Kevin Pietersen's Retirement Prompts Questions About Cricket's Priorities

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Kevin Pietersen's Retirement Prompts Questions About Cricket's Priorities
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Alan Richardson was part of the Warwickshire side that won the county championship in 2004. As a bowler, though, he only bagged six wickets in seven matches. His captain informed him at the end of the season that he had no confidence in him and that if he stayed he would be the tenth-choice seamer.

The same bowler took the most wickets in last year's Division One, receiving the accolade of one of "Wisden's" Cricketers of the Year. Warwickshire's captain was Nick Knight.

Richardson slipped in and out of periods of depression following his release from Warwickshire; Knight got a job on Sky TV.

The latter was obviously to the bemusement of talismanic Kevin Pietersen, who recently tweeted: "Can somebody please tell me how Nick Knight has worked his way into the commentary box for the Tests?? Ridiculous."

At a disciplinary hearing, Pietersen was fined, as his comments were considered by the English Cricket Board "to be prejudicial to the interests of the ECB."

At the start of the year, Sky agreed to a new four-year deal to show live international and county cricket worth about £280 million. The deal provides the bulk of the ECB's income.

Within a week of the hearing, Pietersen had resigned from all one-day international cricket.

The above points are raised as facts in the latest episode of Pietersen's tempestuous career. There is little evidence to determine cause and effect, and Pietersen himself has given other reasons for wishing to exit one of cricket's three formats.

However, EH Carr noted that the historian has to attempt to understand the thought behind particular actions: s/he has to consider the context in which particular facts are sketched.

There are few cricketers who polarise their public as Kevin Pietersen.

The innovative "KP" ripped up the MCC coaching manual, employed the switch-hit to counter the world's greatest off-spinner and is the one batter in the English side capable of turning a match in an hour.

Pietersen the self-centred egotist, on the other hand, considers all things un-KP as irrelevant.

Somewhere between these two positions, we find not only a brilliant cricketer, but someone who is not afraid to challenge establishments or unsettle colleagues, and someone who is willing to raise important questions.

Pietersen made it clear that he wants to continue playing both Tests and Twenty20s and thus was available for the forthcoming World T20 in Sri Lanka.

By taking this course, though, England's star attraction risked undermining 50-overs cricket and was informed that as his central contract considered all limited overs cricket as one, he could not pick and choose.

There is a dearth of ODIs this summer. As well as against West Indies and South Africa, England are also playing five games against Australia and an international against Scotland.

 

In addition, a five-match series away can easily add an additional three weeks to an overseas tour.

Pietersen can argue double-standards, noting that Andrew Strauss retired from Twenty20s in 2009 but was allowed to carry on in ODIs as captain until last year's World Cup. Alastair Cook does not play T20 cricket, whereas Michael Lumb, has only played T20s at international level.

Pietersen's commitment to 20-overs cricket owes much to his success this year in the IPL. With a contract with the Delhi Daredevils worth roughly £1.3 million a year, it is no wonder that at nearly 32 he would want to maximise returns.

By freeing himself from ODIs, Pietersen will now be able to play for Surrey in the Twenty20 tournament, and later in the Champions League.

Furthermore, in opting out of England's ODI tour to India in January and the limited-overs part of the New Zealand tour that follows, he becomes available for Australia's Big Bash and any of the myriad leagues that pay high rewards to the relatively few nomad superstars.

This raises football's pet irritant, the conflict between club and country.

Cricket Boards argue that they invest in a player from a young age, provide the coaching and opportunities and therefore make him the cricketer that he is. Therefore, it is unfair if the player then decides to strike out on his own.

 

As was noted last week, the IPL care little for the development of cricket in the West Indies but are happy to select their best players, with no recompense to those who produced them.

But at some stage we have to consider the bigger question thrown up by Pietersen's actions, notably the future direction of limited-overs cricket: is there realistically room for two one-day formats?

Ex-captain Michael Vaughan noted that by standing up to Pietersen the ECB has done more than any other board to protect 50-overs cricket: "Allowing Pietersen to pick and choose would start a tidal wave of other players who don’t fancy the hard work of 50-over cricket."

Is it a question of hard work or a tired format?

20 years ago, commentators feared the rise of 50-overs cricket could make Test matches extinct. Test cricket has managed to survive the onslaught of ODIs, and is still seen by cricketers and fans in England as the highest form of the game.

However, the ODI is now struggling to compete with T20.

Even in India, recent series against England and the West Indies were played out to empty stands and relatively poor television audiences.

The format suffers from a lack of confidence. Constant rule-changes concerning field-settings, powerplays and bouncers inevitably confuse the spectator. There is something to the old adage: if it's not broken, don't fix it!

Dileep Premachandran, editor-in-chief at Wisden India, wrote last week that both expert and layman want 50-over cricket to change or disappear so that cricket’s calendar looks a little saner. 

England will defend their World Twenty20 title in Sri Lanka in September. When they won it in the Caribbean, Pietersen was the player of the series. England need him if they are to retain the only one-day trophy they have ever won.

This would require a reversal of policy, though, and that could have far wider ramifications.

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