KP and how the Old Farts killed English Cricket

English: Kevin Pietersen bowled Mohammad Asif ...

Kevin Pieterse in the first Test Match v Pakiston at Trent Bridge 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been an England cricket fan all my adult life. Starting Thursday, England play South Africa at Lord’s in a match that will effectively decide the world championship. But I won’t be watching. Frankly, I’m not sure I ever want to watch cricket again.

The reason, of course, is Kevin Pietersen — more specifically, the England Cricket Board’s decision not to play him in the match. It’s another triumph for the sort of men former England rugby captain Will Carling once described as “old farts”.

I don’t want to defend Pietersen’s behaviour over the last couple of months: that’s not the point. What bothers me is that England will now go into their hardest and most significant match for years without the man who is unarguably their best player.

A man who almost won the last Test, at Headingley, on his own. When Kevin Pietersen walked out to bat in the first innings, it was clear that his captain, Andrew Strauss, and the other players had already given up. Their spirit had been broken by South Africa’s monumental batting at the Oval, and they had abandoned all hope of winning. They were just batting for a draw. Pietersen had other ideas.

He hauled England back into the match with a counter-attacking innings of 149 that no one else in the side could play. And then, when the bowlers couldn’t take South African wickets, he decided to do their job for them as well, taking the first three wickets with his occasional off spin.

And his reward for this supreme display? He is dropped. People say he deserved it. Well, maybe he did. But did we?

What is our reward, those of us who followed England through the barren years when they couldn’t win anything, who sat in the cold and drizzle and watched a procession of journeymen paraded before us in England whites, the Jason Gallians and John Crawleys, and the talented underachievers, the Graeme Hicks and Mark Ramprakashes. How we longed for a champion batsman who could change a game single-handed. Did we deserve to have him taken from us?

We keep hearing that dreary old adage trotted out, “there is no I in team” — I suppose it’s the sort of thing that amuses people who were proud of how well they did in school spelling tests. But if we have to have an ego in the team, I’d rather it were Pietersen’s than that of Giles Clarke, Hugh Morris, Geoff Miller or any of the other old farts who run English cricket.

Kevin Pietersen has behaved like an idiot this summer, there’s no arguing with that: hijacking end of game press conferences to complain about the team, indulging in brinkmanship over which matches he’s prepared to play, issuing eleventh hour volte faces via youtube.

But dealing with temperamental talent is part of the job description for any England manager. On Sky News, Nasser Hussain seemed so enamoured of the manly Andy Flower that he couldn’t wait to tell us KP had no chance of taking on a man who once stood up to Robert Mugabe.

But what was Andy Flower doing taking KP on? That’s not his job, he was supposed to manage the players. His ego shouldn’t enter into it at all. His job was to make sure this never happened. The fact it has means Flower is a failure as England team director.

I don’t think I’d like KP much on a personal level. I’ve never met him, so perhaps I’m being unfair, but he doesn’t strike me as the sort of man I’d like to go for a drink with. To an observer, his behaviour appears arrogant. But then, I’m not interested in going for a drink with him. I want to watch him play cricket for England.

He hasn’t handled things well, and he could have done with a more likeable cheerleader-in-chief than the oleaginous Piers Morgan. But it does seem that beneath all the drama, he may have had some genuine grievances with the ECB.

It’s telling that the man who announced that he’d been dropped, the England managing director Hugh Morris, was the same man who famously sacked Pietersen as England captain over the phone.

It’s also worth recalling that the ill feeling between Pietersen and the ECB this summer didn’t start with his demands to be allowed to sit out matches: it began when the ECB fined him over a tweet he sent out questioning Nick Knight’s credentials as a commentator. The old farts in action: rapping a grown man’s knuckles as if he were a naughty schoolboy.

KP has been derided for getting upset that some of his team-mates enjoyed a fake Twitter account that took the piss out of him. His reaction may have been a little precious, but isn’t it also a sign that all was not well in the dressing room?

Officially, KP has been dropped over some unflattering text messages about his team-mates he allegedly sent to South African players, but it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that the old farts were glad of a pretext to ditch a man who’d questioned their authority. After all, the spinner Graeme Swann publicly lambasted Pietersen’s captaincy in his autobiography, and he wasn’t dropped.

I suspect the thing KP did that was really unforgiveable was to take the wrong side in the ECB’s ongoing war with the Indian cricket authorities — and specifically, the Indian Premier League.

Pietersen said he wanted to play a full season in the IPL next year, which would mean missing two Test matches for England against New Zealand. This has prompted a great deal of rage at the suggestion that he would miss an international match for some pyjama cricket bash in India.

The reality is a little different. I don’t much like the IPL, I’m not a fan of Twenty20 and I couldn’t care less who wins a match between the Kochi Kokonuts and the Chennai Chumpoos. But the fact is that it is here to stay, and it is cricket’s equivalent of the football premiership.

We wouldnt expect an England footballer to miss an international to play for their premiership club — but then we wouldn’t expect the two matches to be scheduled to clash.

The ECB is being intransigent in its refusal to clear a space for the IPL in the international calendar, as other boards have agreed to. It’s not as if it falls in the middle of the English summer: Test matches have only spread into May in recent years as the ECB tried to squeeze yet more money out of the game.

And the two matches against New Zealand will be an insult to the name “Test matches” anyway, because New Zealand’s best players will be in the IPL, and the tourists will bring over a B team

Essentially, in football terms what KP was being asked to do was miss the FA cup final for a friendly against  Bolivia.

There’s a certain sort of cricket “fan” for whom KP can never do right. They ‘re always moaning that he hasn’t been any good for years, or doesn’t score enough runs. The fact they usually say this about three days after he has scored a blazing hundred makes me suspect they aren’t really interested in cricket.

Their chief accusation is always that he is a mercenary, because he came here from South Africa to further his career. I’m not all that convinced it’s really what bothers them, since they never seem to mind that Jonathan Trott and Eoin Morgan changed their allegiances in similar ways. But at least they’re consistent in their disapproval of KP.

But it’s a bit rich for the ECB to accuse Pietersen of being mercenary. They hired him. It’s like hiring Clint Eastwood to clear out your town of gunslingers, and then announcing with a shocked expression: “Good god! This man is going round shooting people!”

If they’re so concerned about guarding their commercial space, the ECB should take a little more care of their single biggest commercial asset. KP fills cricket ground and makes people tune in on TV. They’ve replaced him for this match with Johnny Bairstow, who is the spitting image of Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films.

But who wants to watch Ron when we could have had Harry?


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