AND so the saga continues. Kevin Pietersen, who had been sacked after the last Ashes debacle is now not sacked but will not be selected, at least for this summer which, considering his fitness is waning and he is 34 years old, suggests he is unlikely to ever return.
For many that will be a disaster as he is undoubtedly a superb entertainer and equally adept at public relations via social media and a coterie of bombastic supporters on Twitter.
‘Score runs this summer and Strauss will be vindicated, at least in the short term’
Piers Morgan has never been as prolific with words as when screaming Pietersen’s case although it must be countered, purely for balance sake, that someone with a lot more cricketing pedigree than Morgan has argued calmly against Pietersen’s reintroduction. Sadly, the considered words of Steve Waugh, one of Australia’s most successful captains, and shrewd observers of the game are lost in the deluge from the likes of Morgan. That does not make them any less valuable though. Like the recent election, we must ignore the loud, constant ranting of some and accept the quiet have opinions as well. They just do not feel the need to broadcast them vociferously.
Indeed, these two characters neatly sum up the Pietersen problem. Morgan declares him akin to a cricketing genius but Waugh argues that his international form does not warrant a place in the side and the issues of trust in the dressing room are too valuable to be risked.
Both have valid arguments but it was Andrew Strauss, the new director of England cricket, that had to make the decision. Strauss is an interesting character.
He is labelled as an establishment type because of his background – Radley College, Durham University and captain of both Middlesex and England. He is erudite, polite and considered in thought and action.
Exactly the kinds of traits that used to be revered in Britain before the recent rise of instant celebrity culture and success moving from achievement to quantity of newspaper inches and TV footage.
Graeme Smith, the former South African captain and another Twitterer, ridicules Strauss, calling him “the headmaster”. Strauss, phlegmatic as ever, has not reacted, knowing that part of Smith’s dislike for him is because he stood up to him in a one-day international when Smith requested a runner because he was suffering from cramp. Strauss refused, arguing cramp was a fitness issue and not an injury and the umpires correctly agreed and refused Smith.
Smith is a huge frame and used to getting his own way. He did not like a small, calm, understated opponent refusing to buckle to his demands.
Strauss brought all that resolution to his decision. He has himself been wronged by Pietersen but it would more be the effect on the dressing room that concerned Strauss. His remit is to plan long term for the future of England. That is why he has replaced Ian Bell as vice-captain of the Test team with the impressive Joe Root.
Alastair Cook has this summer as captain but if results are poor could be removed for the winter and Root needs to “start thinking like a captain”.
Eoin Morgan remains one-day captain and assumes the role from Stuart Broad for the T20. Strauss is empowering him to forge an aggressive style that England palpably lacked in the World Cup.
All of these sensible decisions have been lost in the maelstrom of Pietersen. And again Strauss’s honesty in stating that the selection procedure would remain the same for the summer because he did not have the answers shows humility.
The only error he could be accused of was the offer to Pietersen of an advisory role.
However, having made that offer, he did right to disclose it to the media because he knows there is no such thing as a private conversation with Pietersen if he can use it to his benefit.
That the ECB has lost the media battle with Pietersen is without doubt. They need to appreciate the modern world swiftly as otherwise they will continue to look bumbling and anachronistic but that does not mean all their announcements last week were wrong.
For all parties, though, it is the next four months that will be the arbiter of the decisions. Starting Thursday at Lord’s, England begin a two-match Test series against New Zealand and over the past 18 months the Kiwis have become a formidable outfit.
They play aggressive cricket based on fast scoring and good, quick and swing bowling.
Their talisman, Brendon McCullum, is an uncompromising player and dares to win and, while Bradley-John Watling is captain, the heartbeat of the side is McCullum.
He will be supported by Ross Taylor, Kane Williamson and Martin Guptill but it is the seam bowling stocks that really impresses. Three left-arm seamers in Trent Boult, Neil Wagner and Corey Anderson are supplemented by Doug Bracewell and Tim Southee.
Boult, Bracewell and Southee would challenge the best batting line-up so England’s top order will be under pressure.
Of course, if Gary Ballance, Ian Bell and Root struggle then the whole Pietersen fiasco will start again. Score runs though and Strauss will be vindicated, at least in the short term.
There should be no doubt though that England are in a state of flux as many changes have been made and by September a few more will be in motion. The coach is gone, the captain may leave at the end of the summer. The best batsman England has ever had has gone, again, and a new batch of talent has a chance to impose itself. Finally, James Anderson is entering the final stage of his career and with it one of England’s finest swing bowlers will disappear.
The rebuilding must happen. Time, the stealthiest thief of all, relentlessly forces change and Strauss has started that process. To do so he needed to be unpopular and refuse Pietersen.
He has done that, it is now up to the players to back him up. If not they may find he is ruthless on them.