Saturday, January 10, 2009

So What Was the England Cricket Row About This Time? – Zephirine

Sigh. It seems like only yesterday that I was reporting to Pseudscorner on the sudden and emotional departure of an England cricket captain or two.

And now here we are again.

This time many of us saw it coming, but perhaps not quite so soon.

Last summer, after the apparently coincidental resignations of captains Vaughan and Collingwood, the England National Selector, Geoff Miller, was determined to revert to the traditional system of having only one captain for all 3 forms of the game. Unfortunately, he himself had not selected Andrew Strauss - the man most suited for the captaincy in terms of personality and experience - to play in one-day matches for over a year. Also, most of the England side were in patchy form, and only one player could be guaranteed a place in all three sides - Test, ODI and 20/20 - Kevin Pietersen.


Pietersen is like an operatic tenor, gifted, obsessive, conscious of his celebrity status, driven by a sense of his own destiny, and impatient with anyone in the chorus who can’t reach the high notes. Miller and the other ECB suits could hardly fail to know this. They also knew that Pietersen had never captained any cricket team at first-class or international level. And they should have known – though they may have chosen not to – that Pietersen didn’t get on at all with the England coach, Peter Moores.

But they gave him the job anyway.

The ECB think highly of Peter Moores, who came up through their own élite coaching system and succeeded at County level. He leans heavily on computer analysis, but is also a great believer in general physical fitness and instigated something of a boot-camp régime when he first took over after the dismissal of the portly but tactically talented Duncan Fletcher. Getting along with England captains, however, is not his forte.

Michael Vaughan failed to find a good working relationship with Moores. Paul Collingwood didn’t even tell Moores when he had decided to stand down as ODI captain. On accepting the captaincy, Pietersen made a public statement that he had only done so after a lengthy clearing-the-air meeting with the coach, and that he now believed the two of them could work together.

They couldn’t – and by Christmas Pietersen had had enough. Several key players seemed to have stagnated or even lost their touch during Moores’s tenure - although Flintoff, whose problems had been to do with injury and fitness levels, made good progress – and England’s record had been poor, beating only teams well below them in the rankings and several times losing Test matches from winning positions.

Then Pietersen asked for the former captain Michael Vaughan to be in the squad to go to the West Indies in February 2009 – tricky, as Vaughan has been playing terrible cricket for quite some time, but beneficial for a novice captain who could use some of Vaughan’s strategic skill. Miller and his panel of selection advisers (which includes the coach but not the captain) decided against Vaughan, seemingly on Moores’s advice.

Pietersen decided that Moores had to go.

Had he announced this online, cyberspace would have resounded with cheers from the massed ranks of cricket bloggers, who have been declaring for at least a year that Moores is the cricket version of Steve McClaren and calling for his head in more or less colourful ways.

In fact, Pietersen had a discreet meeting with Giles Clarke, chairman of the ECB, who steered him back towards Hugh Morris, the managing director of the England team. At some point, Pietersen apparently stated that he really wouldn’t be prepared to go to the West Indies with Peter Moores still in place. He seems to have been assured that discussions would be had and something would be done, and he left to go on holiday in Africa.

And then the media got hold of it.

Somebody told a journalist that Pietersen, angered by the refusal to select Vaughan, had issued an ultimatum to the Board, ‘Moores or me’. It now seems very likely that this person was Michael Vaughan himself, perhaps anxious to convey how essential he still was to the side, or to demonstrate the difficulties of working with Moores.

Vaughan is a political animal, but is friendly with Pietersen and probably had no intention of undermining him. The effect of his leak, though, was to launch a volley of press coverage of The Power Struggle, much of it hostile to the captain. Pietersen had “seized an unprecedented amount of power for an England captain”, he had been “indulged”, the ECB were “giving in to his whims”. Pundits warned that Pietersen was effectively taking over the power to hire and fire the coach. Right-wing papers dragged up his South African background yet again. Who did he think he was, this opportunist mercenary trying to get an honest, hardworking English coach the sack? Pietersen made a vague statement in his regular column which was characterised as “using the media”.

Then the ECB began briefing against Pietersen, and their tame journalists were kept busy knocking out pieces about how outrageously Pietersen was behaving. “People who want to keep their jobs don’t issue ultimatums” said a carefully anonymous Board official. “I’ve never seen an ego like it in cricket,” said another, demonstrating a remarkably limited experience of a game with a rich history of human steamrollers. For a while it looked as if they really intended to keep Moores in place and sack the captain they had appointed only five months before.


Meanwhile, managing director Hugh Morris was sounding out opinion in the England team - but, knowing that the coach was a personal friend of his, players may well have been less than frank. He didn’t speak to all of the players, either; but he got the ammunition he needed to tell Pietersen that the team were not behind him and that by issuing his ultimatum the captain might have ‘lost the dressing-room’. Pietersen seems to have been told this while still on his safari holiday, the sort of phone call which makes one disinclined to pop out and photograph a few giraffes.

In the end, the ECB pressured Pietersen into resigning, indicating that they thought he was wrong, and fired Moores, indicating that they thought Pietersen was right.

It was always likely that Kevin Pietersen’s reign would end in tears, and no doubt he has been impetuous and arrogant. He always is, as those who gave him the job knew very well. But he’s never less than entertaining, he brought an enjoyable theatricality to the role and he was growing into the captaincy. I predicted that he wouldn’t last till the Ashes in Summer 2009, but I take no pleasure in being proved right.

The England side will now be captained by Andrew Strauss, despite the perceived shortcomings as an ODI or 20/20 player which ruled him out last year. He has the attributes to become a very good captain, and arguably should have had the job some time ago. There will be a new coach, who will, one hopes, have a better understanding of the needs of international players than Moores did.

But what a mess.

It becomes easier to understand when you look at this photograph. These are the England and Wales Cricket Board. Sadly, the thing behind them is not a spaceship and they will not be leaving in it any time soon.




(photo of Kevin Pietersen by Greg75 of www.flickr.com)

25 comments:

Zephirine said...

Dang, two of the links don't work. Here's the first one again:
reporting for Pseudscorner

and the photo of the ECB is on this page - scroll down a bit.

Hope they work this time.

ringo37 said...

"A rich history of human steamrollers" - great stuff, Zeph.

Cricket - certainly in terms of the one-day game - seems to becoming as estranged from public opinion as football.

mimi said...

A cool assesment of the hideous mess that the ECB has made for itself.

I think Zeph should be part of the ECB decision-making process as she obviously has a far greater grasp of the essentials than Geoff or Ashley.

Zephirine said...

Ringo, it's all about the money innit? Sponsorships and merchandising and TV rights and what? oh yes, the fans, must do something about them I suppose...

I don't know how the ECB structure compares with the FA but I suspect you get the same kind of not-quite-top-quality administrators and not-quite-big-businessmen running both.

Zephirine said...

Mimi, I think your cats have a better grasp than Geoff Miller.

beyondthepale said...

Zeph,

Sad to say, my cup of cricket ignorance runneth over (though you are gradually convincing me that even advanced mental deterioration should not stay one from at least growing curious about interesting things, before it's too late). I will however venture this: this is a brilliant article, the ECB appears a very jolly sort indeed, and that gigantic triffid-like vacuum-sweeper-nozzle device that looms behind them seems to be about to resolve everything with one tremendous sucking-intake. (One notices on the left column margin of that page a listing for "Vacancies"-- perhaps prescient, in the event the entire ECB is sucked into another dimension?)

Leeds9 said...

Yes, there is nothing quite as earth shattering for management as being told the opinions of an employee, especially when those opinions effectively say 'I think you are wrong'.

In my experience when management is faced with a situation like this they tend to collapse into a sort of 'state of emergency' mentality. Their whole world has gone mad and the hoards are about to breach the citadel.

In this situation they did what most management teams would do, they made things worse.

It was ever thus with management and will forever be. Shame.

zeph said...

Leeds: spot on.

And committees often reach extreme decisions (rather than bland ones as you might expect), because they all faff about until somebody comes up with a left-field suggestion and they seize on it gratefully. Never trust a committee decision, is my motto.

BtP, cricket is as much about psychology as skill, which is why I like it.

Margin said...

I remember the clamour for Straus last time round and I guess at least we can feel comfortable that we have the right man for the job now.

But it is yet again a fine illustration of the knots the ECB loves to tie itself up in.

Zephirine said...

Strauss was thoroughly pissed off he didn't get it last time, too. Not to mention when he was passed over for Flintoff for the last Ashes, and he immediately lost form badly and didn't get it back till he was dropped and went away and did some work on his batting... I think the calm exterior is misleading with Strauss, I reckon he really, really wants the job and in his own way has as much ambition as Flintoff (though not as much as KP because, well, nobody does).

offside said...

Esteemed members of the Pakalolo Institute Department for Outer Space Studies have taken time off from investigating the windmill incident to examine the ECB pictorial evidence and have informed me that the wonderful UFO-like structure behind "them" is actually a waffle iron (or "gaufrier" as it is know in the outer space across the Channel) and is about to come down (as soon as it has reached the required temperature).

So you have nothing to worry about, then.

Right, sorry but I have to get back to work, these horticultural treatises don't write themselves you know.

Allout said...

Nice article Zeph. Neatly sums up some of the main issues out there.

Great that you had the energy to write it after a marathon week on the blogs!

Zephirine said...

Allout, don't know about you but I began to worry about myself... I dislike the expression 'get a life', but... But then every time I determined to go and do something else, there was some new infuriating piece of information. It's a tough life, this blogging.

And I feel that, with MotM and Mimi, I have a duty to keep the Pseuds informed about cricket, as so many of them think they prefer games where people kick the ball or pick it up and run about with it.

Zephirine said...

Professor Offside, that's wonderful news. A waffle iron is such a suitable instrument of destruction.

Margin said...

Completely agree Zeph. It got to a point where when I heard 23 for 1 I just assumed the 1 was Strauss.

And being passed over can only have the impact it had if he felt pretty strongly about it in the first place.

Lets hope he rises to the challenge.

beyond the pitch said...

Prof. Offside--

After further analysis I have concluded that the gigantic triffid-like extraterrestrial vacuum-sweeper-nozzle (as I at first suspected it to be) is indeed neither that nor, as you and your Pakololan colleagues now suggest, an oversized waffle iron (you academic lot are such incurable literalists!).

In fact I have now concluded it is a cleverly disguised Pseuds' Corner closed-circuit surveillance camera, deployed by our deceptively innocent reporter Zephirine in order to capture essential secrets of the ECB doings (if not, moreover, to capture the ECB itself as well, in the act of...er, what exactly is it one might say they are in the act of doing?).

And Zeph--

Those of us who remain terminally addicted to following the activities of those who kick about and/or pick up and run with balls are forever indebted to you for
reminding us There Is Another Way--even if We Don't Understand a Thing About It.

But, dear Z., as to your statement that you prefer cricket because it valorizes psychology over skill, one fears a few days of consideration has given rise in one to the nit-picking counter-suggestion that in all interesting activities, sporting or otherwise, skill is essential, and that all skills are critically affected by the psychological state of the performer of the activity.

This was brought home to one quite pointedly while watching Sunday's United/Chelsea kickabout, in which, notwithstanding the elevated skill level of both teams, one (United) appeared to hold an immense psychological superiority, expressed on the field of play as "confidence", "concentration", or whatever one might wish to call it. Toward the end of the match, in vivid illustration of this, Chelsea's hugely skilled striker Didier Drogba, gifted with his team's one clear chance of the day, embarrassingly fluffed it (a feeble miskick, in front of an open goal), making plain the fact that his mind was not in the game but had been snatched away into some other dimension(quite possibly by one of those large triffid-like devices, hovering invisibly over the pitch).

What then is one to conclude?

That We Are Not Alone?

zeph said...

Hmm, yes, BTP - I need Mouth here, he's very good at Comparative Sport.

Not to get into lengthy discussions, but merely consider the idea of a football match lasting five days and played quite slowly... mental strangth becomes very important.

gg said...

Bringing footy into a cricket blog is not really the done thing, but I'm glad BtP did.
United have hardly been their customary extra-terrestrial selves of late, but the new-found confidence they displayed on Sunday was incontrovertibly caused by a gigantic waffle iron, aka Rafa Benitez.

mac millings said...

BtP,

Perhaps Zeph is trying to get at something like this:

"We fans of the willow think of cricket as unique, the greatest game, and one of the chief reasons, I think, is the idea of the contest between bat and ball. In other sports, in football, say, or rugby, the play is fast, breathless, with physical contact, and the fans’ passion is intense and focused. Playing these sports, you don’t often get time to think, and indeed, on the occasions that you do (the full back under a swirling kick, the centre forward one-on-one with the keeper) having that time to think is often considered a curse.

Cricket, conversely, is all about the time you have to think. Because, whereas in faster sports you mostly react in an instant, on instinct, in cricket much of the time is spent waiting (in the case of a batsman) and thinking (“where am I going to bowl to him?”).

And while in football and rugby, it seems like anything could happen at any time, in cricket, only one main thing is ever going to happen; the bowler is going to bowl to the batsman. The intrigue of the game lies in waiting to see how he’s going to do it and how the batsman will react to it by finally being able to rely on every good sportsperson’s greatest talent, their innate ability to react appropriately in the moment it takes the ball to reach them from the bowler’s hand."

Now, Zephirine is hardly someone who needs others to speak for her, and I only do so on this occasion because, after I wrote the above, she commented on it favourably - and the Zephirine seal of approval lends courage.

The kind of concentration, the kind of mental strength, required in football as opposed to cricket is of a different sort. Drogba (hopefully) spent his time before the chance you mention, running about the pitch involved in the game at all times. The lot of the batsman is different. He waits between deliveries, and if he's at the non-striker's end, he's hardly involved.

That differs, in turn, from baseball, from American football, golf, tennis, etc.

All different, with one not necessarily superior to another. Except cricket, which is obviously better ;)

zeph said...

Thanks Mac! That's exactly the kind of thing I wanted to say but time and brain-power were lacking.

beyond the pale said...

gg--good point that, and just what I'd been thinking (I have plenty of time to think, so must consider taking up cricket, one of these centuries).

One point of dissent however--from the furious look of Rafa up there in the luxury box at the end of Sunday's miserable draw away to Stoke City, I'd have sworn that what he was on the brink of mutating into was not a waffle iron but a vacuum-sweeper nozzle.

Just goes to show that having a firm grasp of "the facts" will never hold a candle to whatever it is the puce-faced one has a firm grasp of... a hair-dryer handle?

And Mac/Zeph, on the subject of the effects upon batsmen of having time to think, consider the case of the Oakland Athletics baseball player Jack Cust, who performs sometimes as an outfielder (and thus must busy himself, at least to some extent, with playing the field), and sometimes as a "designated hitter" (a role which requires of one no other activity than batting). When playing as an outfielder, his batting average for 2008 was .250. When serving as a designated hitter, his average was .202. This seems to indicate that time to think was indeed a bad thing for Jack. The weight of Psyche can be a burden indeed.

And this seems to prove everyone's point at once, does it not?

beyond the point of no return said...

gg no wait--that bore draw with Stoke was Saturday not Sunday (how time seems to flatten out when one's still waiting for the fun to arrive), and replays show that what Rafa was abruptly removing from his head there at the end was--yes, a waffle after all!(These are "facts" mind you, I have them all written down on scraps of paper right here in my pocket...)

zeph said...

"True? It's more than true, it's a fact."
(Pinter, The Birthday Party)

mimi said...

Well,far be it from me to draw literary allusions into music and sport where none are meant, but hey, it's me and you'd expect nothing less. So how about a Birthday Party ref that is from the glory days of Austraylia, but subtley pre-refs their problems in finding a great bowling line-up for this year's Ashes?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0RwjuQ-ivOo

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