Monday, 13 August 2012

I knew it was too good to last

I've been following the whole Kevin Pietersen/ECB saga over recent weeks with mounting dismay, but having followed England avidly since David Steele's memorable 1975 debut, I should have known that we'd shoot ourselves in the foot at the first opportunity following our ascent to No.1 in the Test rankings. Yesterday's dropping of KP, on the grounds that he might have sent texts critical of Andy Strauss and Andy Flower to a South African player, looks bizarre at best.

Of course, without actually knowing the personalities involved, it's hard to know exactly who's in the right. I'd imagine that KP isn't the easiest player to play with, and yes, I can see the point that maintaining team unity is vital.

But has he ever, for example, pulled out of a game or tour with a dubious injury, or just refused to tour a particular country? No, not to my knowledge. England players have in the past (admittedly before the central contracts era), and it was never held against them. Graham Gooch broke international sanctions to tour South Africa, was welcomed back into the England fold the moment he'd served his ban, then decided 18 months later that he didn't fancy an Ashes tour. When, in 1989, he was struggling during the home Ashes series, he decided he wasn't available for the remaining games. He was rewarded with the England captaincy a few months later.

What about other bad behaviour? Has he conducted himself badly on the field, such as, for example, attempting to tamper with the ball and then lying about it afterwards? No. Mike Atherton did exactly that, but it was never held against him.

It's also a bit of a nonsense that successful teams all have to be best mates, anyway. By all accounts, Geoff Boycott didn't make a huge amount of friends in England dressing-rooms, but there weren't many of his contemporaries asking for him to be dropped. They knew he was the best England batsman of that era, and that the team needed him. In the great Aussie side of recent memory, Shane Warne was far from universally popular, not least with coach John Buchanan. Did they ever drop him? Of course not - he was a genius and match-winner.

And there are more double-standards at work. Someone within the ECB must have leaked talk of KP's contract recently, but no-one has been disciplined there. Someone close to the team, it appears, has been running the fake KP Twitter account, or at least feeding info to it, but again no action has been taken. What makes the texts any different?

I hope I'm wrong, but the whole thing smacks of the approach taken by Gooch when he was captain, when the likes of Gower, Lamb and Botham (plus younger 'flair' players) were excluded on the grounds that they didn't share the captain's rigid, unbending and frankly tedious approach.

Then, as now, the real test was whether such a method worked. Gooch's sides had some notable but isolated successes, but most of his reign was a story of grinding mediocrity. We're much stronger in terms of depth these days, but I suspect that they'll still pay a heavy price for excluding their best batsman at Lord's this week.

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