Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Sympathy for the Devil?

Calm before the storm: Pietersen celebrates his century for England at Headingley. 
From the moment he appeared on the England scene in 2004, Kevin Pietersen has always been a somewhat polarising player. It cannot be denied that he is an excellent cricketer, someone with the ability to change a match in a session, but his personality, one seemingly of brashness and arrogance, is one which rubs a lot of people up the wrong way. His desire to be appreciated and celebrity status has led to him making mistakes, and these mistakes may well have, potentially, drawn the curtains on his international career.

Having retired from international limited overs cricket in controversial circumstances earlier this year, Pietersen's feud with the ECB has escalated so rapidly over the past week that he now finds himself dropped from the England squad. The whole sorry saga began with him wanting to spend more time with his family, then it became about wanting to play a full IPL season and now it's turned into a ridiculous and almost high school drama about Twitter and text messages, the bane of every teenage girl's life.

Since rising to the top of the Test rankings last summer, things have not exactly been plain sailing for the good ship England. In October, whilst on a disastrous tour of India, Graeme Swann, another big personality in the England dressing room, published his autobiography in which he wasn't exactly complimentary about Kevin Pietersen's captaincy skills. In any working environment, cliques will form, and the England dressing room is almost certainly no different.

This being said, it's easy to not feel sorry for Pietersen. Outlandish videos and embarrassing press conferences mean he is a difficult person to understand. For example, his press conference at the IPL earlier this year, where he lamented the absence of some of his England colleagues because of 'second rate Australians', wasn't exactly greeted with rapturous applause. The video he released on Saturday was one to appease, but there was no hint of an apology within it and seemed to be done because he knew the axe was falling anyway. However, a key element of England's success over the past few years has been the management's ability to control the ego. The way in which details of these private meetings about his England future were leaked to the press was reminiscent of the fiasco of 2009 and means that trust between both parties has been broken.

Many have not forgiven Pietersen for this 2009 debacle. He forced a man out of his job, and also wanted his now coach gone too and this, undoubtedly, must have had an impact upon relationships in the dressing room. But there are two sides to every story, and it is incredibly important to remember that. Pietersen wants to continually come across as being the victim, and looking at previous history, it is possible to see why he feels this way. Earlier this year, Pietersen got fined for tweeting his opinion about Nick Knight's punditry. Stuart Broad also suggested that Knight's not very good at his job and nobody batted an eyelid. As stated, Swann was allowed to publish an autobiography in which he criticised some of his team mates. Pietersen may or may not have sent private texts, which either contained 'acceptable banter between team mates' (South Africa's Moosajee) or 'derogatory' remarks about his captain. The ECB, according to the South African camp, have not asked to see the texts but it was Pietersen's inability to deny their existence which saw him dropped from the squad. For those who label Pietersen as greedy, or think that he shouldn't be allowed to pick and choose his cricket, let us not forget that it's the ECB who got involved with Stanford, a man who now has a 110-year jail sentence for fraud. The people who let that happen are still employed by governing body. Let us also remember that the ECB allowed Andrew Strauss to skip the Bangladesh tour, although this helped him to be rested and be able to lead the team to the success in Australia.

Respect, though, has been lost on both sides. Pietersen, with his infamous Headingley press conference, alleged text messages which seem to be about his captain, YouTube video and perceived insult at the infamous @KevPietersen24 parody account, has lost the respect of the ECB, and his England teammates. The ECB has lost the respect of Pietersen through their leaks to the press and because he feels victimised. There must surely be more to come with this story, which may well be revealed once this Test series has concluded, but as it currently stands, it feels like an incredibly silly drama between two sides who are just as bad as one another. And it's easy to forget that there is a very important Test match starting on Thursday, because the feud between Pietersen and the ECB continues to be fought out in the playground-esque arena, and now Piers Morgan has appeared to egg them on in the background.

Pietersen being dropped may well mean that the squad return to some semblance of unity. Statements and newspaper columns from England players suggest that they're pleased Pietersen is not in the squad, and they believe they are better for it. His absence gives youngsters a chance to gain experience playing top quality international cricket and it also means that 'Team England' are able to pose for a photo with the Investec Zebra with a smile on their faces.

England managed to win ODI series against the West Indies and Australia without Pietersen, but these teams are not South Africa. With youngster Taylor, who impressed on debut at Headingley, and Bairstow returning to the squad despite questionable form since being worked over by Kemar Roach, England head into the Test at Lord's hoping that their team can come together and perform to overcome this strong and in form South Africa side. England won a must win Test without Kevin Pietersen against Australia at The Oval in 2009, but that side contained a demoralised Mitchell Johnson, not Dale Steyn.

Should England win, they retain their number one status. Should they lose or draw, England will lose that precious number one ranking, less than a year after they gained it, and all that hard work may well have gone to waste. There was talk of this side becoming one of the greatest England sides ever, there being a golden era for English cricket coming. Instead, in true English style, we have become our own worst enemy again and it may well lead to another long and gruelling winter.

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