get one’s name in the limelight and the modus operandi of never being seen to come out of things second best regardless of how wrong one is.

    As for the contract negotiations (and requests that are outside the norm) and the “disharmony” in the dressing room, those are all part of professional sport, yet cricket seems to still exist in a situation where administrators always hold the upper hand. Is that the case in football or any American sport? No, players earn their employers a large sum and hence have flexibility to negotiate their contracts – I still don’t understand having a “standard” ECB contract?

    If players in the dressing room don’t gel, that’s not great but it shouldn’t be a show stopper – I don’t have to like those I work with to give my nest effort for my employer – cricketers should remember they are employees and so are their mates. Sport isn’t amateur – everyone involved, KP included, should remember that and act like professionals,

  7. AG says:

    What is it about KP?
    Ever since he burst on screen, he has been the only English cricketer worth following. We’ve had underachievers including the talented Vaughan, who probably owes a lot of his 2005 glory to KP and the bowling quartet, talented bopara, who struggles to perform when it matters, or any other number of players tried since. Barring the recent success enjoyed by Bell, he has largely been a case of talent not translating into results. Only cook can claim to have been consistently good in recent years, though Trott has some good numbers except the last 12 months. Point being, none of these guys have had the same crowd pull and results consistently since KP started playing for England.
    When the stakes are high, KP delivers for England and so I find it amazingly stupid that people get on his case all the time. He is high maintenance, may have a big ego but he is the best England have and have had for a long time! ECB honchos should be crucified for screwing with their best asset! The English media that has had a major role to play in painting him as the bad guy (this blog excluded) too should look within and introspect. They owe it to their best player!

  8. AG says:

    Forgot to add that since his debut, he’s also the leading scorer in tests and has also played the max tests. His grouse on being flogged does hv sm merit, even if diluted by his T20 turnouts…

  9. cricketnns says:

    I can just imagine what is going to happen next. England lose/draw the Test, lose the no.1 ranking in Tests, ECB calls back KP for ODIs and T20Is, then calls him for the World T20, admits it was a HUGE mistake to drop KP for the third Test, and apologizes. Meanwhile, SA party in the dressing room all night long. KP is one of the most entertaining batsmen in Test cricket, look at the innings he played in SL a few months back and the 149 in the last Test vs SA. It would be a pity if KP would again retire. Great article by the way!

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