The just concluded Ashes series down-under was a total knockout in favor of the Aussies. It was an embarrassing end to a high-profile cricketing content. This was the worst Ashes defeat in the history of England cricket. They scored fewer runs, lost more wickets, averaged lesser and scored fewer 50’s/100’s than the English teams that lost 0-5 to Australia in 1920-21 and 2006-07.
Even before a post-mortem could have been carried out to dissect the capitulation, England cricket is marred with another controversy. The controversy has arisen from a conflict between two individuals. These two people were, at least before the Ashes series began; two key components of the England set up. A conflict, if not resolved, could hamper the long-term future of England cricket.
Andy Flower - England cricket team`s director, no longer believes he could take this team forward if Kevin Pietersen continues to be a part of it. Flower is also said to have given a “him or me” ultimatum to the powers that be in England cricket. Flower, however denied of issuing any such ultimatum. But he hasn’t categorically stated that Kevin Pietersen will be a part of the England fold going forward.
This isn’t a standoff between the two, as Pietersen hasn’t at least up to this point given an indication of not wanting to work under Flower. He in fact stated in a tweet that he’d want to help England regain the Ashes in 2015. This issue however dates back to 2008, when Pietersen was made England captain and wanted Peter Moores, then batting coach sacked. Then there was the “text scandal” in 2012, when Pietersen had sent “provocative” texts to the South African team about England captain Andrew Strauss.
It has been said that Alastair Cook brokered a deal between the maverick batsman and Flower and Pietersen was “reintegrated” into the England team. He of course then scored that match winning hundred in Mumbai and helped England win a series in India after 28 long years.
If reports in the British media are to be believed, the reason cited for Flower not wanting to work with Pietersen and thereby ending his England career is his divisive influence in the dressing room and poor attitude toward warm-up games. Assuming all of that is true, it would still be a baffling call by the ECB, if they axed Pietersen thereby bringing the curtains down a his glorious career.
Even at 34, a healthy Kevin Pietersen can walk into any team in world cricket in all three formats – Tests, ODI’s and T20’s. There should be no argument about that. Pietersen is the X-factor in this England team. Cook, Bell and Root, the mainstays of England batting are all similar to each other. Their approach to run making is alike, that is a steady, predictable and straight out of MCC’s coaching manual. Pietersen adds the spunk, unpredictability, flair and much needed flamboyance to this team.
Former England skipper, Michael Vaughan says he found it extremely easy to manage players like Pietersen. He says, their ego needs to be massaged and that’s hardly any price to pay for what they bring to the team. He argues that such players do not analyze and evaluate every minute thing that is said about them, and hence makes the job of the captain easy. That actually makes a lot of sense, because someone like Pietersen is a flawed genius. He can make batting ridiculously easy on a pitch his colleagues find hard to bat on, and then give his wicket away to a Yuvraj Singh.
Ideally, the ECB would like to have both Flower and Pietersen as a part of the England team. But if it is a Flower v Pietersen situation, and better sense prevails, England should have a new coach. Simply because, a part of the coach’s job is to manage his players and make sure all of them are happy when they report to the training ground in the morning. Refusing to work with a player, or re-build in this case around your best player is not what you want to hear from a coach.
If there is something wrong with KP’s attitude, it can be addressed. But the ability of player with 8181 Test match runs, and 23 hundreds can’t be inculcated into the next batsman who’ll take his place. Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist never got along with each other. They in fact needed to be on the same wavelength by virtue of them being spin bowler and wicket keeper. Despite their lack of affinity for each other, the result of them being well managed by the team managed are there for everyone to see.
Pietersen’s batting wasn’t exactly a disaster if compared to his teammates in the Ashes series. The team failed collectively and KP was the second highest run scorer for England. He had a poor series by his standards and has to shoulder a part of the blame for being a senior member of the team. But a bid to end his England career for the reasons cited is uncalled for. That’s like axing Wayne Rooney if England bomb at the World Cup in Brazil.
Sport is result driven and hence England should ring in the changes post this 0-5 drubbing. Problem solving should not be used as platform to settle personal scores. England’s Test team would be rendered boring if KP is ousted. He is the type of player that helps sell Test match tickets. Playing the right brand of cricket is as important as winning. India showed that at the Champions Trophy in 2013. A truce has to be reached between Andy Flower and Kevin Pietersen for the sake of England cricket. If that’s not possible, Flower should go because KP is box-office!