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.

The Schofield Report recommendations

Focusing on the Individual

1 Central Contracts To ensure the system of Central Contracts is maintained and developed by establishing challenging individually tailored training and preparation programmes which are closely monitored through the Performance Centre at Loughborough University, and reflect the ‘needs’ rather than the ‘wants’ of the players.

2 England Performance Squad Players outside the system of Central Contracts, but selected for the England Performance Squad should have an individually tailored 12 month training and preparation programme closely monitored through the Performance Centre.

3 Skills Sets Skills Sets of players up to the age of Under 19 should be established, and have individually tailored 12 month training and preparation programmes closely monitored through the Performance Centre.

4 International Exchanges Maintain and develop links with Academies and teams throughout the World in order to provide players in England squads with the opportunity to spend time overseas developing their technical and tactical skills at appropriate times during their development.

5 Fitness and Conditioning The introduction of individually tailored strength and conditioning programmes for players within England programmes at all levels.

6 Medical Support and Screening To implement the recommendations within the ECB Science and Medicine Review, enhance the medical screening of all senior players, particularly fast bowlers, and provide ‘World Class’ medical support for Centrally Contracted players.

7 Player Personal Development To provide individual personal development programmes for each player in the England Performance Squad programme including media training in order to ensure the development of ‘well-rounded’ individuals.

8 Captaincy & Leadership Development The establishment of mentoring and development programmes for players who are in, or have the potential to be in, Captaincy and leadership roles within England cricket.

9 Coaching and support staff professional development The establishment of Professional Development programmes for England coaches and support staff in order for them to remain leading edge practitioners

10 Skill development Supplement the coaching resources at the Performance Centre by the appointing a Fielding Coach responsible for raising the standards of this discipline throughout the game.

11 Succession planning Maintain a succession plan for all key positions within the England programme

Focusing on the Team

12 International programme To provide more opportunities for players to prepare, perform, repair and regenerate by reducing the amount of International cricket.

13 Establishing the National Cricket Centre as the ‘Performance Centre’ Refurbishment and rebranding the National Cricket Centre at Loughborough as the ECB Performance Centre, and establish the Centre as the focal point for all England player monitoring and development.

14 Domestic Competition Structure To reduce the amount of cricket played at First Class level to enable players to maintain and develop their cricket skills and fitness levels during the season, and provide competition formats and regulations which as far as possible mirror the international game.

15 Improving the quality of coaching A review and continual updating of the Level 4 Coaching and CPD programme to ensure the top coaches are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to develop ‘World Class’ players.

16 Improve links/communications with Counties Establish within a management structure, executive responsibility for promoting engagement and communication between England programmes and Counties, and raising the standards of First Class cricket.

Focusing on ECB

17 England Management Structure The establishment of a new management structure within the ECB with full accountability and responsibility for the selection and performance of the England cricket team.

18 Player Tracking Database The establishment of a player tracking database with the ability to monitor the development of every player in an England Squad

19 Ongoing Planning Process Establish a robust biannual review process including all stakeholders and designed to take the game to the next level

Working with Jaffa cakes

I thought this was a wind-up when I first read it. But no, it’s true. England have signed up the humble Jaffa cake to be their “official energy snack” for 2007. This is great news for the oft-abused cake, one which is seen as part of a student’s staple diet and not nearly in the same class of tea-dunkage as, say, the Rich Tea. Win or lose this summer, the Jaffa should hopefully be promoted to the gold league of biscuits. I can demolish two packets with a sufficient vat of tea to help wash it down.

The best thing to come out of this news, though, is the following line from John Perera, the ECB’s commercial director.

“We are very excited about working closely with Jaffa cakes in 2007″.

£15m richer

I forgot to mention yesterday that the ECB will next week sign a new deal with nPower, the electricity company, worth £15m. Their current deal is £7m which means a 40% increase. That’s quite staggering. Full article at Cricinfo.

It was very long ago that an England cricketer (never mind a county professional) earned very little. Yet the increase in popularity of the sport, so it is thought, is reaping rewards for all involved in the game…well, nearly everyone :) It’s an encouraging sign, so long as the money is managed properly and used for all the right reasons.

A new mechanical Shane

Just seen this story about a new, mechanical Shane Warne. I thought England were already using a spin machine (and I’m not talking about the ECB marketing people) – Merlyn, or Mervyn or Madge or whatever it’s called – so they now have two. Perhaps they’ll get them together to see if they can mate; it’s the end of cricket as we know it!

Pictures from BBC

Lord’s Taverners net some dosh

This must have passed me by.

I am very pleased that the National Sports Foundation has made its first award. This was to the Lords Taverners for £177,500, to support their excellent work to promote the growth of grass roots cricket through the provision of cricket equipment bags to junior cricketers. This funding, which will help ensure that we capitalise on the explosion of interest in cricket among our young people following last summer’s Ashes series, was matched by a donation from the England and Wales Cricket Trust.

I understand that the Foundation is in continuing discussions with potential sponsors as well as sporting organisations and they are hopeful that further awards will be announced shortly.

So said Richard Caborn in the commons.

Restless natives at MCC

The egg’n’bacon crowd are not a happy bunch of campers, and Donald Trelford has penned a rebel’s manifesto.

I often wondered why the MCC gave up running British cricket, and it turns out they were forced to do so by the government of the day, in the interests of openness and transparency. Surveying England’s cricket fortunes since 1968, you would have to suggest it was a bad move even before the ECB sold out the British cricket fan for the Sky shilling.

Rameez Raja: ‘Cricket can be a healer’

England’s tour of Pakistan is to continue, despite this week’s disasterous events, according to ECB and PCB officials. More at Cricinfo, including this from Rameez Raja which I tend to agree with:

“Cricket is followed by everyone in Pakistan and it will get their minds off this tragedy,” Rameez Raja, a former chief executive of the Pakistan Cricket Board told the BBC. “Cricket can be a healer.”

The influence of Maros Kolpak

Most county followers are familiar with the name Kolpak, and its derivatives (Kolpakers, Kolpakians, and less savoury ones). News came today (although it was first mentioned back in April) that the ECB are to curb the numbers of foreign players in the county game, by way of a reward/penalty scheme. My thoughts on this and more are up at Cricinfo.

Thoughts welcome.