Why ECB should hang heads in shame over Kevin Pietersen debacle

13 May 2015

“Pietersen"

The management of England’s maverick cricketer has been shambolic and unedifying

Ben Walker

Whatever you think of England cricketer Kevin Pietersen, the decision to exile him from the England team has been woefully mismanaged.

First, a few pointers about the right-hander. He has scored more international runs than any other English batsman in history. With the exception of Joe Root, who has played just 25 tests, he has the highest Test batting average of any current English player. And – given that the aim of English cricket is mainly to beat Australia – note that his average is higher against that old enemy. This week, he carried his bat for Surrey having knocked a cool 355 not out: his career best.

None of these facts were lost on England’s new director of cricket, Andrew Strauss, who described Pietersen as a “phenomenal cricketer” before promptly sacking him for what might as well be forever at a meeting on Monday. The reason? Strauss said there were “trust issues” surrounding Pietersen, hence he would not be returning to the side this summer, when the Australians come a-calling.

“KP

You can make a case for the trust thing. This is the same Kevin Pietersen who sent to his South African opponents derogatory texts about his England teammates during a particularly fraught Test series in 2012. In an explosive autobiography released after England’s last, disastrous tour to Australia – after which he was dropped – Pietersen attacked many of his old teammates, accusing them of bullying in the workplace. Strauss unwittingly hit back on live Australian television, describing the 34-year-old with an expletive while wrongly assuming the Fox Sports microphone was turned off.

What you cannot make a case for is the way in which Pietersen has been misled. If the England high command had no intention of giving Pietersen a chance to mend his ways, why say they did? ECB chairman Colin Graves told Pietersen to find a county and bat his way back into contention. Pietersen found one, Surrey, which didn’t have the money to pay him, so he worked for just a small charitable donation, foregoing a few lucrative shifts for the Indian Premier League in the process. And Pietersen responded in a way that Graves might only have dreamed of when he laid down the gauntlet – marmalising Leicestershire with the bat, scoring 355 off just 450 balls. It is impossible to argue with former England skipper Michael Vaughan’s analysis that Pietersen has been misled and mistreated – “taken down a path that led to a dead end”.

The ECB should learn from this episode, but they probably won’t. A miserable Ashes summer awaits England fans, but England’s management will probably consider that a small price to pay for keeping Pietersen out of the team.

Three lessons from the Kevin Pietersen fiasco

1. Avoid making false promises If Graves wasn’t prepared to enforce the lifeline he gave Pietersen, he should never have offered it. Strauss could have been locked into the deal as a condition of his signing as director of cricket, but he wasn’t.

2. Don’t hire a manager who demonstrably dislikes a member of staff then expect them to be neutral Graves may have been being honest when he told Pietersen he could play his way back into the England team. But this was always unlikely when his new director of cricket, Andrew Strauss, has unrepeatable views about him.

3. Invite public sympathy at your peril In its mishandling of the saga, the ECB has caused a once equivocal public to side with Pietersen. With a difficult Ashes summer ahead, the scale of bloodletting at ECB HQ come September could surpass anything seen so far.

Header image courtesy of NAPARAZZI, via the Wikimedia Commons.

Autobiography cover courtesy of Little, Brown.

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