KP too good for dreary, old-fashioned England

So the fallout of England’s winter continues unabated. Prepare yourselves for the mother of all introspection.

I just read the following on Twitter:

 

There’s only so much room and dispensation for mavericks. Well, I don’t know who Steve Booth is, but it’s fair to assume he’s probably British and supports the England cricket team, and I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that his view is shared by many England sport fans. And if we learn nothing from the bleach-clean of this England team in the last few weeks, you would hope that the treatment of Kevin Pietersen is one lesson we may in future look back on with regret and a turning point in the attitudes towards our sportsmen.

What’s wrong with having a maverick?

Steve Booth is wrong – all the best teams in the world have had mavericks, and often relied upon them. West Indies: Lara, Richards, Gayle and others. Australia: Warne, of course. India: Ganguly perhaps. Pakistan: where do we start? And what about Sri Lanka? Muttiah Muralitharan, maverick arm himself. What about football? Was Pele a maverick? How about Campese for Australian rugby, or Jonah Lomu?

And yes, of course they are more likely to unsettle an established team. They might be born with fractionally better eyes, faster reactions, bigger muscles or a desire to succeed and win which outstrips their peers, but in nearly all cases they train and prepare incredibly hard, not a trait you associate with these so-called geniuses. And to reach that level of commitment requires the hardest of noses, the most stubborn of chins and a bloodymindedness likely to rile even the most zen of managers and captains. So, how exactly are these managers and captains managing and captaining?

What Steve’s comments show is that it is England who can’t cope with mavericks. As a country we still can’t hug and celebrate our winners in the same way other nations can and do. To most people’s astonishment, particularly our own, Great Britain took home a stash of gold at the London Olympics and the nation unshackled its chastity belt to experience an orgasm of celebration. That was unprecedented. England won the 2003 Rugby World Cup then quickly sank back down to its knees, only occasionally stumbling on to its haunches. England winning the Ashes in 2005 was another rare event, the rarest of its type given how closely fought that series was, but the following series confirmed England wasn’t ready to take on the world. Several players fell by the wayside through injury, so we can’t blame the nation’s psyche entirely of course. But it’s further evidence of a country far more comfortable appreciating the rich light of a winter’s afternoon than bask in summer’s victorious glare.

Pietersen needs attention and the warmth of adulation in a way few English cricketers, or fans, can get their heads around. This isn’t to diminish other players’ guts, determination or desire to succeed; for them, contributing to the team may mean just as much (or in some cases more) than dominating an entire series with two swashbuckling, daring innings. But England have been too inflexible, conformist, conservative and rigidly uninventive to accommodate a man willing to forsake the country of his birth in order to show the world his true talents. You only need look at the funereal approach to entertaining its fans in the last two or three seasons to know that those in charge were terrified of anything, anyone, threatening risk.

And what’s worse is that this move smacks of the ECB attempting, rather pathetically, to make a bold statement. “It’s time for a change. Time to clear the decks and start afresh.” Does that include dumping your best player, your prized asset – in fact, the only asset that competing teams are scared of? Oh, right. You really do have no idea how to manage different characters.

Pietersen came into the side a showman, a grinning entertainer bereft of insecurities, bereft too of political nous and gravitas, but too gloriously naive to realise his adopted country required it of him. He departed without so much an ovation, though the applause by his fans will ring loud in the ears of the ECB for years until England finds a cricketer with Pietersen’s skill and Andrew Strauss’s sober diplomacy. I suggest such a beast doesn’t exist, and for that we should be thankful.

Pietersen dropped – for the final time?

KP gone, never forgotten

That, surely, is it for Kevin Pietersen’s involvement with England. He’s been overlooked (or whatever is the consolatory phrase for someone who has been thrown out with the rubbish, probably prematurely). Binned. Dumped. Jettisoned. For the better? Well, I don’t think anybody will agree that it’s for England’s short-term good that he has been dropped but, perhaps – just perhaps – this signals the first significant moment of leadership for the new management team. And yes, I can’t believe I just wrote “management team” in the context of cricket, but such is the changing world and all that.

I wonder if he and Flower will be sharing a pint. A pint of bitter, no doubt.

With the announcement of England’s World Twenty20 squad expected on Thursday, the ECB took the unprecedented step of holding “policy meetings” solely to discuss the eligibility of one player: Pietersen. He spent the day of his sacking giving a class on spin bowling to his Surrey team-mates at The Oval.

“Clearly this was a tough decision because Kevin has been such an outstanding player for England as the fact that he is the country’s leading run scorer in international cricket demonstrates,” Downton said.

“However everyone was aware that there was a need to begin the long term planning after the Australia tour. Therefore we have decided the time is right to look to the future and start to rebuild not only the team but also team ethic and philosophy.

“England cricket owes a debt of gratitude to Kevin who has proved to be one of the most talented and exciting players to ever represent the country and his 13,797 runs are a testimony to his immense skill. This decision brings some clarity now for the future of the England teams and we all wish Kevin the very best in the rest of his career.” The new of England apparently forcibly retiring one of their most experienced players comes less than a week after Andy Flower stepped down as team director and follows the retirement of Graeme Swann during the disastrous Ashes tour.

A career that spanned 104 Tests and more than 150 limited-overs appearances over nine years, during which time Pietersen became England’s leading run-scorer in international cricket yet constantly divided opinion, may now be at an end, little more than a year after his successful “reintegration” to the team on the tour of India.

NFL and other American acronyms

Just read a passionate piece from John Stern on the NFL. Ah – now, no sooner have I finished that sentence than I’m already feeling uncomfortable over its accuracy: is it NFL, or the NFL?

See, this is my ignorance and my own shame, made all the more acute given I work for the American sport colossus, ESPN. I really know nothing of any note about American sports and, what’s worse, my indifference towards it has morphed to dislike and dismissiveness. It’s not that I don’t appreciate its skill; what little I know of it has dispelled that particular nugget of ignorance. And it’s certainly not that I wouldn’t enjoy it myself if I spent time getting to know it. No. I think it may actually be a form of anxiety.

To be a sport fan, or sports fan as my American employer insists it is spelled, requires dedication to the cause and an unwavering loyalty, but you can only reach that level of commitment once you’ve mastered how it all works. The nuances of its rules, the lingo, the exceptions, history and form – never mind all the teams and players, and associated statistics. And it’s those two things which I’m most  fearful of: if I did spend time getting under the skin of an American sport, or any other sport for which I’m not familiar, I worry that I could become almost hyper obsessed with it.

The Premier League doesn’t have this. Yet.

It happened with cricket, albeit when I was 12, and I’m definitely nowhere near that age now. But it could easily happen again, and John makes a compelling case for NFL to be my victim. Or me to be its, depending on the outcome. It’s also worth pointing out that American sport in the UK is a far, far bigger beast than you think. In 2004 Google says it was indexed at 21 (whatever that is). In 2014? It’s 100. The interest has gone up five fold.

***

I used to work with John when he was editor of The Wisden Cricketer magazine, and remember being starstruck when introduced to him on my first day working for Cricinfo (whose office we all shared) in 2005. I’d read TWC and its former incarnations since I was 12. He couldn’t have been more diffident or affable, yet here I was expecting a larger-than-life media mogul who also had a vast cricketing knowledge; a combination of Piers Morgan’s bluster and blind confidence, and anyone who appeared on Mastermind in the 1980s (bespectacled, lack of social skills yet absolutely obsessed with their subject).

Disappointingly I got neither, just a top bloke, writer and editor.

Andy Flower sacked as England coach

Well well. Didn’t see this coming.

Andy Flower has paid the price for England’s Ashes humiliation and his reign as coach is over.

Telegraph Sport can reveal Flower was called into a meeting at Lord’s on Thursday and told his time is up by Paul Downton, the new managing director of England cricket who has been conducting a review of England’s disastrous tour to Australia.

It will be announced when England return from Australia that Flower will be stepping down after being given no choice by the ECB but to call it a day.

Flower has coached England since 2009 in which time he has won the Ashes three times and led England to their first World Twenty20 title in his first year in charge.

England beat Australia 3-0 last summer in the home Ashes but succumbed to a humiliating 5-0 whitewash in the return series Down Under.

Has there ever been an England tour so calamitous in terms of results? I hope Flower is remembered for the good he did England, not just this tour. But, as Mike Atherton once said of captaincy, all tenures must inevitably end in some degree of failure, and the same is true of coaching.

Nick Hoult has the scoop.

Notes from the pavilion between December 2nd and November 21st

Links of note from the past 24 hours:

Notes from the pavilion between December 2nd and November 21st

Links of note from the past 24 hours:

Shane Warne’s new TV advert

Apparently,

He was an expert at bamboozling England’s batsmen, but now Shane Warne is set to leave viewers flummoxed in a new TV advert.

The spin legend spent hours in make-up to appear as a baby and also as his own mum and dad.

Warne said: “It was a hoot. I absolutely loved doing the ads.”

Do leave a comment if you’ve seen it or, better, have a link to it.

Australia trounce Sri Lanka

So much for my hopes of a good contest- Australia thrashed Sri Lanka by an innings and 40 runs. (scorecard) What went wrong?

Well, while there’s been a lot written about the Australian performance, I think the finger needs to be pointed at the Sri Lankans. They made every mistake in the book, and invented a few more.

Errors in team selection. Check.

Wrong call at the toss. Check.

Dropped catches. Check.

Players underperforming when they were needed. Check.

I must confess to some surprise though when Marvin Atapattu came out with an extraordinary attack on the Sri Lankan selectors, characterising them as ‘muppets’ in an interview after the third day’s play. That sort of mistake was one that was out of the book. It’s going to be interesting to see if he’s permitted to continue with the tour. One batsman has to make way for the return of Sangakkara, after all.

But questions have to be asked of the Sri Lankan bowling line up too. It was generally thought by Australian pundits in the prelude to this series that this was the best Sri Lankan attack that we’d ever seen in this country, but they conceded 551 for 4 at a rate of knots. Had Ponting not been in a hurry to get at the Sri Lankan batsmen, 700 might not have been out of the question. What might have happened if only Malinga had got a game? As it was, none of the Sri Lankan bowlers made much of an impression- of the four wickets to fall, only Ponting was actually beaten by the bowler- Jaques, Hayden and Hussey got out through poor shot selection.

And Muralithiran? Well 2 for 170 was a pretty fair reflection of how he bowled. He did bowl a good spell after tea on the first day but apart from that stint, he was pretty unthreatening, and he copped some hammer from Ponting and Clarke. It is worth pointing out that for all his success, he doesn’t have much of a record against Australia, and also worth noting that finger spinners rarely do well here. You have to go back to the days of Phil Edmonds and John Emburey to find finger spinners that have had success in Australia. Bearing that in mind, perhaps expectations should be lowered a bit.

The Sri Lankan batting was somewhat disappointing too. Only somewhat though, because they were under constant pressure, first from the scoreboard, and second by the Australian attack. It was easy for the Australian batsman as they were fed a steady diet of pies, but Sri Lanka’s batsmen had to take risks to score runs, and except during the Vandort/Jayawardene partnership in the second innings, no batsman looked secure. Of the Australian bowlers, Lee gave his best performance in a long time, Macgill was probing, Stuart Clark continued his McGrath impersonation, and Johnson showed enough to suggest he has what it takes at Test level.

Can Sri Lanka regroup in time to make things a bit more even for the Second Test? They have the players to do so, but it must be hard. The Hobart wicket isn’t the sort of wicket that bowlers who are low on confidence are likely to take wickets on.  Australia’s bowlers on the other hand, will fancy their chances. But I still think that the margin in this Test isn’t a true reflection in the gap between the teams. Here’s hoping for a closer match starting on Friday.

I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue

Don’t worry. I haven’t turned into Cricket365 with their Addiction To Capitilaising Every Word In Headlines. I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue is my favourite show, on TV or radio, and returns for its fiftieth series on Monday at 6.30pm on BBC Radio 4. It is brilliantly stupid and gets better and better. If you’ve never heard it before, try to catch it tomorrow. You’ll thank me.

This from the Guardian’s Leader tomorrow:

Mrs Trellis of north Wales will no doubt be sitting by her wireless at 6.30pm this evening when the start of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue’s 50th series is announced by the show’s bumbling brass theme (based on a tune by Haydn). What follows is guaranteed to be brilliant. It always is. Listening is like being welcomed back into a comfortable club on a wet winter’s night, a cheerful refuge from a dour, serious world outside. There may be people who are tired of its routines, its in-jokes and innuendo – but they are the sort of humourless listeners who write in to the BBC asking for the rules of Mornington Crescent to be explained (200 do every series), who wonder why Samantha hasn’t read out the score in years and probably question the need for the licence fee to fund Humph’s expensive laser display board, too. Everyone else appreciates the show’s relaxed brilliance. Many things contribute to this, starting with Humphrey Littleton, who has chaired the show since it began in 1972, getting funnier and bolder through the years. He does deadpan gags better than anybody else in broadcasting and gets more smut past the BBC, too. Without him the show would not have made it through 10 series, let alone 50, a magnificent score matched only by the even longer-lived Just A Minute. By rights Clue should have stopped being funny years ago. But there is nothing dusty or exhausted about a programme that still asks silly people to do silly things, and gets away with it every time.

And a very late arrival at pharmacists’ ball, would you please welcome Mr and Mrs Bollock-Steroids and their charming – if well-built – daughter Anna.