Wednesday, 5 February 2014

KP and the English cricket establishment


They got him in the end. Not before he became England's highest-ever runscorer. Not before he was part of a No.1 team, three Ashes wins, a World Twenty20 title and victory in India. And not before he entertained millions in a way no other Englishman could. But finally, after a decade of mistrust and suspicion, English cricket has dumped Kevin Pietersen.

I say “they” because as collateral from the Ashes mauling mounts, it feels as though an old rift in English cricket is rupturing once more. The establishment, with its management systems, conservatism and ruthless profiteering seems suddenly so distant from the many outsiders whose love and money fuels the sport.

Pietersen is a talisman. An Englishman who epitomises “outsider”. After nearly a decade in the England set-up he is left with no friend in the dressing room and no supporters at the ECB. His restless innovation and calculated daring made him one of the most magnetic batsmen to have ever taken guard, but also an individual utterly convinced of his own way. A self-obsessed genius. Most are.

Though the runs he scored and series he won were gleefully accepted by captains, coaches and administrators whose lofty reputations he helped establish, they never seemed to accept the man himself.

It might well be that his dressing-room presence was untenable. His rumoured put-down of James Taylor offers a glimpse of what off-field life was like with Pietersen. Though it reveals something about the nature and utility of managerial thinking if the best player is sacked for being unmanageable.

But if there is a reason compelling enough to deprive England fans of Pietersen, the ECB has to spell it out. Allowing lawyers to gag them speaks of how far the ECB have distanced themselves from the public. So far, a struggling captain, a new managing director and an unappointed coach have made the decision without explanation.

All the while, the outsider fans that pay the salaries of the suits, coaches and players have been told nothing beyond obfuscation and innuendo. Parts of the paper press, meanwhile, are quick to sanctimoniously remind us of our ignorance, but far less willing to provide the clarity we pay them for.

For the second time in a month the ECB have taken a monumental decision without explanation. When they helped sever cricket's global development and establish the Big Three cabal, much of the print media (Atherton & Berry apart) were silent, before eventually spinning a story about the pragmatic “realities” of the grown-up world. The entire issue passed without the ECB fielding significant public scrutiny.

It speaks of a deeper and more longstanding narrowness in English cricket. The ECB executive board is dominated by well-to-do white men, the England team is dominated by private-school boys, and even in 2014, there is no non-white coach of any county team or in the National Cricket Performance Centre.

The broadcast media may provide the best of any sport coverage in the country, but it is still dominated almost entirely by ex-pros. Test Match Sofa, an amateur upstart, is being quietly suffocated by an establishment needlessly wary of outsider voices.

The danger is that such suspicion creates myopia. From WG Grace to Pietersen -  via Tony Grieg and David Gower – English cricket has long had an institutional suspicion of free-wheeling mavericks. Though, at least Grace et al got a chance. It is the less celebrated, like Maurice Holmes, who really suffer from the reflex for orthodoxy that festers in the English game.

If England want talk of a “team ethic”, “rebuilding” and new “philosophy” to be more than MBA buzzwords, they should look a little deeper and think a little broader about the way they approach the game. A “fresh start” would be to embrace the irritants, freaks and non-conformists.  

4 comments:

Tim Newman said...

Very well said.

alanmcl said...

Yeah, they're mad to drop him. "Team whitewashed. Best batter sacked." Makes no sense, at least no cricketing sense.

Anonymous said...

I've been away and have only just read this article, with which I absolutely agree.
On my return, I found my tickets for the two Lords tests (total cost £810) had arrived, since when I have thought quite seriously about returning them as it seems to me that some protest at the ECB's actions -- in effectively BANNING Pietersen, against the wishes of the paying public, who are after all the chief "stakeholders" in English cricket -- MUST be made.

News or Cricket said...

I am 100% agreed with you,
Nice Sharing about cricket