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English Cricket’s Image Is A Disaster

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Kevin_Pietersen_England_cricket_ECB_KPIf you count the names of exciting English cricketers – the ones fans will pay good money to watch – you will run out of names long before you run out of fingers. Yes, the definition of ‘exciting’ differs for different people. But, the very basic classification would be a cricketer at the top of his game, someone the opposition is wary of; a player who stands out among his team-mates not just for his cricketing ability, but also for his mental make-up.

In the last three decades, stretching back to the mid-eighties when many of us started our love affair with cricket, you can count Sir Ian Botham, Andrew Flintoff, Nasser Hussain (more for his captaincy approach than anything else), Graeme Swann and Kevin Pietersen as the ones to really ramp up English cricket’s excitement factor. As the latest KP saga unfolds, ask this: could the ECB afford not to pick any of these players at the peak of their powers?

While the answer is most vehemently no, this question begs for some perspective in the current scenario. Is KP good enough to play for the English team at Test level at the moment? Never mind the strength of Leicestershire’s attack, a knock of 355* cannot be ignored. Also, considering his last Test outing, he was the best English batsman on display in Australia two summers ago. Then, yes, he is good enough! Even so, can they ignore KP now?

At best, English cricket can be described to be in a state of transition. They are shuffling their batting options, looking for a decent opening partner for Alastair Cook and banking on Joe Root for their future. Their primary bowlers – James Anderson and Stuart Broad – are getting old quickly, and a lack of support to them as well as the absence of a prime spinner is worrisome.

Let it be said here that they have hedged all their current bets on Cook. Forget his wretched form and his say in the KP saga for a moment. Apart from that he has been a good servant of English cricket and any cricket power would afford him a long rope as well. He, and his team, had a tough time coping with Sri Lanka and India the past summer. This time around they have New Zealand and Australia to contend with, and assuredly it will be a tougher examination this coming summer.

 

The pivotal question to ask here is, where does English cricket want to go from here? Are their targets short-term or do they have a long-term vision? What do they want Cook to achieve this summer? How do they want Andrew Strauss to go about it? The KP issue is central to the answers of all of the above.

As Pietersen has alleged in his newspaper column, Strauss has been ‘allowed to lose this summer’s Ashes’. While KP’s anger is understandable, this isn’t a hard fact; it’s a conclusion that’s been drawn, paralleling the current Indian team. They did not want to lose in South Africa, New Zealand, England or Australia. But given the young team’s inexperience and their lack of bowling resources, they gave their best and soaked in experience for the future. The results may not have come but nobody can ignore the progress made from December 2013 to January 2014 while MS Dhoni departed the Test scene.

It can be assumed that in the short-term Strauss and Cook have been given enough dispensation that losing this summer might be considered okay as long as they can sort out long-term troubles for English cricket. It is an acceptable target whichever way you look at it, and honestly, it takes out Pietersen from the picture. However, the dramatic way they have gone about this whole matter begs belief.

The day Strauss was appointed director, it was clear as daylight that KP did not have any way back into their set-up. But incoming ECB chairman Colin Graves had very publicly made peace with Pietersen, inspiring him to go play for a county and ignore IPL riches. Irrespective of whether he was party to Strauss’ decision, Graves has been made to look very foolish in this whole saga, undermining his authority right at the start of his office term.

In turn, Strauss has damaged English cricket’s position in the eyes of all those who could have been interested in the coach’s job. What if the incoming coach wants to concentrate on short-term goals as well? He will want Pietersen in the reckoning, if not the squad itself. Furthermore, he will question the motive of ignoring KP as a player but asking for his assistance in limited-overs cricket.

This last aspect is an immense car-crash, an own goal that only the ECB is capable of, following the never-ending drama since the last Ashes series. Do you tell someone they cannot be trusted enough to babysit your children but can take care of your pet dog? It reeks of a personalized agenda, since it is public knowledge what Strauss thinks of Pietersen. It is a glaring error since a director’s prerogative should be above petty issues.

Who will want to work for them in such an environment, squarely affecting their chances of signing a coach who is an upgrade on Peter Moores? This saga also maligns the ECB’s stature in world cricket as evident from various reactions on Twitter. In turn, thanks to the immense spotlight English media puts their cricketers under, it will raise the stakes for Strauss and Cook this coming summer, something they would have looked to avoid.

This disastrous popcorn-drama has happened at a time when English cricket needed stability, and indeed sanity, on and off the cricket field. Instead, heads will now have to roll, sooner rather than later. Maybe they should start with firing the ECB’s public relations people.



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