Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Another fine mess

Wednesday, 13 May 2015
Oh, how the ECB love to outdo themselves. Not content with how badly the Kevin Pietersen saga has panned out over the past fifteen months, they went and made it even worse. And this happened in a week where the sacking of a coach was leaked to the media before the man himself was even told. It's the sort of thing that you can't make up - and yet at the same time it doesn't feel surprising. The ECB, with their exceptional talent for angering the fans, have managed to exceed even themselves.

So, Andrew Strauss was appointed as the new director of cricket, filling the spot recently vacated by Paul Downton. What Downton lacked, Strauss certainly had - that understanding of the modern game, the gravitas and respect that comes with playing 100 test matches and being a highly successful captain of the side. Was it a 'safe' option? Maybe. It any case it looked like another man appearing from the establishment, still with close relationships to several of the key ECB figures, staff, and players. Whilst I would call myself a fan of Strauss, as the man who led England to the top of the rankings and the Ashes wins in 2009 and 2010/11, I might have preferred someone a bit more detached from the whole set up. But that's not saying he won't do a good job, and I don't doubt that he can be the man to take England forward. Though he's already made a horrible start, helping a messier situation to become even messier.

First of all came the sacking of Peter Moores, a move perhaps suggesting Strauss may not quite be the company man first believed and a man not afraid to make the big decision. It's easy to see why he went, and I would say the right call was made - progress made in the test side last summer being masked by dismal ODI performances, the defeat in the final test against the West Indies putting the cherry on top of it all. He certainly has a talent for spotting players, something we've seen in both reigns as coach - bringing Swann and Sidebottom back from the wilderness to become key players in his first reign; giving Ballance the number three spot and bringing Buttler into the test team during his second stint. And yet there's always been this sense that he just doesn't connect with the public - all the coach speak and talk of the 'data' that comes back to haunt him, and the complaints of his coaching style seem often to resurface, even if not going as far as Pietersen's description of him as a 'human triple espresso'.

But whether or not you felt it was the right choice, the way it happened was another unedifying episode for the ECB - Moores coaching the team in Ireland whilst the press is telling the world he doesn't have a job. It's just disrespectful, a terrible way to treat someone, and this to a man just a year ago described as the 'outstanding coach of his generation'. Once again the ECB are left embarrassed - they made the decision to bring Moores back and a year later have sacked him again. The Pietersen drama in the background gave it all an eerie sense of deja vu.

Indeed, ultimately it comes back to Kevin Pietersen, as it always seems to do. The man is told to go back, score runs in the County Championship, and then he might be able to get back in contention. And he certainly did that in emphatic fashion - 355* for Surrey with a strike rate close to 90, playing like the Pietersen of old. Innings like that are what makes him such a special player - a player that people want to watch, a player that can turn matches around and strike fear into the opposition. Innings like his 158 at The Oval in 2005, like the 186 at Mumbai in 2012, like those centuries in South Africa that announced him on the world stage. Can you really blame anyone for wanting to see a player like that?

Well, it turns out that the ECB can. On the very same day, Pietersen's England career was all but ended once again. He's not explicitly 'banned', but told he won't at least be featuring this summer, so as good as. The ECB outdo themselves again. I just feel that, if they don't want to select him - then just don't select him, rather than making an announcement about it, holding a meeting to say so. He's a fan favourite, and by making this announcement the ECB are essentially sticking their middle finger up to a lot of them. Neither side has come off well in the whole saga over the past year or so, Pietersen's book certainly not doing his image any favours, but the ECB seemed determined to come off worst of all. They've shot themselves in the foot, except they've done it so many times now that there's barely any foot left to shoot.

The contradictions make it even worse. Strauss speaks of a 'massive trust issue' between the ECB and Pietersen, and then offers him an advisory role for the ODI team. Does that really make any sense? It's unsurprising, at least, that Pietersen declined the role. And lurking in the shadows remains 'textgate', the whole affair that saw relations between the two sour in 2012, something clearly still lingering when Strauss was caught on the microphone describing Pietersen as 'an absolute c***' just last year. How much of this 'trust issue' is a personal one? And is Strauss, indeed, not detached far enough from the current set up?

Regardless of whether or not Pietersen should be in the team, the way this whole thing has been managed - and that is going back to the sacking last year and beyond - has been a disgrace. Is a player ever really unmanageable, or is it just bad management? And even in choosing to move on without him, surely it could have been done so much better? Instead there's been a black cloud hovering around English cricket for over a year, not always at the forefront, but always lingering somewhere. It will only continue.

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