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.

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.

Harmison feels betrayed by Fletcher

I asked Stuart Broad for his thoughts on the Duncan Fletcher futore the other day. “Don’t read books,” he announced with a broad smile (sorry). “Not enough pictures!” It was a predictable response, and I applauded his blatant bullshitting.

Steve Harmison, though, doesn’t really care what he says these days – especially if it means coming to the defence of his old chum Andrew Flintoff. Somehow, though, Harmison’s comments don’t carry the weight of, say, Andrew Strauss or Matthew Hoggard. You feel if Flintoff had run over a dog on purpose, before roasting it on a spit, Harmison would say “Andrew has learned his lesson. He might be a canine killer but he’s still great fun to be around; an inspiration. Just ask anyone. Anyone but the dog and its owner of course.”

Nevertheless, his outburst to the Daily Mail made for enjoyable reading and was yet another nail in Fletcher’s coffin. I can’t see how this affair will simply “blow over”. I see Nasser Hussain has also been making comments, in the same paper, about the lily-livered decision makers in the ECB, and their handing jobs to Hugh Morris and Mike Gatting. It feels like 1999 all over again…

Broad shooters

I had a very enjoyable day clay pigeon shooting with Chris Broad and his son Stuart. There were only a few of us there – a media day for Volkswagen – and both of them were on great form. Naturally, although Stuart had never shot before, he beat the rest of us – including Ian Valentine, who writes here, whose full-time job is for the Shooting Times. Photos below (you need Flash installed). A piece will be up at Cricinfo tomorrow or the day after.

I can see me enjoying shooting. It was tricky at first, and I never really got the hang of the “rabbits”. But the faster clays high up in the sky were pretty easy once you “followed through”. And yes, there were loads of cricketing clichés flying about all over the place. West London Shooting School – highly recommend it.

Stuart Broad and Chris Broad clay pigeon shooting

Notes from the pavilion for October 27th

‘A ridiculously crowded international schedule’

Andrew Strauss has blamed his loss of form, luck and his Test place partly on the ‘ridiculously crowded international schedule’. He does not strike me as someone who gives up easily, or who minces his words, and his column at Sunday Telegraph makes for depressing reading.

Without any sort of window in the last 18 months – in a ridiculously crowded international schedule – to take stock, make technical changes and refresh the mind, turning it around has been extremely difficult.

It isn’t that I have been completely out of form, unable to contend with the rigours of Test cricket, but rather that I have been caught in a limbo, where every decent innings seemed to be followed by a low score. Without nailing a couple of really substantial contributions to silence the doubters, the pressure has grown.

When will the ICC realise that they are running a sport that is eroding from within? Cricket is doomed if they continue to run talented players – their most prized commodity, surely? – into the ground, beyond repair. Strauss is the latest victim of the crammed schedule. Who will be next?

England name squad for Sri Lanka tour

England have named their squad for the tour of Sri Lanka, and it’s pretty much as predicted:

Vaughan, Cook, Bell, Pietersen, Collingwood, Shah, Bopara, Mustard, Prior, Broad, Hoggard, Anderson, Sidebottom, Swann, Panesar.

Some initial thoughts:

1) It’s pretty harsh on Chris Tremlett, who hasn’t really put a foot wrong yet for England. Unless – gasp! – they’re punishing him unfairly for his indifferent one-day form.

2) If the selectors were going to drop Strauss they should have replaced him with another opener, rather than naming three number sixes and promoting Vaughan, who doesn’t even want to open.

3) If both of Harmison’s practice games get rained off, where does that leave him?

4) Either Broad or Swann has to bat at number eight. Which means that, cruelly, one of Anderson or Sidebottom has to sit out. Or both, if Harmison waltzes back into the team. In other words, all three pacemen from the India series could be left out in favour of someone who wasn’t even good enough to make the side at the time. Hmmm.

5) The fact that Mustard has been named in the full squad, rather than placed on standby in Chennai, is hardly a resounding vote of confidence in Prior. Is Mustard, in fact, the reserve opening batsman?

What are everyone else’s thoughts?

Notes from the pavilion for October 17th

Links of note from the past 24 hours: