The fall-out from England’s 5-0 Ashes whitewash defeat intensified yesterday with team director Andy Flower forced to deny claims that he no longer wanted Kevin Pietersen to be a part of the national team.
Several newspapers reported that Flower was willing to walk away from his job if Pietersen remained in the long-term plans of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB).
Flower and Pietersen have endured flashpoints before, most notably in 2012 when Pietersen was left out of the England team after his texting controversy and abrupt decision to retire from one-day internationals. But claims that Flower is now ready to move forward without Pietersen – after the 45-year-old coach was given ECB backing to retain his job in the wake of the Ashes debacle – were dismissed.
Flower described suggestions he had issued an ultimatum as “totally inaccurate” in a press release issued by the ECB. Flower added that any decisions over the futures of individual players or support staff would not be made so soon after an emotionally taxing series.
“Following speculation in the media today I feel it necessary to reiterate much of what I said in my recent press conference,” Flower said in the statement.
“It would be sensible and responsible to review the tour in a calm and logical manner before assessing our options.
“I repeat that neither I nor the wider ECB leadership group have made any decisions as to the future involvement of any individuals. The reports that I have issued an ultimatum of some description to the ECB are totally inaccurate.”
Pietersen, too, felt the need to comment on the newspaper reports, via Twitter, saying he was “shocked and saddened” his England future had again been called into question.
The right-hander had only on Tuesday re-affirmed his commitment to England – amid claims he might opt to retire – saying that he intended to try to win back the Ashes in 2015.
“I am shocked and saddened by reports in the media today concerning my future with England,” Pietersen tweeted. “I wish to repeat my strong desire to continue playing.”
After the Ashes whitewash was confirmed in Sydney last week, Flower revealed his desire to build a “new era” while also pointedly warning that “more pain” would likely be suffered before results turned around.
The Zimbabwean had overseen a hat-trick of Ashes successes before this winter, while England have been top of the rankings in all three formats during his almost five-year tenure. Pietersen has played a significant role in that, however, his working relationship with Flower has been under scrutiny since 2012.
Pietersen was left out of the final Test of the summer after sending “provocative” texts to South African rivals about then skipper Andrew Strauss.
Pietersen was subsequently “reintegrated” back into the England squad in time for the India series, reportedly with new captain Cook as the driving force, and played a key role in an historic 2-1 series win.
Former England skipper Michael Vaughan concedes something is clearly wrong.
He said: “Andy Flower has seen all the headlines. He might not have said exactly what is reported but there is clearly an issue between him and Kevin Pietersen. The best player, the maverick, the X-factor player is stood on the boundary during games. He is never involved in any of the team discussions.
“The two can carry on. Both of them and the team need space away from each other because it has been such a pressurised tour.
“The dust needs to settle, then people need to bang heads together and get them in a room together and get it sorted out.”
Flower and Pietersen will at least be able to get away from their travails in Australia as both men will be absent from the forthcoming limited overs series. Flower has handed over control of the shorter formats of the game to Ashley Giles, while Pietersen has been rested for the tour-ending matches, which begin with the first ODI in Melbourne on Sunday.