The Kevin Pietersen era appears to have lasted only nine years. In that time, England has witnessed some the most successful and entertaining cricket in its history and the team is far less vital for his absence.
It was announced yesterday that Pietersen would not tour the West Indies with England later this month, nor would he be considered for the upcoming World Twenty20 Championships. It is acknowledged that this decision – taken by the England and Wales Cricket Board Managing Director Paul Downton after consulting with coach dauphin Ashley Giles, Alistair Cook and selector James Whitaker – will end Pietersen’s representative career.
The decision comes only a week after former coach and chief Pietersen antagonist Andy Flower resigned from his position, ostensibly in the wake of an “it’s him or me” ultimatum delivered to the ECB. Pietersen’s presence had been so disruptive that the coach no longer felt his remarkable talent was worth the man-hours spent harnessing it; despite public pronouncements to the opposite, it appears Cook and Giles feel similarly.
Jonathon Agnew wrote yesterday that KP is the archetypal bad breaker-upper: when turning to his past cricketing relationships, he surveys only bleak, charred soil. He is unquestionably an opinionated, headstrong player whose demise can be traced as far back as the retirement of Michael Vaughan as England captain and his subsequent star-cross’d succession.
Many things about this situation are most curious. Firstly, despite some truly awful dismissals, Pietersen was still the most formidable English bat during his last Tests and appeared to be making efforts not to rock the boat – any more than it already was upturned by Mitchell Johnson, anyway. Despite comments to the effect of “starting the rebuilding process”, we still don’t know exactly the nature of skeletons residing in his cricket coffin.
That rebuilding should start with Pietersen is also questionable. While pruning overladen branches to produce new growth is a gardening staple, one must be sure that the new growth is able to supply the demand. While the burden placed upon Simon Borthwick, Joe Root, Gary Ballance et al has been great, only Ben Stokes has genuinely taken his England opportunities. Summer opponents Australia know from hard experience how little succession planning can actually mean and, as Peter Miller pointed out in the most recent Geek and Wilde podcast, withdrawing one further bat from England’s rapidly vacating middle order flies in the face of addition-by-subtraction.
It is thought that while Pietersen failed “management”, he was in turn failed by them. Perhaps this is why, like so many cricket personnel decisions now, resolution to this interminability was made by an executive rather than a coach (read: middle-manager). Those in power had tolerated management’s folly for too long not to act.
Despite the unremitting nature of the situation, that the ECB saw fit to arbitrarily enforce retirement on a player without a coach in place – that is, sans architect and implementer of the team’s vision – belies a lack of faith in their managers. Reasoning that life will be simpler and more profitable with new man and a clean slate is understandable in the circumstances, but also somewhat flawed.
Experience suggests that the right coach could achieve great things with Kevin Pietersen pumping out runs like a middle-order howitzer. With Giles apparently complicit in yesterday’s action, it would appear the likely new coach views the construction of a productive relationship as impossible even before an attempt has been made.
After five years’ frustration, management’s only recourse was to shuffle the problem upwards to the executives. In such situations, decision-makers are liable to make black-and-white choices promoting organizational efficiency. It is common sense that rehabilitation lacking buy-in from either side is almost certain to fail; when faced with persistent symptoms, the ECB opted for a surgical panacea rather than a tricksy rehab under the guidance of therapists in whom they may lack absolute belief.
While clean slates may offer unlimited possibilities, they also engender powerful vacuums. The hole at number four will be exceedingly tough to fill.