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 Kevin Pietersen factor

A lot has been written about Kevin Pietersen over here (UK) in the past few days, so I thought I’d do my own summary of events and of the man himself.

Pietersen left South Africa 4 years ago, with the claim that South Africa’s quota system prevented him from getting a game (and more specifically, he felt, prevented his chances of playing international cricket). He qualified to play for England last September, thanks to his English Mother, and has terrorised County bowling attacks for the last 2 or 3 seasons (5512 @ 54.03). So that’s his background.

The South Africans have, unsuprisingly, not really taken to him very politely; this is, after all, the country of his birth and many South Africans, rightly so, resent him for jumping ship. Smith has said: “He ran out when things got tough. If he didn’t want to be here then we don’t want him here.”

In short, this is a cricketer with immense talent and awesome power – perhaps the Saffers are jealous (much as the English were when Andrew Symonds decided to play for Australia instead of England). On top of all this, he just happens to be the most confident and arrogant cricketer around at the moment – a trait which forced his moving to Hampshire after upsetting his first county Northamptonshire Nottinghamshire. You have to hear him to beleive him! Lots of Aussies regard Flintoff as an arrogant sod – rightly or wrongly (wrongly) – but this guy wrote the script on arrogance, and does himself no favours whatsoever. Arrogance is all very well if it’s justified, but he’s setting a dangerous precedant by making these comments without having established himself as an England player

Yesterday, in a simplistic solution to national identity, he said he’d do a Gough and have the 3 lions tatooed on his arm:

“That’s not a Christmas present,” Pietersen said, “that’s there for life. Anyone who abuses me, tells me I’m not English…” He slaps his shoulder. “I would do it now, but tattoos scab over and then I wouldn’t be able to dive.”

“I know I can expect that sort of stick during the whole series,” Pietersen said yesterday. “It was only stares and swearwords really, nothing serious. I just laugh about it because they can hardly speak proper English.”

Not the best thing to say to calm down the situation! England has had a number of South African and Zimbabwe players come and play for England – many of them bristling with ability, not least G Hick (remember him? Many who saw him play regarded him as the most talented player they’d ever seen….). And now they have another. All this bravado and bullish talk will be very quickly forgotten if he doesn’t perform – but, dare I say it, he’s already threatening having just hit a brutal/brilliant 97 against South Africa ‘A’ 2 days ago. Rod Marsh, his coach at the Academy, can perhaps conclude this piece better than I:

Rod Marsh, Pietersen’s coach at the National Academy, is adamant that his country of origin played no part in his omission from the South Africa tour, adding that England will benefit from his desire to play at the highest level. “English cricket’s spirit will be strengthened by him, not diluted,” said Marsh. “He has made an enormous sacrifice of leaving his own country. Maybe English cricket’s spirit has been diluted in the past by those English players who have not wanted it enough.”