KEVIN Pietersen questions Alastair Cook’s credentials to be England captain and has voiced his dismay at a “bullying” culture he believes has long undermined the national team.
Pietersen’s autobiography, released to the media yesterday and set to go on general sale on Thursday, reveals his despair at the regime overseen by former coach Andy Flower, in which he claims cliques took root and exerted an overwhelming negative influence.
The record-breaking South Africa-born batsman, axed by the England and Wales Cricket Board eight months ago after the team’s whitewash Ashes defeat, is especially scathing about Flower and wicketkeeper Matt Prior.
He describes Cook as a “decent guy” but one “paralysed” by the situation he was put in. Cook survived as captain following Flower’s move to a different job at the ECB and Pietersen’s sacking, and remains in situ alongside returning coach Peter Moores as England embark on a World Cup winter.
But Pietersen, free to tell his side of the story following the end last week of a confidentiality clause agreed as part of his severance with the ECB, fears Cook may not be the right man to help forge the “new era”.
His doubts are sown by what he perceives as the opener’s failure to repay the support he insists he gave his captain throughout last winter’s shambles. “I was disappointed. I had gone out of my way to support him on the Ashes tour,” Pietersen writes in KP: The Autobiography.
“The next time I saw Cooky he was staring at his shoes while I was being told I would not be included in the England squads in the Caribbean or in the World T20. I was disappointed in him then. I thought the way he behaved called into question his qualifications to be captain. But I know too that he is a decent guy and that he was paralysed by how uncomfortable it all was.”
Pietersen spoke of his worries in a pre-publication interview with the Daily Telegraph, that the ECB is in danger of “literally ruining [Cook’s] career”.
He added in his book: “Alastair Cook knows that on the Ashes tour there were absolutely no problems with me in the dressing room.
“Alastair Cook knows that I scored the most runs for England on that tour. Alastair Cook knows that I had his back 100 per cent. Any advice I could give, I did. I opened the door and said to him ‘listen, I am here to help you. I want you to be successful’. I told him that again and again. If he needed me at any time, I would be there. I know, though, that while Cooky is a nice man, he is also a company man. A safe pair of hands; he won’t rock the boat.”
Pietersen is disdainful about Flower – “Contagiously sour. Infectiously dour. He could walk into a room and suck all the joy out of it in five seconds – and Prior. He claims they were instrumental in allowing bullying to take hold, with the culture
demanding that those who made errors in the field apologised to the bowler.
“The bowlers were given so much power,” he said. “I thought, ‘I reckon I could hit these guys. Who do you think you are, to ask for an apology from someone who’s trying his heart out? Are you perfect, are you never going to drop a catch? Are you never going to bowl a wide?”
Pietersen has little respect either for ECB managing director Paul Downton, whose decision it was ultimately to agree the end of his stellar but controversial ten-year international career. That process appears to have had its roots in the poor impression Pietersen made on Downton during the final Test in Sydney – and a team meeting in Melbourne a week earlier.
Pietersen blames Prior – “a bad influence… who picks on players” in the first instance. “He’d been wearing a face that was half grief and half thunder [after being dropped] and then all of a sudden he was making a whole lot of noise in this players’ meeting. I had a problem with that. Then Prior said, ‘f*** Flower, this is not his team’.
“He said… ‘it’s not just our fault but the management’s too. They are creating an awful work environment. They treat us like schoolboys’.
“The spin ever since that day has been that I judged the atmosphere wrong. I don’t think I misread anything about the mood in that room. I said my piece, nothing anyone hadn’t heard before – including Andy Flower.”
There was a fleeting suggestion that Pietersen should inherit Prior’s role as vice-captain, but it was then that he began to doubt Cook. “I think Cooky felt a hell of a lot of pressure at that time. It wasn’t going to happen, but he would have thought ‘f****** hell, KP as vice-captain? KP wants Prior gone? Where would that leave me if everyone’s saying that I should go too?’
“I think that process probably made it quite easy for him when he was given the option of getting rid of me. I think the thought of me becoming vice-captain probably scared him.”
Downton and the ECB’s verdict came six weeks on, after Flower had already resigned. “In the end, when we didn’t have success as a distraction, they needed a scapegoat,” Pietersen writes of the apparent endgame. “I didn’t always tread wisely. I was often naive and sometimes stupid. I was no villain, though.”
Even so, the 34-year-old would still like to return to the fold. “I’m not prepared to accept I will never play for England again. I believe that the governing body of English cricket could change; I believe it should change. I am happy for now, but I would be happy to come back.”
An ECB spokesman said: “The ECB has still not received the book. Until we see it, it is going to be very difficult to comment on anything in it.’’
Kevin Pietersen’s autobiography has, predictably, divided opinion – as the superstar batsman did throughout his international career. Here is some of the best reaction:
MATT PRIOR (via Twitter): “After this morning, I’m looking forward to reading the full kp book. Might bully my kids into getting it for me for Xmas!! Obvs sad to see the accusations against me this am and I WILL have my right of reply! However today is not the day and Twitter is not the place for it! Now back to my Achilles rehab and learning to walk again! have a great day everyone.”
MICHAEL VAUGHAN (via Twitter): Find all the fall out in English Cricket very very sad… Many to blame but mostly it’s been a lack of communication and Man Management… Won’t play for England again. So I will remember @KP24 for what he was. A maverick who could play innings that no other England player could!”
DOMINIC CORK (talkSPORT): “Do I think Kevin Pietersen was personally bullied? No, and the reason is because I have been so close to him.
“Did he look the sort of person who looked like he was lost and in a bad place? No.
“He was the person who had his own seat on the bus, and no one else could sit on that seat because that was Kevin’s seat. He wants to put out this story because he feels the way he was treated was unjust.
“Andy Flower took England to No 1 in the world so he did something right. There was a clash of personalities, they didn’t get on, so this is about getting back at Flower. Just remember, Kevin Pietersen, during his time in England, has left a trail of destruction wherever he has been.”
MIKE GATTING (Sky Sports News): “I’m sure for the first couple of weeks there will be lots of ‘he said, she said’ and all that… I’m sure we’ll all listen and have a wry smile, because there’s always two sides to the coin. The book is a bit of history. We’ve all done a bit in our past, but that’s history. We’ve got to look forward. You have to (move on) in life. We saw some wonderful stuff (this summer) from the young cricketers who have come through.”