Pietersen pick may be flawed in long run

IT ALWAYS seemed likely that Kevin Pietersen would be asked to take over from Michael Vaughan as England's captain. He's the best batsman in the team, and one of the few assured of his place in both the Test and One-Day sides. So appointing him was the easy course for the selectors to take.

This doesn't mean that it isn't hazardous, or indeed that it's the right decision.

Doubts as to its wisdom have nothing to do with Pietersen's South African origins. He is qualified to play for England, and, this being so, there is no reason why he shouldn't captain the side. Tony Greig, another South African, did so with some success in the Seventies, and Allan Lamb is another South African who has led England, if, in his case, only as a substitute in an emergency.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Yet there are four reasons for questioning the decision. First, Pietersen has no experience of captaincy. This may not matter. Given the fact that Test players now play almost no county cricket, it's probable that few England captains in the future will have captained a county side. Len Hutton, England's first professional captain, winner of two Ashes series, was never captain of Yorkshire, though, aged 35 when he was made captain of England, he was much more experienced than Pietersen is now. So this reason for doubt may be brushed aside.

Second, some think Pietersen too egocentric, too little of a team player to make a good captain. This isn't a negligible consideration. It's why Geoffrey Boycott didn't get the job except for four Tests when he took over from an injured Mike Brearley.

On the other hand Don Bradman was thought to be very self-centred, and made a pretty good captain of Australia.

Third, Pietersen is by some way England's leading batsman, indeed their outstanding player, the only one who would probably get into a World XI. On the one hand this is a good reason for giving him the captaincy; his place in the side isn't in doubt. On the other, as the best batsman, he already shoulders a heavy burden of responsibility. Moreover, outstanding players don't necessarily make effective captains: neither Ian Botham nor Andrew Flintoff made a success of the job. Then, though Ricky Ponting's batting doesn't seem to have been adversely affected since he became captain of Australia. One might add that Michael Vaughan was by some way England's best batsman when he was made captain, and look at how quickly and completely his form declined.

None of these is a clinching argument, but, to my mind, the fourth reason for not appointing Pietersen now is persuasive. He is 28, and should have at least eight more years of Test cricket if he wants them. But making him captain now is likely to shorten his career. It's a wearing job, as Vaughan and his predecessors, notably Nasser Hussain and Mike Atherton could tell him.

Here too there is an unhappy precedent. Peter May was only 25 and England's best batsman when he took over from Len Hutton. He was out of the game at the age of thirty-one. Partly because he was worn down by the responsibility and criticism, partly because in two overseas tours (to South Africa and the West Indies), his own form deteriorated. By giving Pietersen the job now, the English selectors have very probably ensured their successors in four or five years time will have to do without him.

Though one understands why they have gone for Pietersen, it still seems unwise. It's not after all as if there weren't other candidates. Andrew Strauss has already captained England, successfully, and batted better as captain than since he was relieved of the job. The there was a case for Paul Collingwood. Some would say he is not assured of his place in the team, despite his redemptive century at Edgbaston. But that was the case with one of England's most successful captains, Ray Illingworth, whose Test career was decidedly undistinguished until he was made captain.

Finally, one reason for choosing Pietersen is clearly because they want to have one captain for the Test side and the one-day and 20/20 internationals. This is elevating the latter to a position of undue importance. Few really care about them, though they may enjoy attending the games. But who remembers them a few weeks later, whereas Test matches say in the memory? Anyway, India seem to be getting along well enough with Anil Kumble captaining the Test side, and Mahendra Dhoni in charge of the one-day teams.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Pietersen will probably make a big hundred at The Oval, and may even lead England to victory. A change of captain often has an immediate revitalising effect, just as when a football club gets a new manager.

But in the long run I fear this appointment will prove a mistake, and if it indeed shortens Pietersen's Test career, that will be very sad.

Batsman says he's ready to work with coach Moores as he takes over from Vaughan

KEVIN Pietersen insists he has repaired his relationship with coach Peter Moores and that the pair are ready to work together after being officially confirmed as England's new captain.

The 28-year-old Hampshire batsman was unveiled during a cramped press conference in the Lord's media centre yesterday following the resignations of Michael Vaughan and Paul Collingwood as England's Test and one-day captains.

Pietersen will take charge of the Test, one-day and Twenty20 sides, having held talks yesterday with Moores aimed at salvaging an increasingly fractious relationship between the pair, which threatened Pietersen's willingness to take the highly-scrutinised role.

But asked whether he believed they could take the team forward together, Pietersen was adamant they could, claiming he was "absolutely 100 per cent confident."

He stressed: "I don't think I would be sitting here today if I wasn't 100 per cent confident that everything is going to be perfectly fine.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"He (Moores) likes to challenge us, he likes to challenge us on a daily basis. There are a lot of strong characters and opinion- ated people in the dressing-room and I sat down with Peter and we had a really good discussion on how we want to take this team forward.

"My position as a player to becoming captain is now totally different and we need to unite and get onto the same hymn sheet and we need to get this team going forward.

"He likes to challenge players, but the crux of our meeting was to determine and decipher where Peter and myself can take this England team."

Pietersen's rise to the most prestigious job in English cricket has been rapid. It is just seven years since he moved from his South African homeland to try his chances in county cricket as a protest about the quota system then in operation.

He endured a contentious spell with Nottinghamshire before making his one-day international debut for England in 2004 and progressing into the Test side the following summer, where he played a key role in helping to regain the Ashes.

Since those early days he has developed into one of the world's best batsmen, albeit one who is prone to the occasional error in judgement, as was underlined when he was caught aiming for the six runs which would have brought up his century in the third Test against Edgbaston.

But Pietersen remains confident he can achieve what both Vaughan and Nasser Hussain, his two permanent predecessors, failed to achieve and not let the pressures of captaincy undermine his ability as a batsman.

"I hope it won't restrict the way I play and I think it will be silly for me to start thinking it definitely will affect the way I play. I play the way I play and it's a way that I've been successful with so far in my career and it's something I want to try and keep at a really high level."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He also intends to lead by the same instincts which have served him so well as a batsman over the last few years and wants his England team to play in the same fearless manner to the way he approaches his cricket.

"I want the team to play similarly to the way I play my game, although you have to be accountable for the things you do and be responsible for the decisions you make," he conceded.

"I've learnt a lot from Michael from the way he has been around the team and the way he's spoken to players, the way he commands himself. Over the years I've played cricket, I've gained a good cricket brain in terms of how I do things and my gut instinct when I'm batting for the first few years I've played for England has certainly been something that has assisted me tremendously.

"I will always ask for advice, I will also be listening, I'll always ask questions, I will always take advice from people. It's exciting for me. It's something that is a brand-new test, a brand-new challenge and I love challenges."