Kevin Pietersen has been reading too much into Rudyard Kipling’s “If”.
Newly appointed as England cricket captain and with only three Tests and nine ODIs under his belt, he determined that the exclusion of Michael Vaughan from the touring party to take on the West Indies this spring was a big enough cause for him to “risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss”.
It was a clear message to the ECB that he was determined to be in charge and that if he didn’t get his way he wanted to see the coach fired for disagreeing with him.
Never mind the later revelations about the concerns Pietersen claimed to have had about Peter Moores’ coaching style, it is clear that this was a ploy to get a man in that would bow to the Captain’s will on player selection.
As a “back me or I go” tactic it was bizarre, and ranks alongside John Major’s equally insecure ultimatum to the Conservatives in 1995.
Whilst Pietersen might be good mates with Vaughan and appreciate his experience in the side, his predecessor as Captain does not deserve his place in the team on the strength of his batting performances. Neither his form with England in the summer nor with Yorkshire after resigning as Captain were good, and he has had no opportunity to demonstrate that it has since improved.
Staking his own reputation on the selection of Vaughan was a remarkable thing to do, given this, and smacks of poor judgement. Not solely because of the merits of including Vaughan in the squad, but also because this was hardly the time to be making discord between Captain and Coach public.
While Kipling urged to “trust yourself when all men doubt you”, it seems that Pietersen has ignored the subsequent advice to “make allowance for their doubting, too”.
Having started to develop his skills and reputation as Captain with a good victory at The Oval and then a battling short series in India that spoke well of his and the team’s mental strengths, the West Indies tour offered a great opportunity to build confidence and enhance his reputation as a leader.
That series and the summer of 2009 would have provided both Pietersen and Moores with an opportunity to show that they could work together, and if not that they had at least made an attempt to do so.
Even if Pietersen go his way and Moores ultimately lost his job as a result, having to bring in a new coach prior to the Ashes would seem to be very short sighted.
Now we have the worst of both—English cricket has taken yet another reputational hit, and the ECB is getting much of the blame for not sorting it out earlier. Andrew Strauss leads what must be a divided team to the West Indies, and a new coach has yet to be appointed on a permanent basis.
Although this offers an opportunity for a new start, it would have been much better for that start to have occurred at the end of last summer, and I have no doubt that the ECB now regret appointing Pietersen ahead of Strauss at that time. Now the new Captain and Coach have their work cut out to ensure that the team that faces Australia in the summer is as well prepared as it can be, and that the right personnel are in place.
Pietersen’s place in the team itself is not in question, and should not be. He has probably ruined any chance of being considered for the Captaincy again, though.
If that is the way that he wanted to conduct himself and lead the team though, perhaps it is for the best that it became clear at this stage rather than after the ECB find themselves unable to attract a high-quality coach that would meet Pietersen’s demands for control.
It is unlike Pietersen to “lose, and start again at [his] beginnings, and never breathe a word about [his] loss”. In this celebrity era, it won’t be long, I’m sure, before the new autobiography emerges to tell “his side” of the story.
Yes, Pietersen’s gamble has backfired on him, and now all fans of the England cricket team need to hope that it does not prevent a serious challenge for the Ashes come July.
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