World Cricket’s Clown of the Month award for May has gone to Paul Downton after the hugely embarrassing apology that the England and Wales Cricket Board’s (ECB) recently appointed managing director was forced to issue to Kevin Pietersen last week.
Downton has barely got his feet under the desk at Lord’s after succeeding Hugh Morris on February 1, and already the former England wicketkeeper has dropped a clanger the equivalent of putting Viv Richards down behind the stumps when on naught.
Now for those of you who may have missed the events of the past week, then here’s a quick recap to bring you all up to speed: In an interview on Test Match Special with the BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew at the Oval on May 22, Downton had claimed, per the Daily Mail, that Pietersen had appeared to be both “distracted” and “disinterested” during the fifth and final Ashes Test against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground in January.
Not only that, but the ECB’s MD also went on to state, as a means of explaining the Board’s subsequent decision to end Pietersen’s international career, that in the review he carried out of the disastrous winter tour Down Under, he could not find anyone within the whole England setup who wanted the 33-year-old to remain as part of the team.
Now, it's nothing we did not really know there. However, the problem for Downton was that by revealing the real reasons for KP’s sacking in February, the new tsar of English cricket had also inadvertently scored a PR own goal by breaching the terms of the confidentiality agreement the two sides had signed at the time by speaking in public on the matter.
Pietersen, who unusually for such a publicity-seeking individual like him has managed to stick to the terms, then hit back by issuing his own statement claiming Downton’s comments were “wholly untrue,” before the ECB itself was then forced into releasing this grovelling apology to its former star batsman.
Per The Guardian, the statement read:
On 22 May during an interview on BBC Test Match Special Paul Downton of the ECB made a series of comments about Kevin Pietersen with which Kevin takes issue including the comments he made regarding his perception of Kevin’s attitude during the Sydney Test on last winter’s Ashes tour. Some of those comments were made in breach of a settlement agreement between the ECB and Kevin Pietersen which was concluded at the time Kevin’s central contract was terminated earlier this year.
Paul Downton and the ECB both apologise to Kevin Pietersen for those comments made that were in breach of the settlement agreement and have confirmed that they will abide by its terms moving forward.
Ouch. Very ouch, especially after all the bad blood that has built up between the two warring parties these past few months, meaning that the ECB would surely have been forced to issue that humiliating apology through gritted teeth.
However, questions will rightly now be asked about how a man with Downton’s prior experience of the corporate world and dealing with lawyers, having worked as a stockbroker in the city, could then fail to understand the terms of a confidentiality agreement.
Yet, perhaps, the worst thing of all to have come out of Downton’s recent episode of foot in mouth is the stick it has provided Pietersen’s unofficial PR spokesman Piers Morgan to beat both the ECB and its hapless MD via a series of stinging tweets on the subject in which the former Daily Mirror editor wrote: “BREAKING NEWS: The #ECBClowns have issued a grovelling apology to KP24 for Downton’s appalling comments last week. #TaxiForDowntonShabby.
“Now the #ECBClowns have admitted they were wrong re KP24 - when does he get his place back in England team? #BringBackKP #DowntonShabby.
“#SackPaulDownton. He is not fit to run a whelk stall, let alone English cricket.”
For that faux pas alone, Downton and the ECB very much deserve to have won World Cricket's Clown of the Month award for May.