Monday 11 December 2017

With Ashes on the horizon, Pietersen saga isn't over yet

England's cricketing crisis isn't showing any sign of going away

'The England cricket team as viewed through the prism of the Kevin Pietersen saga is a bit like the player himself, exhilarating or tiresome depending on the circumstances'
'The England cricket team as viewed through the prism of the Kevin Pietersen saga is a bit like the player himself, exhilarating or tiresome depending on the circumstances'

Dion Fanning

The England cricket team as viewed through the prism of the Kevin Pietersen saga is a bit like the player himself, exhilarating or tiresome depending on the circumstances.

On the first morning of the opening Test match of the English summer at Lord's last week, England were 30-4 after an hour against New Zealand. Somewhere Pietersen and his supporters were mobilising, anticipating another heave against the hapless captain Alastair Cook.

England then recovered and, such is the bipolar state of the side, it was possible to believe that all was well as players who represent their future, Ben Stokes and Joe Root, batted freely and with panache before Stokes was out for 92 and Root went next, two runs short of a century.

They ended the first day on 354/7 and the crisis had been postponed but not concluded. This is English cricket's Saipan. They have a divisive central figure and a well-meaning leader who is out-manoeuvred in the PR battles. Cook cannot compete with Piers Morgan, who takes the Eamon Dunphy role and then there is the greatest similarity of all: In the 15 months since England's calamitous Ashes series in Australia, there have been a number of times when those who wish this affair would end felt it was at an end, but it won't end.

Perhaps even at the beginning of the latest chapter in February last year there were some who thought that England would swiftly move on. Pietersen, after all, had been difficult for a while. He had been dropped two years earlier for sending "provocative" text messages to members of the South Africa team during England's series against them.

Pietersen apologised but he was also upset that a parody Pietersen twitter account - and this is where the similarities to Saipan end - was being run by a friend of Stuart Broad's and was being followed by team-mates in the England squad. Broad denied any involvement with the account but it all added to the sense of dysfunction which became even more pronounced when England went to Australia in the winter of 2013 and were beaten 5-0.

Pietersen had undergone a process of "reintegration" so he was back in the side. He scored the most runs for England in the series but was ditched in February 2014 as England announced they were rebuilding the team ethic. England, one selector said, "would be going forward with different values".

Unfortunately, they have retained enough of the old values that they never managed to shake Pietersen off, even after the release of his book last year which gave a compelling insight into how difficult it would be to spend any time with him.

A dismal World Cup was followed by failure to beat the West Indies earlier this month. The incoming ECB chairman Colin Graves had promised "some enquiries" if England didn't triumph over a "mediocre" side but he had under-estimated the impact former Ireland coach Phil Simmons had on the West Indies.

When he was appointed, Graves had said that Pietersen would need to score runs in county cricket before he could be considered.

He then added that "they can't ignore him" if he does that.

Pietersen immediately changed his plans and signed for Surrey while England got on with cleaning house, sacking coach Peter Moores - who had previous with Pietersen - and appointing Andrew Strauss - who had previous with Pietersen - as director of cricket.

Strauss' previous did not just cover his time as captain but also included calling Pietersen "an absolute c**t" while commentating and believing he was off air. This was one of the few interesting things Strauss said during his broadcasting career but he had to apologise.

He is now searching for Moores' replacement but before the series against New Zealand began, he was unveiled in his new role in a press conference which took place as Pietersen was scoring 355 for Surrey, the highest score in the county championship since Brian Lara scored 501 21 years earlier.

Strauss said there were issues of trust that ruled Pietersen out and Pietersen immediately raised some trust issues of his own and claimed he had been misled. Graves would soon complain that his integrity was being questioned.

The sense that this was a particularly fractious family therapy session added to the weariness so there was some relief when this Test match entered into its own rhythm over the past couple of days with a self-contained plot that had no need for outside forces.

The dashing New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum scored 42 in 38 balls and Kane Williamson made 132 yesterday as New Zealand built up a first innings lead yet all seemed peaceful and serene at Lord's, as it so often does.

But England could lose this series and the Ashes are on the horizon which could threaten any serenity. Pietersen, and the prospect of Pietersen, could become a factor once again.

It's not over till it's over. And even then it's not over.

Sunday Indo Sport

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