The Tragedy of the Pietersen Debacle
UPDATE: Following the publication of this article it has emerged that Pietersen resigned his position rather than being sacked as initially thought. However both parties (the ECB and Pietersen) considered Pietersen's position untenable so the following analysis remains valid.
As a keen follower of Newcastle United I’m more than used to the affairs of a team descending into soap opera. Yet in pondering the turmoil that my beloved England are currently in, I’m struck by the deep tragedy of the debacle.
For those unfamiliar with the events of the past few days, a rift between captain Kevin Pietersen and coach Peter Moores became public knowledge. Following the leak Pietersen reportedly stated that the rift was irrevocable, and in the inevitable power struggle that followed the ECB decided that Pietersen had to go. The ECB claim he had given them an ultimatum to fire Moores, and were unwilling to cede such influence to the captaincy. It is also certain that Moores will leave his post.
Whatever the reasons for the rift (which surely have to run deeper than merely the exclusion of Michael Vaughan from the West Indian touring squad), this last week will go down as a very sorry one in the annals of English cricket. There are many things to lament.
Firstly, we will never know if Pietersen would have made the grade as an international captain. With his audacious talent and flairy temperament he is undoubtedly one of the most exciting figures within world cricket, and the prospect of Pietersen leading his side against the Australians next summer was one to relish.
Alas, it will never be. The two test-match and two one-day series in which he led England are inadequate to draw any legacy—positive or negative—of ‘the Pietersen captaincy’.
Secondly, someone saw fit to leak the initial rift into the public domain, so excluding any opportunity for Pietersen and Moores to come to a compromise behind closed doors and move forward with a renewed unity. Once in the public domain, there would either have to be a very convincing reconciliation or one party would have to go. Someone clearly had a personal vendetta against either the current setup or a particular individual within it, and sought to cause some fireworks. They succeeded auspiciously in this task. One can only hope they feel ashamed at the tarnishing they have inflicted upon English cricket.
Thirdly, Pietersen threw away the chance to live out the childhood dream of many because he couldn’t reign in his ego. There is no doubt that England would not be in this mess should Pietersen have even slightly tempered his barely concealed arrogance. Yet Pietersen sabotaged his captaincy by believing he was so untouchable that he would be allowed to run the entire national team structure as a dictatorship.
The ECB, rightly, thought otherwise. It is sickening to think of the impact of this affair on aspiring English youngsters, as they see a man so bent on achieving things his way that he was unwilling to compromise even a little for the sake of leading his country.
Fourthly, the ECB took a big risk in appointing Pietersen last August, following the resignation of Michael Vaughan. They knew that Pietersen had an unwieldy ego, little leadership experience and public prejudice against him for being a South African. Yet they knew his strong temperament could be advantageous as captain and decided he was worth the gamble.
In addition, the ECB desired to reunite the test and one-day captaincies, a role for which Pietersen was the only suitable candidate. They could have played safe yet chose a brave path. By his ego-led conduct Pietersen has not repaid their faith in him.
Finally, this entire affair ‘just isn’t cricket’. It is a million miles away from the values that make our game a treasure, such as gentlemanly conduct, team spirit, grace, respect and unity. Both the leaker of the rift and Kevin Pietersen have shamed not only their country but cricket itself.
The ECB must also take some blame for failing to intervene earlier in the deteriorating relationship between their captain and their coach, but by drawing a line under the affair with the firing of Pietersen they have largely vindicated themselves.
As a team, England must move on quickly from this place and focus again on winning cricket matches. Contesting a no-longer-invincible Australia in the Ashes this summer, they simply can’t afford to stew in a mess of politics and disappointing results any longer. A new captain with the full backing of the board and the coaching staff must be appointed, and a convincing win must be achieved against the West Indies in March.
As for Pietersen, he will have caused many wounds and lost many friends over the events of recent days, yet it must be hoped that the new setup does not drop him because of it, nor that he walks out in a sulk. I suspect he is respectively too good and too stubborn for either of these to happen.
So I hope that Pietersen will carry on scoring stacks of exciting runs as England’s number four, yet I also hope that one day he will come to repent of the pride that cost him the opportunity to lead his country, the greatest sporting privilege a man can be given.
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