And so, the international career of the most divisive England player of recent times, Kevin Pietersen, has come to an end.
Effectively, he has been sacked by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) having been made aware that he will not be considered for selection again – and befitting the way of his career, the decision has provoked strong opinions of both sides and whether the decision that has been made is the right one.
Pietersen is England’s leading run scorer in all formats, with 13,797 runs in 277 matches and he is fourth on England’s Test match runs list, an is also England’s country’s leading run scorer in international cricket: 8,181 runs at an average of 47 in 104 Tests, 4,440 runs in 136 one-day internationals, 1,176 runs in 37 Twenty20s.
He is one of the few England players of recent times who has genuinely been considered a world-class talent, and even though he is perhaps not the player he was a few years ago when he would have been an obvious inclusion in a world XI to take on Mars, he is still probably England’s best batsman and the player who the opposition fear the most: He was England’s leading run scorer in the disastrous tour of Australia.
But with his great talent comes trouble, and not just in the way he plays his cricket on the field (he suffered several careless and baffling dismissals during the Ashes). He has consistently been involved in controversey since his debut in 2004: he was appointed captain in 2008, but that lasted just five after what was described by the ECB as an irretrievable breakdown with then coach Peter Moores (subsequently sacked); he retired from limited-overs international cricket in May 2012, but two months later, reversed that decision; he was then dropped during the Test series against South Africa that summer for sending “provocative” text messages to opposing players, for which he apologised to then captain Andrew Strauss; and he was rumoured to be part of the reason for James Taylor’s exclusion from the England team, with Pietersen describing an innings of his as “the worst he’d ever seen”…
Following his successful re-integration into the England set-up in 2013, things on the surface appeared to improve, but there were still issues to be dealt with and there were rumours,that were denied by all parties, that former England head coach Andy Flower had issued the ECB with an ultimatum to choose between him and Pietersen. A month on, and both men have gone.
The decision to axe Pietersen from the side for good it would appear may have some logical background to it. He is a 33-year old player who over recent years has struggled with injury, has never really appeared comfortable as part of the England set-up, and has seen his form slip away from his mercurial best. Over the past 12 months, he has scored just one century in 12 matches and averages just 33. Over the past 24 months, he averages just 38. Given that an average of 40 is what is considered the standard to expect from a test match batsmen, it is clear that his form may not deserve a spot in the England team.
But the timing of it only serves to be confusing and it comes across as if Pietersen is being made the scapegoat for England’s dismal Ashes debacle. The decision to effectively exile him from England selection is made even more confusing by the state that English cricket is currently in without a head coach for the team.
Paul Downton, the Managing Director of England Cricket, along with the England management and selectors apparently made the unanimous decision that now was the time to start the rebuilding process after England’s disappointing winter in Australia. But a new coach for the team, whoever is appointed, may have different ideas and could still see Pietersen as part of the future for English cricket. Making this decision before a new man has been appointed in effect, could undermine their power of decision making even before they have been offered the job.
It is also being reported that Alistair Cook, the test and one-day international captain, played an important and influential role in the decision as he was a part of the three-man panel who gave the batsman the news. If Cook does not want Pietersen to play a part in the teams that he captains then that is something that has to be considered. But Cook does not play for the Twenty20 side, nor does he have any leadership role in that team, and as such, should not really have any input into the selection of this side.
The reaction from those in the cricketing world has been one of almost universal surprise and bewilderment at the news.
Michael Vaughan, the former England captain, was one of the first ex-stars to ask for clarification. “I think the ECB have to explain to everyone exactly what KP has done so we can all have clarity and reasoning,” he tweeted.
Alec Stewart agrees with Vaughan that Pietersen should have been managed better rather than just cast aside.
“We don’t know exactly what has gone on within that England dressing room,” he said.
“Dressing rooms are difficult places whatever level you play at. Part of managing isn’t just coaching, it’s about managing players and situations and not allowing things to come to a head.”
People will wonder how Flower and his extensive management team, amounting to more than 20 backroom staff, could still fail to manage England’s most maverick player, and whether the supposedly collapsing “team ethic and philosophy” is being blamed solely on one man. Indeed, the inability to manage him reflects poorly on their abilities, and they are the target of vitriol from Piers Morgan, a friend of Pietersen, with him stating in three successive tweets:
“What you have now is a collection of people at the ECB who literally have no clue about man management.”
“I can tell from the reaction on social media that 95% of the English public are absolutely enraged by this.”
“We have a useless captain, no coach and an ECB management team who have committed professional suicide.”
England clearly need to move on and rebuild from the tour of Australia, which was one of the most disastrous in their history. And that process has begun. Firstly the coach has left his job. Now Pietersen has gone. And yet the captain, Alistair Cook remains in charge, and given his role in the decision, seems to be as powerful as ever.
Cook is clearly still one of England’s best batsmen. He is almost certainly the best opener batsman that England currently have, and his place in the starting XI should not be under threat. But his captaincy has also left a lot to be desired and has always seemed pedestrian and unimaginative. If, as Downton has stated, “the time is right to look to the future and start to rebuild not only the team,” then surely fresh ideas and a fresh captain should be on that agenda.
Personally, I would not have jettisoned Pietersen into the international wilderness just yet. I would have kept faith with him for the World T20 in Bangladesh in March, although that may have been a last hurrah for him at international level. But certainly, I would not have removed him without consulting the new coach first.
This is a big decision that has been made and the initial reaction from pundits and fans alike suggest that in their opinion, England have made a mistake and will suffer from this.
Pietersen’s international career began in a blaze of glory, scoring three centuries in a series in his native South Africa. His test career began with an Ashes victory and an awe-dropping century in the final test to secure it. It ends rather less spectacularly with a bland statement from the ECB.
But he still goes out in controversy. And given the way of his career, perhaps, it is fitting, that even at the end, he divides opinion…